© Dominik Ketz, Kreis Mettmann_CC-BY-SA

The history of the Neanderthal

Home of the Neanderthals - from primeval times to the present day

Like only a few places in the world, the history of the Neandertal also marks the beginning of human history. The discovery of the first Neanderthal brought the valley to world fame and made it Germany's first nature reserve. In addition to one of the most modern museums in Europe and the multimedia tower Höhlenblick at the site where it was found, the Ice Age game reserve with aurochs, bison and other animals and the popular Stone Age playground provide a lasting impression of life in the Düssel valley more than 400.000 years ago. Every year, more than 160.000 people combine their visit to the Neanderthal Museum with long walks and hikes in the picturesque countryside.

The Neandertal gets its name

In 1674 the Neandertal was named after the theologian and poet Joachim Neander, who held services and composed hymns there. At that time, the Düssel valley between Mettmann and Erkrath was a deep gorge and, as an imposing natural backdrop, was already a magnet for travelers at that time.

Discovery of the Neanderthal

With industrialization and limestone quarrying, the face of the Neandertal changed fundamentally in the 19th century. But thanks to these changes, it also achieved worldwide fame: early human skeleton parts were found during mining work in 1856. Since then, the “Neanderthal” has been a household name around the world.

Designation as a nature reserve

In order to protect the Neandertal forest from deforestation, committed citizens of the surrounding towns founded the Naturschutzverein Neandertal e. V. and managed to get the Neandertal designated as the first nature reserve in Prussia in 1920. In this way, the valley was protected from clear-cutting and has been able to develop into a valuable gem to this day. The beech forests are even of European importance, so that the valley received additional legal protection in 1921 and was included as an FFH area (Flora-Fauna Habitat) in the European biotope network "Natura 2001".

Founding of the Ice Age game reserve

After the nature conservation association Neandertal e. V. had obtained the designation of the Neandertal as a nature reserve, he founded the Ice Age Game Reserve in 1935, in which replica breeds of aurochs and tarpans, which have already become extinct throughout Europe, live to this day. Until 1868, the association acted as the operator of the Ice Age game reserve, and it still owns the animals today. The game reserve is now operated by the district of Mettmann.

Opening of the Neanderthal Museum

The finds of the early human skeleton were initially housed in a building near the site of discovery, today's Stone Age workshop, until the Neanderthal Museum opened in 1996. It is one of the most modern museums in Europe. Its permanent multimedia exhibition guides the international public through the prehistory and early history of mankind more than four million years ago to the present day. Every year, more than 160.000 visitors are inspired by the multi-award-winning presentation and the entire facility.

Opening of the Stone Age playground

When children immerse themselves in prehistory with all their senses, they also want to move around in it and preferably play in it. The Stone Age playground opened in 2020 directly opposite the Neanderthal Museum makes it possible! In the 2.250 m² adventure world you will find everything a young Neanderthal heart desires: from climbing frames, ropes, climbing nets to the water feature and the bear cave. And even the youngest (up to 6 years) get their money's worth in the "driftwood landscape" with lots of water and a few cozy places to take a break.

The history of the Neandertal continues

A multimedia adventure tower was opened at the end of 2022 directly at the site where the first Neanderthal was found: the "Cave View". The landmark, which can be seen from afar, gives an impression of the importance of the Neandertal and the place where it was found in various installations. State-of-the-art virtual reality technology allows visitors to experience the time of the "hunters and collectors" up close. The adventure tower is another highlight in the Neandertal on the top of which is an oversized Neanderthal skull.

© Dominik Ketz, Kreis Mettmann_CC-BY-SA

One of the oldest nature reserves in Germany

Up until the 17th century, the Neandertal was a wild and romantic deep gorge to the right and left of the Düssel, which has always attracted travelers due to its unspoilt vegetation and rich fauna. Lush forests, caves, cliffs and waterfalls fit the image we have today of the Neanderthals' homeland. With the lime mining in the course of industrialization in the 19th century, the image of the valley changed fundamentally. But it is only thanks to him that skeletal parts of the first Neanderthals were found here, which made the valley world-famous. Today, nature has reclaimed its kingdom. Beech, hornbeam and ravine forests populate the slopes and quarries. Numerous hiking trails allow visitors to discover a colorful variety of animals and plants. The Ice Age game reserve presents aurochs, bison and wild horses, which already populated the Düssel valley in the time of the Neanderthals. In order to protect the valuable flora and fauna, the paths may not be left and dogs must be leashed.

© Dominik Ketz, Kreis Mettmann_CC-BY-SA

Time travel through that neanderland

On the trail of history

Anyone who wants to explore the more recent history and culture of the region after so much prehistoric history will do so in... neanderland not disappointed. Quite the opposite. From Roman times to the present, time travelers will find impressive evidence of every era here. Numerous historic town centers such as the village of Gruiten or the old town of Velbert-Langenberg, monuments of industrial culture or impressive secular and sacred buildings such as St. Mary's Cathedral in the pilgrimage site of Neviges not only convey cultural history, but also enchant with their very own atmosphere.

There is much more to discover

Explore while hiking

© Dominik Ketz, Kreis Mettmann_CC-BY-SA

accommodation offer

© Ralf Boewing

Enjoy regionally

© Kreis Mettmann, Martina Chardin

The cities in neanderland

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