The Ardales cave in Malaga had great symbolic importance for a long period throughout prehistory, which establishes it as a significant and valuable archaeological site for the study of human history in Europe.
A new investigation led by Spanish scientists from the University of Cadiz, and recently published in the journal PLoS ONE, has confirmed by analyzing the material found in excavations that the Cave of Ardaleslocated in Malaga, was a crucial meeting place for Neanderthals and modern humans for 58,000 years.
The study has confirmed that the site was not used as a home, but to carry out activities other than daily tasks: specifically, to make numerous works of rock art and to carry out burials.
Dedicated to creative and symbolic activities
According to the leader of the research group, the archaeologist Jose Ramos-Munozthe research presents a well-stratified series of more than 50 radiometric dates in the Cueva de Ardales, which prove the antiquity of the Paleolithic art discovered.
This creation was made more than 58,000 years ago, demonstrating the importance of creative activities for Neanderthals and early modern humans, who would have had a much richer symbolic universe than previously thought.
According to a press release and an article published in Science Alert, the excavations were carried out between 2011 and 2018, focusing on the cave entrance. That place was selected because it is likely that the greatest traffic and circulation among visitors has been registered there: it even contains the highest concentration of non figurative abstract paintings. From the entrance, the researchers excavated to access the different layers, buried over time, that contain traces of human presence.
The multiple layers were revealing an irregular history, which characterizes the occupation of the cave. The deepest layer, and therefore the oldest, has been dated to more than 58,000 years ago by radiocarbon dating. These are abstract works that show dots, finger and hand stains. They correspond to the Neanderthal occupation of the cave, which ceased about 43,000 years ago.
Also for burials
The modern humans they appear to have arrived in the region around 35,000 years ago, suggesting that the cave was not used for around 7,000 years. From the time modern humans arrived, the cave was used intermittently until about the beginning of the Chalcolithic or Copper Age, towards the end of the Neolithic, or about 3,200 BC.
Despite arriving much later than the Neanderthals, modern humans seem to have used the cave for similar purposes: none of the artifacts recovered from any period were related to domestic tasks, indicating that the cave was not used as living space or shelter.
Instead, scientists discovered pieces of ochre, used for painting or as a ritual material throughout prehistory. Added to this are shells and animal teeth, which would have been drilled to be used as jewelry. Furthermore, they found human remains: This means that the cave was used by modern humans to bury their dead during the early Neolithic.
The traces of human activity are ephemeral and point to very specific activities, always linked to art or rituals. According to the researchers in the study, throughout the Paleolithic the cave was used exclusively for the production of cave art, something that has been confirmed by the presence of more than 1,000 motifs and works. non-domestic use and strongly symbolic of the cave continued later, in the Neolithic and Chalcolithic, when it was used as a burial place.
The nature and chronology of human occupation at the Galerías Bajas, from Cueva de Ardales, Malaga, Spain. José Ramos-Muñoz et al. PLoS ONE (2022). DOI:https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0266788