Category Archives: SPAIN

Ancient humans used Spanish caves for rock art for more than 50,000 years

Ancient humans used Spanish caves for rock art for more than 50,000 years

Cueva de Ardales in Málaga, Spain, is a famous site containing more than 1,000 prehistoric cave paintings and engravings. It also includes artefacts and human remains. But since its discovery in 1821, after an earthquake unearthed the entrance, the way ancient humans used the cave has been a mystery.

Ancient humans used Spanish caves for rock art for more than 50,000 years
Excavation area in Cueva de Ardales with evidence from the Middle Palaeolithic period.

New research, published in PLoS ONE, on items from the first excavation has shed light on prehistoric Iberia’s human inhabitants. Archaeologists from Spain, Germany and Denmark collaborated to analyse the paintings, relics and human bones from the cave.

Combining radiometric dating – measuring the presence of radioactive elements such as carbon-14 to determine the age of remains – with other analyses of artefacts from the site, the researchers have determined the first occupants of Cueva de Ardales, arriving more than 65,000 years ago, were likely Neanderthals.

Lithics from the Middle Paleolithic layers of zone 3. A: Quartzite core or heavy-duty tool, B: Blade, C: Levallois flake, D: Sidescraper.

Modern humans came to use the cave around 30,000 years later. This timeframe coincides with the disappearance of Homo neanderthalensis some 40,000 years ago. 

Homo sapiens used the cave sporadically until as recently as the beginning of the Copper Age, around 7,000 years ago.

Rock art is believed to be an indication of humankind’s first attempts to understand, rationalise and abstract the external world.

Our ability to imagine and communicate through language, writing, science, art and abstractions are likely consequences of such leaps in ancient human culture.

The authors write: “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. 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.”

The oldest examples of cave art in the Málaga site include abstract signs such as dots, fingertips and hand stencils created with red pigment. Later artwork involves more complex paintings and figures such as animals.

Human remains indicate the use of the cave as a burial place in the Holocene – the period of geological time since the end of the last major glacial epoch, or “ice age”, around 12,000 years ago.

There is limited evidence of domestic activities at Cueva de Ardales, suggesting humans were not residing in the cave.

The team’s findings confirm that Cueva de Ardales is a site of immense symbolic value.

The Iberian Peninsula holds more than 30 other caves with similar rock art, making the region a key locality for investigating the history and culture of ancient humans in Europe.

Foraging badger uncovers a hoard of more than 200 Roman coins dating back to the THIRD century in a Spanish cave

Foraging badger uncovers a hoard of more than 200 Roman coins dating back to the THIRD century in a Spanish cave

Archaeologists are thanking a hungry badger for the discovery of a stash of 209 ancient Roman coins, found in a cave in the Asturias region of northern Spain.

Foraging badger uncovers a hoard of more than 200 Roman coins dating back to the THIRD century in a Spanish cave
A European badger foraging in grassland with wildflowers at the forest edge in spring.

The find came a few months after Storm Filomena, a historic blizzard that hit the Iberian peninsula in January 2021, blanketing Madrid in several feet of snow.

The unusual precipitation would have made it hard for animals to find food, reports the Guardian.

Experts believe that a badger rooting around for something to eat in the snow happened upon the crack in La Cuesta cave, where the coins were hidden, unearthing the treasure.

The disappointed badger left about 90 coins littering the ground in front of his den, where Roberto Garcia, a local resident found them. He called in the archaeology experts and in April the Asturias department of culture began conducting excavations in the cave.

A badger helped dig up 209 ancient Roman coins in a Spanish cave.

The copper and bronze coins dating from the third to fifth centuries A.D. Some were minted in far-off cities, including Constantinople, Thessaloniki, Arles, Lyon, Rome, London, and Antioch.

Experts believe ancient Spaniards might have hidden the treasure during the invasion of the Suevi, a Germanic people, in the year 409 A.D.

“We think it’s a reflection of the social and political instability which came along with the fall of Rome and the arrival of groups of barbarians to northern Spain,” Alfonso Fanjul Peraza, an archaeologist at the Autonomous University of Madrid who led the dig, told CNN.

