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The Ancient Great Gibraltar Sand Dune Through Time

Chris Gomez · Photos: Christian Ferrary & Sourced

@Christian Ferrary

The Great Gibraltar Sand Dune Predates History itself

Reaching all the way up to the Upper Rock Nature Reserve, this dizzying sand slope located on the Eastern cliffs of Gibraltar has been described as one of ‘natures grand achievements’, and for good reason.

The ‘Great Gibraltar Sand Dune’, although a regular sight for Gibraltarians, predates history itself and once formed part of the vast Savannah of the late Pleistocene era which stretched Eastward into what is now the Mediterranean Sea, and which began 2.6 million years ago and ended 11,700 years ago. These were the plains where the Neanderthals once hunted.

Pleistocene Gibraltar Savanna

To get an idea of what this Savannah would have looked like, the most comparable environment today would be the Doñana National Park in south-west Spain.

The East-side is also home to the UK’s 30th UNESCO World Heritage site; the Gorham’s Cave Complex. Spanning 28,000 hectares, and evidence strongly shows that this was the ‘last refuge of our Neanderthal ancestors’ 32,000 years ago.

The Great Gibraltar Sand Dune
@Christian Ferrary

The website ‘Underground Gibraltar’ points out that even today, the colour of the Great Sand Dune differs from the red sands found in the West side: “The sand you see here lacks the red component of the sands in the West. They are yellow, windblown sands … The Easterly winds of prehistory regularly blew sand westwards and this accumulated against the East cliffs of the Rock.”

Moving thousands of years into more recent history, in 1903 the Dune was used in an innovative attempt to conquer the chronic water supply problem that had been plaguing Gibraltar which dates back to the Moorish occupation – the Moors created artificial reservoirs, such as the famous ‘Nun’s Well’ which still exists today in Europa Point.

The Great Gibraltar Sand Dune
@Christian Ferrary

Works on the Dune were designed to become the first water catchment area of its kind which collected rainwater to supply the City of Gibraltar and Catalan Bay Village and cater for the growing population, although it was not always reliable. Rain water collection, utilizing wells as well as importation of water by tankers was how Gibraltar was supplied with water up until the 1980’s, when large desalination plants were to convert sea water into potable water.

This catchment area was dismantled by the Gibraltar Ornithological and Natural History Society and by 2006 it was restored to its natural state – it is now covered in vegetation which is native to the habitat of Gibraltar. It was here that the 29,000 year old human footprint was recently found.

Water Catchments 1966
Gibraltar Water Catchments 1966

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