50,000 Years Of Art

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50,000 Years Of Art

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Cave art a part of developing culture for more than 50,000 years

Art and burials were intimately entwined for our ancient ancestors for more than 50,000 years according to new discoveries inside a famous cave in Spain.

IMAGE: EXCAVATION AREA IN CUEVA DE ARDALES WITH EVIDENCE FROM THE MIDDLE PALAEOLITHIC PERIOD. view more CREDIT: RAMOS-MUÑOZ ET AL., CC-BY 4.0 (HTTPS://CREATIVECOMMONS.ORG/LICENSES/BY/4.0/)

A cave in southern Spain was used by ancient humans both as a canvas for artwork and as a burial place for more than 50,000 years, according to a cache of discoveries by Spanish archaeologists.

Cueva de Ardales, a cave in Málaga, Spain, is famous for holding more than 1,000 wall paintings and carvings made by ancient people, as well as prehistoric artifacts and human remains.

However, until now the way this cave fitted into ancient culture was only poorly understood. But the discoveries by this team of researchers from the University of Cadiz have now shed the first revealing light on the development of human culture in the Iberian Peninsula.

Using radiometric dating combined with close analysis of remains and artifacts found inside the cave the researchers, whose findings have been published in the peer-reviewed publication PLOS ONE, have concluded that the site’s first occupants were Neanderthals who lived more than 65,000 years ago.

Modern humans only arrived on the scene much later – around 35,000 years ago – and used the cave intermittently until as recently as the beginning of the Copper Age, which lasted for a millennium from 4500 BC to 3500 BC.

The most ancient rock art inside the cave exists as a series of abstract marks such as dots, fingertips, and hand-stencils created with a rich, burgundy-coloured pigment, while later artworks show a variety of animals likely found in the area at the time.

However, the evidence that humans lived inside the cave is scant. Human remains dating back as far as 10,000 years have been excavated inside the cave but there are no indications of domestic day-to-day living which suggest that the cave was primarily a place of burial and ceremony rather than habitation.

The results confirm Cueva de Ardales as a site with a high symbolic value and supplies a timeline for ancient human activity in Spain, which also fits the patterns suggested by finds in more than 30 other caves in the region, each of which has similar artworks.

“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,” wrote the researchers.

“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.”

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