A cave in Málaga, Spain known as Cueva de Ardales is famed for its over 1,000 prehistoric paintings and engravings. Now, new research published in the journal PLOS ONE shows that the cave was used for artwork and burials for over 50,000 years. Archaeologist José Ramos-Muñoz of the University of Cadiz led the first excavation of the cave.
The research gives scientists new insights into the cultural history of the Iberian peninsula. Until now, little was known about the remains found in Cueva de Ardales. The scientists used radiometric dating and other methods to analyze the human remains and artifacts.
The evidence suggests that the cave’s first residents weren’t modern humans but instead neanderthals, who used the cave some 65,000 years ago. Modern Homo sapiens arrived only 35,000 years ago. Since that time, Cueva de Ardales has been used inconsistently until the beginning of the Copper Age.
The oldest paintings in the cave seem to be more abstract – dots, finger tips and hand stencils sprayed onto the walls. The later paintings were of animal and human figures. Although there are lots of artifacts, the evidence suggests that humans probably didn’t live in the cave but instead used it for other purposes. The scientists believe that the cave had highly symbolic importance.
The region contains more than 30 other caves of human usage, pointing to the importance of the Iberian Peninsula in understanding the prehistory of Europe.
“Our research presents a well-stratified series of more than 50 radiometric dates in Cueva de Ardales that confirm the antiquity of Palaeolithic art from over 58,000 years ago,” explained the study authors. “It also confirms that the cave was a place of special activities linked to art, as numerous fragments of ochre were discovered in the Middle Palaeolithic levels.”
By Zach Fitzner, Earth.com Staff Writer