Vindija Cave (Croatia)

Neandertal Site of Vindija Cave

Vindija Cave, Croatia
Vindija Cave, Croatia. Fred Smith, Northern Illinois University

Vindija Cave is a stratified paleontological and archaeological site in Croatia, which has several occupations associated with both Neanderthals and Anatomically Modern Humans (AMH).

Vindija includes a total of 13 levels dated between 150,000 years ago and the present, spanning the upper part of the Lower Paleolithic, Middle Paleolithic, and Upper Paleolithic periods. Although several of the levels are sterile of hominin remains or have been disturbed primarily cryoturbations ice wedging, there are some stratigraphically separated hominin levels at Vindija Cave associated with humans and Neanderthals.

Although the earliest recognized hominid occupations date to ca. 45,000 bp, deposits at Vindija include strata that comprise a huge number of animal bones, including tens of thousands of specimens, 90% of which are cave bears, over a period of more than 150,000 years. This record of animals in the region has been used to establish data about the climate and habitat of northwest Croatia during that period.

The site was first excavated in the first half of the 20th century, and more extensively excavated between 1974 and 1986 by Mirko Malez of the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts. In addition to archaeological and faunal remains, numerous archaeological and faunal remains, with over 100 hominin discoveries have been found at Vindija Cave.

  • Specimens in Level G3 (38,000-45,000 years bp), the lowest hominin-bearing level, are Neanderthals and are associated with exclusively Mousterian artifacts.
  • Specimens in Level G1 (32,000-34,000 years bp) represent the most recent Neanderthals at the site and are associated with both Mousterian and Upper Paleolithic stone tools.
  • Hominins in Level F (31,000-28,000 years bp) are associated with Aurignacian and according to researchers look a little like both AMH and Neanderthal.
  • Hominins in Level D (less than 18,500 years bp, the uppermost hominid-bearing strata in the cave, are associated with Gravettian culture artifacts and represent only anatomically modern humans.

Vindija Cave and mtDNA

In 2008, researchers reported that a complete mtDNA sequence had been retrieved from a thigh bone of one of the Neanderthals recovered from Vindija Cave. The bone (called Vi-80) comes from level G3, and it was direct-dated to 38,310 ± 2130 RCYBP. Their research suggests that the two hominins who occupied Vindija Cave at different times--early modern Homo sapiens and Neanderthals--were clearly separate species.

Even more interestingly, Lalueza-Fox and colleagues have discovered similar DNA sequences--fragments of sequences, that is--in Neanderthals from Feldhofer Cave (Germany) and El Sidron (northern Spain), suggesting a common demographic history among groups in eastern Europe and the Iberian peninsula.

In 2010, the Neanderthal Genome Project announced that it had finished a complete DNA sequence of Neanderthal genes, and discovered that between 1 and 4 percent of the genes that modern humans carry around with them come from Neanderthals, directly contradicting their own conclusions just two years ago.

The Last Glacial Maximum and Vindija Cave

A recent study reported in Quaternary International (Miracle et al. listed below) describes the climate data recovered from Vindija Cave, and Veternica, Velika pecina, two other caves in Croatia. Interestingly, the fauna indicate that during the period between 60,000 and 16,000 years ago, the region had a moderate, broadly temperate climate with a range of environments. In particular, there seems to have been no significant evidence for what was thought to be a shift to cooler conditions at the onset of the Last Glacial Maximum, about 27,000 years bp.


Each of the links below leads to a free abstract, but payment is needed for the full article unless otherwise noted.

Ahern, James C.

M., et al. 2004 New discoveries and interpretations of hominid fossils and artifacts from Vindija Cave, Croatia. Journal of Human Evolution 4627-4667.

Burbano HA, et al. 2010. Targeted Investigation of the Neandertal Genome by Array-Based Sequence Capture. Science 238:723-725. Free download

Green RE, et al. 2010. A Draft Sequence of the Neandertal Genome. Science 328:710-722. Free download

Green, Richard E., et al. 2008 A Complete Neandertal Mitochondrial Genome Sequence Determined by High-Throughput Sequencing. Cell 134(3):416-426.

Green, Richard E., et al. 2006 Analysis of one million base pairs Neanderthal DNA. Nature 444:330-336.

Higham, Tom, et al. 2006 Revised direct radiocarbon dating of the Vindija G1 Upper Paleolithic Neandertals. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 10(1073):553-557.

Lalueza-Fox, Carles, et al. 2006 Mitochondrial DNA of an Iberian Neandertal suggests a population affinity with other European Neandertals. Current Biology 16(16):R629-R630.

Miracle, Preston T., Jadranka Mauch Lenardic, and Dejana Brajkovic. in press Last glacial climates, "Refugia", and faunal change in Southeastern Europe: Mammalian assemblages from Veternica, Velika pec'ina, and Vindija caves (Croatia). Quaternary International in press

Lambert, David M. and Craig D. Millar 2006 Ancient genomics is born. Nature 444:275-276.

Noonan, James P., et al. 2006 Sequencing and Analysis of Neanderthal Genomic DNA. Science 314:1113-1118.

Smith, Fred. 2004. Flesh and Bone: Analyses of Neandertal Fossils Reveal Diet was High in Meat Content Free press release, Northern Illinois University.

Serre, David, et al. 2004 No Evidence of Neandertal mtDNA Contribution to Early Modern Humans. PLoS Biology 2(3):313-317.