(ORDO NEWS) — If archeology has shown us anything, it’s the sobering fickleness of our lives.
Human settlements come and go. We may remain in certain regions, but the face of these regions is changing, and the past is often buried in ruins hidden under our feet. But one site seems to have been so special that people have been using it, albeit irregularly, for 50,000 years.
That place is Cueva de Ardales, a cave in Malaga in southern Spain, famous for its prehistoric drawings and graffiti. More than 1,000 such works have been catalogued, some of which have become famous evidence that Neanderthals could create art.
Now, the first excavations have been carried out in the cave, which is finally allowing scientists to better understand what ancient Neanderthals and modern humans used the cave for – and for how long they used it.
For 50,000 years, since Neanderthals began using the cave 65,000 years ago, Neanderthals and modern humans have used Cueva de Ardales to create art and bury their dead.
“Our study presents a well-structured series of more than 50 radiometric dates in Cueva de Ardales that confirm the antiquity of Paleolithic art over 58,000 years ago,” explains the team of researchers led by archaeologist José Ramos-Muñoz of the University of Cadiz in Spain.
“It also confirms that the cave was a site of particular art-related activity, as numerous ocher fragments have been found at Middle Paleolithic levels.”
Excavations were carried out from 2011 to 2018, focusing on the entrance to the cave. This is probably the most visited area of the cave, where the largest number of abstract drawings is concentrated.
From here, the explorers began to go down to reach the various layers buried over time that contain traces of human presence.
These layers revealed the history of the development of the cave, starting from the lowest, the earliest layer. It has been dated to over 58,000 years ago by radiocarbon dating, which is consistent with earlier dates for the most ancient cave paintings, abstract works made up of dots, finger and hand strokes. At this time, the cave was occupied by Neanderthals, who ceased their activities about 43,000 years ago.
Modern humans appeared in the region about 35,000 years ago, which suggests that the cave was not used for quite a long time, about 7,000 years. From the advent of modern humans, the cave was used sporadically until the beginning of the Chalcolithic, or Copper Age, and until the end of the Neolithic.
Interestingly, despite the fact that modern humans appeared much later, they seem to have used the cave for the same purposes as the Neanderthals. None of the artifacts found from any period were related to household chores, suggesting that the cave was not used as a living space.
Instead, the team found pieces of ocher that had been used for painting and sometimes as ritual material throughout the prehistoric era, as well as animal shells and teeth that had been drilled through, possibly for use as jewelry.
They also found human remains, suggesting that the cave was used by modern humans to bury the dead during the early Neolithic period.
“Traces of human activity are rather faint and point to very specific activity related to the symbolic use of the cave,” the researchers write in their paper.
“During the Paleolithic, the cave was certainly used to create rock paintings, as evidenced by the presence of over 1,000 paintings and the presence of several pieces of ocher in the context of excavations. This non-domestic use of the cave continues later in the Neolithic and Chalcolithic, when the cave was used as a burial site.”
The findings confirm that the cave held great symbolic significance over a long prehistoric period, making it an important and valuable archaeological site for the study of human history in Europe.
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