Cave of Belle-Roche

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The Cave of Belle-Roche is an important archaeological and paleontological site in the Belgian municipality of Sprimont. In a tunnel carved by the river Amblève and then filled up again, the oldest traces of human presence in the Benelux (approx. 500 ka) and several tens of thousands of fossils of large mammals from the Cromerian have been found. Much of the excavated material can be seen in the Grand Curtius Museum in Liège.

The former cave was discovered in 1980 in a rock face about sixty meters above the current level of the Amblève. Workers at the Belle-Roche quarry uncovering a new piece of rock found a fossil site. Dozens of large mammal species from the Cromerian interglacial period have been identified, including Panthera leo fossilis, Panthera gombaszoegensis, Crocuta brevirostris, Canis mosbachensis, Equus mosbachensis, Dicerorhinus etruscus, Capreolus capreolus sussenbornensis... The vast majority of the remains were bones and teeth of the Ursus deningeri, a bear species that wintered in the cave. The cave had originated as a tunnel that had been carved out by the Amblève and then abandoned by the river. After several tens of thousands of years, the cave became filled with sediment and debris from erosion-induced collapses, which explains the good conservation of the fossils.

No human remains have been found, but about a hundred stone tools mainly made of silex, including two hand axes from the Acheuléen. They were probably made by homo heidelbergensis. By crossing three dating techniques, the age of the assembly has been established at about 500,000 years (500 ± 70 ka).

Excavation campaigns followed each other until 1998. Quarrying has been at a standstill for a long time but would be resumed by a decision of Walloon minister Willy Borsus in 2020, although with the protection of the former cave.