Prehistoric Cave Art: Neanderthals Indeed Painted Andalusia’s Cueva De Ardales

Flowstone Formation in Sala De Las Estrellas at Cueva De Ardales

Flowstone formation in the Sala de las Estrellas at Cueva de Ardales (Malaga, Andalusia), with the traces of red pigment analyzed and discussed in the article. Credit: © João Zilhão, ICREA

The origin and date of appearance of prehistoric cave art are the subjects of ongoing debate. Spain’s Cueva de Ardales is one point of discussion.

There a flowstone formation is stained red in places. This coloring is apparently almost 65,000 years old but until now, a part of the scientific community attributed it to a natural coating of iron oxide deposited by flowing water. However, that hypothesis has just been rejected by the findings of an international team of scientists including a CNRS researcher.

The team members analyzed samples of red residues collected from the flowstone surface and compared them with iron oxide–rich deposits in the cave. They concluded that the ochre-based pigment was intentionally applied, i.e. painted—by Neanderthals, as modern humans had yet to make their appearance on the European continent—and that, importantly, it had probably been brought to the cave from an external source. 

Furthermore, variations in pigment composition between samples were detected, corresponding to different dates of application, sometimes many thousands of years apart. Thus, it seems that many generations of Neanderthals visited this cave and colored the draperies of the great flowstone formation with red ochre. This behavior indicates a motivation to return to the cave and symbolically mark the site, and it bears witness to the transmission of a tradition down through the generations. The scientists’ findings have been published in PNAS today (August 2, 2021).

Reference: “The symbolic role of the underground world among Middle Palaeolithic Neanderthals” by Africa Pitarch Martí, João Zilhão, Francesco d’Errico, Pedro Cantalejo-Duarte, Salvador Domínguez-Bella, Josep M. Fullola, Gerd C. Weniger and José Ramos-Muñoz, 2 August 2021, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2021495118

Be the first to comment on "Prehistoric Cave Art: Neanderthals Indeed Painted Andalusia’s Cueva De Ardales"

Leave a comment

Email address is optional. If provided, your email will not be published or shared.