October 7th, 1993: after more than a year of excavating a prehistoric human skeleton is found in a corner of the Lamalunga Cave in the territory of Altamura. Early in 1991 a hole in the fields was brought to the attention of the Altamuran Centre of Cave Research (C.A.R.S.). Caves are a natural occurring phenomenon in the whole of Apulia. The karstic limestone rock permits water to trickle through and this slowly causes erosion of the rock leading eventually to underground rivers and caves. This particular hole became interesting when a strong draught came from the inside. This meant there had to be a bigger space underneath. Soon the speleologists started to excavate (head down against the elements of nature) in order to be able to enter the hole which became rewarded in 1993.
The cave cannot be visited by tourists; first of all because the environment inside the cave is protected and ancient animal bones (horse, deer, hyena, bovine, steinbock (Capra ibex) of at least 50.000 years ago) are scattered all over the place. Second, the entrance of the cave consists of a narrow 8 meter vertical corridor. It leads to a big open space in the cave where the old entrance must have been. This big open entrance closed down thousands of years ago (there are stalactites growing) as a collapse. Following the direction towards the end of the cave where the skeleton is the way becomes as narrow as 30 centimeters. The little cavity where the skeleton rests is surrounded by stalactites. The distance from the entrance to the human skeleton is 100 meters. In the opposite direction the cave continues for 400 meters which makes the total length of the cave half a kilometer. The maximum depth of the cave is 12 meters from the surface.
The discovery is one of the most important ones for the science world. It’s the unique preservation of the bones and the characteristics of the skull that make the skeleton so special. It is the most complete skeleton from the Paleolithic (not the oldest and the only hominid remains in Apulia). So complete that even the bones inside the nose are still there. Unfortunately the calcium carbonate concretions which preserved the bones also cover them partly and thus make it impossible to ‘just lift him out’. Half of his pelvis is covered under a big stalactite. The bones are not in their original position. The skull is ‘upside down’ and the rest of the bones seemed to be on a little pile. The big leg bones can be seen in the pictures, under there the smaller bones can be found. The rounding of the skull is free of concretions because it is too smooth for the concretions to attach themselves.
Examining the bones it is clear that it concerns a male (one can tell from the pelvis) of about 1.60 or 1.65 meters in height (measuring the femur) who probably reached an age of 35. The skull is very interesting because it shows characteristics of two human species: most (the face, the jaw and the long flat head) are characteristic for the Homo erectus (who made his way into Europe about little over 500.000 years ago). But the pronounced ridges over the eye sockets are characteristic features of the Neanderthal (Homo sapiens neanderthalensis) who was in Europe possibly as early as 300.000 years ago and became extinct around 28.000 years ago. Thus modern Italians (or humans) do not derive from this skeleton or these species.
Theory is that the man (while hunting) fell down into the cave (from the original entrance) and was unable to come out and eventually starved to death. He did not break anything in the fall. He probably walked around in search of an exit and arrived at end of the cave. Know that thousands of years ago the cave was different and some narrow passages were more spacious for sure. Note that inside the cave there’s no light besides arriving from the entrance. A total darkness can lead to panic. Other theory is that he died outside the cave and was washed inside by water or the water washed him into the corner.
Full studies have not yet been carried out on the remains. The position and concretions make it very hard to study the bones. Currently scholars are working to get the bone material dated and to study the ancient DNA (if retrievable).
Since visiting the skeleton itself is not possible a visitors centre was set up close to the location of the cave to learn about and see the ‘man of Altamura’. This includes a guided tour about the discovery story, video captures of the cave and a 3D video image of the skeleton.
Latest news about the Lamalunga cave and the Altamura man: July 16th 2009 a vertebra has been taken away for DNA and date related studies. A project has been set up with different scholars from the universities of Ferrara, Rome and Venice to establish the date of the ancient skeleton and possibly the species of man and was. Stalactites and stalagmites and so on. The construction of the concrete is not the same. They could follow a move on a notebook screen. After hours of work in the cave the professor and the speleologists of CARS managed to take a vertebra. It’s microclimate, the animal bones, the calcareous concretions and possibly food residues. Altamura. The cave is in the archaeological museum in Altamura.
The 2nd step has been the cleaning of the cave. July 23rd the spelunkers of CARS started to take out the electricity cables, cameras and neon lamps out of the cave. After a weekend, the skeleton has been taken from the archaeological museum of Altamura. The electrical implant (completed in 2000) It has been decided to take everything out.