Belgium has a long and rather complicated history
that goes back farther than may be imagined. Beyond even the
complexity of recorded human history, there is its part in the
earliest phases of modern human prehistory in Europe.
Fossilised remains of Neanderthals were being found
(and understood to an extent) in the nineteenth century, located in
several caves in the Meuse-Sambre basins in southern Belgium.
In 1829, in Engis, part of the skull of a Neanderthal
child was found in a cave near Engis and was dated to about 29,000 BC
- a very late date for Neanderthals in Northern Europe. It was the
first Neanderthal fossil ever to be found, although the skull was not
recognised as belonging to a Neanderthal until a century later!
At the end of the nineteenth century two skeletons
were discovered in Spy, being dated to about 40,000 BC (late
Neanderthal specimens). The remains from Spy definitively influenced
the concept of Neanderthals as archaic fossil humans in relation to
modern human populations.
In Goyet a large collection of Neanderthal fossils
was found, and their condition suggests cannibalism. Such extremes
of behaviour always point to times of extreme hardship and minimal
food supplies. They have been dated to between 45,000-40,000 BC.
Not so long ago, in 1993, the jawbone of a
Neanderthal child was found at Sclayn, and almost all the missing
teeth were also uncovered during later excavations. These remains
have been dated to about 127,000 BC, possibly the oldest fossilised
Neanderthal bones to be found in Belgium at the time of writing.
Homo sapiens was in the process of gradually
out-competing and replacing Neanderthals in Europe at between
40,000-24,000 BC, a process that is mostly categorised as part of
the Aurignacian culture (see sidebar links).
This culture was the first in Europe to be expressed
by anatomically modern humans. It corresponds to the first stages of
migration by Homo sapiens out of Africa and the Near East (as
part of the Afro-Eurasian Mousterian culture). Remains of anatomically
modern Homo sapiens have been discovered in several caves in
the Meuse-Sambre region, such as those at Furfooz which have been
dated at 18,000-13,000 BC), and at Goyet where Neanderthal remains
have also been found.
This map depicts Europe when the ice sheets were not at
their fullest extent, but when conditions were colder than
those of the present day (click or tap on map to view full