The team’s studies to date have been published in the Cuadernos de Prehistoria y Arqueología at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid. It’s the largest find of its kind in a Spanish cave.

La Cuesta cave, where a badger helped dig up 209 ancient Roman coins, is in the Asturias region of northwestern Spain.

The coins are undergoing cleaning and conservation ahead of going on view at the Archaeological Museum of Asturias, and further excavations are planned for the site, as experts believe they may be part of a larger hoard.

“We want to know,” Fanjul Peraza told El Pais, “if it was a one-off hiding place, or if there was a group of humans living there,”

The Neanderthal lifestyle: archaeological insights from Valencia

The Neanderthal lifestyle: archaeological insights from Valencia

A research team from the Department of Prehistory, Archaeology and Ancient History of the University of Valencia (UV) has discovered and dated in Aspe (Alicante) an open-air neanderthal habitat over 120,000 years old in the Natural Park of Los Aljezares.

The Neanderthal lifestyle: archaeological insights from Valencia
The lower limbs of a Neanderthal analyzed

The team was led by Professor Aleix Eixea, in collaboration with the University of Alicante (UA), the Bizkaiko Arkeologi Museoa and the Institut des Sciences de l’Evolution of France.

Neanderthals, also known as homo neanderthalensis, are an extinct subspecies of humans who lived in Eurasia until about 40,000 years ago. Experts are not sure of the exact cause of their extinction; they may have simply assimilated and interbred with homo sapiens (modern humans).

Based on the recent study of the area, Prof. Eixea posited that “this site served as a crossing point for the neanderthal populations between the coast and the interior of the Iberian Peninsula within a wide territorial network that the different groups would use to stock up on biotic and abiotic resources.” 

We know that during the Middle Paleolithic era, the period during which Neanderthals lived, the primitive human populations settled in open-air camps. This is the case at the Los Aljezares site.

However, historically, the archaeological record of the European Paleolithic Era, particularly that of the Iberian Peninsula, comes from sites located in caves. In fact, most of the archeological excavations there in the last century and a half have been carried out in caves.

Thus, there is relatively little data about neanderthal activity –human behaviour, settlement patterns, and so on — outside of their cave shelters. 

A Neanderthal tooth studied by researchers

Prof. Eixea explained that the Los Aljezares site “is one of the few examples of this type in the Iberian Peninsula and the only one in the Valencian area in which two archaeological levels have been documented in their original position, rich in lithic, faunal and archaeobotanical materials, and well-dated in time.”

This made it possible for researchers to gain a more detailed understanding of the landscape and climate, both very different from the current ones, and also the activity of the neanderthals themselves. 

Further analysis of the configuration of the site indicated that it was also a place where neanderthals would make stone and wooden tools. They also prepared animals they hunted (deer and horses) for consumption. 

Overall, Los Aljezares can be said to provide a number of keys to understanding the ecology, adaptation and dynamics of the neanderthal lifestyle in the Iberian Peninsula. 

Archaeology breakthrough as Christopher Columbus’ first tomb found: ‘We got it!’

Archaeology breakthrough as Christopher Columbus’ first tomb found: ‘We got it!’

The burial site of Columbus has been a mystery for some time. He was initially left to rest in Valladolid, a city in northwest Spain, three years after his death in 1506. However, the exact location of this first tomb has never been confirmed, until now.

After being buried in Valladolid, Columbus’ remains were taken to his family mausoleum in the southern city of Seville and were moved several more times over the following centuries before returning to Seville in 1898.

In 1544 his remains were moved from Seville to Santo Domingo, which is the capital of the Dominican Republic, in accordance with the instructions he had left behind.

In 1795 his bones were moved to Havana before being shipped back across the Atlantic and returned to Seville in 1898.

In 2005, researchers from the University of Granada used DNA samples to confirm that it was in fact Columbus’ remains that were left in the Seville tomb.

Researchers have now determined that he was first buried in the San Francisco convent in Valladolid which no longer exists.

This was revealed in a study by Spain’s Naval Museum.

Archaeology news: Columbus was an explorer
Archaeology News: Plaza Mayor in Valldolid

The site is currently a commercial zone near the spacious Plaza Mayor, a broad, pedestrianised expanse surrounded by arcaded buildings painted red.

