In 1993, cavers exploring the farthest chamber of a winding underground cave near the town of Altamura in southern Italy made a startling find. It was a very well preserved and nearly complete hominid skeleton. The skeleton’s sloped forehead is characteristic of Neanderthals; while the very thick brow ridges seem like those of earlier pre-modern humans. The fossil, which is believed to be 130,000 years old, is covered with mineral concretions, a result of geological processes in the cave. In order to preserve the skeleton, scientists have left it in the cave. They use laser scanners and other remote sensing tools to study it without disturbing it. The scans will help scientists build 3-D models of the skeleton that they can compare to other specimens.
Have students view the Snapshot. Provide time for students to look at the pictures and read the information on these related sites [Note: the first two sites are in Italian, but contain fascinating photos of the site]:
Digamma Società Consortile: Musei dal campo Progetto sarastro (In Italian)
Centro Altamurano Ricerche Speleologiche (In Italian)
UNESCO World Heritage: The Murge of Altamura
Use the following questions to guide a class discussion:
- What did cavers find in the cave?
- Why was the skeleton left in the cave and not excavated?
- What tools did scientists use to study the skeleton?
- What was the advantage of using these tools?
- What is the significance of finding a skeleton with both Neanderthal and Pre-modern human features?
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