research: gibraltar caves project: the sites
gorham’s cave


Gorham’s Cave was discovered in 1907 when Captain A. Gorham of the 2nd Battalion Royal Munster Fusiliers opened up a fissure at the back of a sea cavern. Capt. Gorham inscribed his name and the date in lamp-black on the wall of the cave, and since that day the cave has borne his name.

Captain Gorham was an officer with considerable scientific qualities; he had been one of the early experimenters with the internal combustion engine and in the early part of the century he had been at Army Headquarters in India advising on the construction and installation of the first wireless headsets used in that country.

It seems that after Captain Gorham’s discovery, the cave was forgotten again about, albeit on an official level, as George Palao a local historian and potholer, records seeing an inscription of ‘J. J. Davies 1943’ on the cave wall in Gorham’s Cave. A few years later Craftsmen Keighley and Ward, two Royal Engineers, were the first to find an archaeological deposit in the cave when the beach leading to Gorham’s Cave became temporarily accessible from the cliffs above as a result of tunnelling inside the Rock.

Local newspaper reports of the time report that a quantity of pottery, stone tools (from the Neanderthal period), and some human and animal remains had been unearthed. The Royal Engineers informed the Rev. F.E. Brown of the Gibraltar Society who in turn informed His Excellency the Governor, who visited the cave and called for further investigations to be carried out. The results of these investigations were put in a report that was sent to the British Museum and the cave was closed pending their advice on the matter.

In 1945, a Lieutenant George Baker Alexander, Royal Engineer and a graduate geologist from Cambridge arrived in Gibraltar and, in his own time, conducted a thorough geological survey of Gibraltar which concluded with the production of a new geological map of the Rock. Lt. Alexander has proved to be a very elusive character where the issue of Gorham’s Cave is concerned.

He became the first to excavate Gorham’s Cave but we do not know when exactly or who he got the permission from. If he did keep any personal records, they were never made public. In fact most of what we do know about him comes from reports in the media and from various ‘heritage orientated’ committee’s minutes. We know that he excavated in the cave before his forced departure from Gibraltar in 1948 when the Gibraltar Museum Committee challenged his methods.

Lieutenant G. B. Alexander RE

In the spring of 1948, the Governor then wrote once again to the British Museum asking them to continue any further explorations of the cave. The British Museum had no staff available at this time and forwarded the letter to Professor Dorothy Garrod at Cambridge who had excavated at Devil’s Tower Rock Shelter in 1927-8. Unfortunately, she was also unable to undertake the work and asked Dr. John D’A Waechter, a fellow of the British Institute of Archaeology in Ankara to fit the work into his own programme in Turkey. Dr. Waechter arrived in Gibraltar in September 1948 and spent two months digging test pits to see if an extensive excavation was justified. Waechter reported his success verbally to the Government of Gibraltar and arranged to continue on a larger scale the following year.

Professor Dorothy Garrod

Dr. Waechter came to Gibraltar again in June 1950, and except for a six-week break in September and October, he worked through until March 1951. He went back to England with the work still unfinished and returned in February 1952, working through until July.

During his final visit in 1954 he found that his funds for research were insufficient to enable him to complete the excavations so he asked the Local Government for financial assistance. The standing finance committee subsequently approved his plea and he was able to complete his excavation programme.