The first tomb of Columbus is now known to have been located near the Plaza Mayor in Valladolid.

The researchers’ statement follows “a detailed historical investigation, confirmed by ground-penetrating radars.”

Researchers used samples of lead, brick, and gold from the Seville burial report to find the match with the burial spot in Valladolid.

Marcial Castro, who led the research, said: “I was tasked with identifying the location where Columbus was buried from these threads of gold, silver, nails, lead, brick and to my surprise we got it.”

Archaeology news: He was moved to Seville

Historians and archeologists have since recreated in 3D the dimensions of the chapel in Valladolid that housed the remains of Columbus.

Christopher Columbus was an Italian explorer and navigator who completed four voyages across the Atlantic Ocean, opening the way for the widespread European exploration and colonisation of the Americas.

His expeditions, sponsored by the Catholic Monarchs of Spain, were the first European contact with the Caribbean, Central America, and South America.

Archaeology news: Columbus was an explorer (Image: getty)
Archaeology news: Columbus discovered the West Indies

But the navigator has also long been blamed for carrying the sexually transmitted infection syphilis from the Americas to Europe through his crewmen.

While the researchers in Spain are confident they have found the true burial spot, The Dominican Republic maintained that the navigator rests in the cathedral in Santo Domingo, in a coffin found in 1877 with the inscription “Christopher Columbus.”

This claim is made due to the fact that the bodies of the explorer and his son were transferred from the Iberian peninsula in 1523 to Hispaniola – a territory that is today divided between the Spanish-speaking Dominican Republic and the French-speaking Haiti – where Christopher Columbus wished to be buried.

A 3,700-year-old burial site suggests female rule in Bronze Age Spain

A 3,700-year-old burial site suggests female rule in Bronze Age Spain

Archaeologists in Spain have determined that the 3,700-year-old remains of a woman found beneath a Bronze Age era ruin may well be the first case of an ancient female ruling elite in Western Europe.

3,700 Year Old Burial Chamber Of Canaanite Kings Discovered In Megiddo
View of the interior of La Almoloya grave 38.

The discovery at the La Almoloya site in Murcia, Spain, dates to around 1,700 B.C., according to newly published research in the British journal Antiquity.

The woman’s potential status as a ruler also means that the ruin her body was buried beneath is likely the first palace found in Western Europe dating from the Bronze Age, which lasted from about 3,200 -1,200 B.C.

The Almoloya site was first discovered in 1944 and is believed to be the cradle of the El Argar society, which flourished between 2,200 and 1,550 B.C. in the southeast part of what is now Spain.

They were one of the first societies in the region to use bronze, build cities, and erect monuments. El Argar is also considered to be an early example of a class-based state, with divisions in wealth and labour.

The woman’s remains, discovered in 2014, were buried with a man and several valuable objects, most notably a rare silver crown-like diadem on her head.

Further analysis of the remains and artefacts over the last few years led researchers to their conclusions about the significance of the find.

“These grave goods has allowed us to grasp the economic and political power of this individual and the dominant class to which they belonged,” researchers said in a press release.

The remains of the woman and man were found in a large jar located beneath the floor of a room. Researchers believe the woman was 25-30 years old and the man was 35-40 when they died around the same time in the mid-17th century B.C.

Genetic analysis indicates they had children together, including a daughter buried elsewhere on the site.

But it was the valuable objects, and the diadem, in particular, that suggested the political importance of the woman.

Also significant was the location of the remains beneath a room in a large building complex that seems to have had both residential and political functions, including a room with benches that could hold up to 50 people that researchers nicknamed the ‘parliament’.

This combination of residential and political use means the building meets the definition of a palace and would make it the first discovered that dates from the Bronze Age in Western Europe.

“The La Almoloya discoveries have revealed unexpected political dimensions of the highly stratified El Argar society,” the researchers said.

The building was destroyed by fire not long after the woman was interred, they said.

Palaeontologists Unearth Dozens of Giant Dinosaur Eggs in Fossilized Nest in Spain

Paleontologists Unearth Dozens of Giant Dinosaur Eggs in Fossilized Nest in Spain

Archaeologists have extracted 30 titanosaur dinosaur eggs found in a two-ton rock in northern Spain and believe there could be as many as 70 deeper inside the boulder.

The titanosaur was a long-necked sauropod that lived until the extinction event at the end of the Cretaceous period 66 million years ago. The eggs were found at a dig site in Loarre in the northeastern Spanish province of Huesca in September.

Preliminary tests indicate that the nests belonged to the titanosaur, a quadruped herbivore with a long tail and neck that could reach up to 66 feet in length.

Paleontologists Unearth Dozens of Giant Dinosaur Eggs in Fossilized Nest in Spain
The first extracted titanosaur egg near Huesca in northern Spain.

An international team of palaeontologists led by the Aragosaurus-IUCA Group of the University of Zaragoza did the work in collaboration with Nova University Lisbon in Portugal.

Miguel Moreno-Azanz, Carmen Nunez-Lahuerta and Eduardo Puertolas are leading 25 palaeontologists and students from Spanish, Portuguese and German institutions in the project.

Moreno-Azanza, who is affiliated with Nova University Lisbon, said in an interview that two nests were excavated in 2020, and about 30 eggs have been discovered in the rock.

Carmen Nunez Lahuerta, a director of the excavation, works on a block containing a dinosaur nest near Huesca in northern Spain.

“The main objective of the 2021 campaign was the extraction of a large nest that contains at least 12 eggs that were integrated into a block of rock weighing over two tons,” he said. “In total, five people dedicated eight hours a day for 50 days to excavate the nest, which was finally removed with the help of a bulldozer.”

Moreno-Azanza pointed out that it was unusual to extract such a large rock. He said it and 10 smaller rocks from the site were now in a warehouse in Loarre and will eventually be displayed at the future Laboratory Museum.

Laura de Jorge and Cristina Sanz Ascaso prepare a 2-ton block for extraction in the discovered dinosaur nest near Huesca in northern Spain.

“It is expected that next spring the space will open its doors to visitors, who will be able to follow the process of preparing and studying the fossils of this site in person,” Moreno-Azanza said.

“The museum has two exhibition rooms where the methodology of a complex paleontological excavation will be explained.”

He said the exhibition would be a satellite room of the Museum of Natural Sciences of the University of Zaragoza and feature specimens from the Loarre site and replicas of dinosaur eggs from other parts of the world.

Moreno-Azanza also said the Loarre Dinosaur Eggs project has obtained funding for the next three years.

The excavation team poses at the site where the titanosaur eggs were found near Huesca in northern Spain.

The excavation work is being funded by the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology and the Spanish Ministry of Science.

Evidence of Surgery Some 5,300 Years Ago Identified in Spain

Evidence of Surgery Some 5,300 Years Ago Identified in Spain

A team of several researchers from the University of Valladolid, in Spain and one from the Spanish National Research Council in Italy, has found evidence of the earliest ear surgery performed on a human being.

In their paper published in the journal Scientific Reports, the group describes their study of a human skull found at the Dolmen of El Pendónis back in 2018 and what they learned from it.

Dolmen of El Pendónis is a dig site near Burgos, Spain. Prior research has shown that the site was once used by early people as a funerary chamber. Prior research has also shown that the site was used for approximately 800 years, between 3,800 and 3,000 BC.

Evidence of Surgery Some 5,300 Years Ago Identified in Spain
Skull understudy found at El Pendón site. Superior: Frontal and lateral view of the skull (Photo: ÑFotógrafos Photography Study). Inferior: Skull with mastoidectomy in situ in the context of the megalithic ossuary.

In the summer of 2018, a skull was found at the site and was put into storage. More recently, the researchers with this new effort retrieved the skull and took a closer look at it. In so doing, they found it bore evidence of a type of cranial surgery meant to cure an ear ailment.

They also found evidence showing that the patient, a woman between the ages of 35 and 50, had survived the surgery—at least for a few months.

There was evidence of bone regrowth in the holes that had been bored through her skull. The skull was dated 5,300 years ago, making it the earliest known example of ear surgery.

The procedure, known today as a mastoidectomy, is done to clean out the area behind the ear that has become infected. Failure to correct the problem can lead to deafness in some cases, or progressive infections leading to more serious problems, including death.

The woman who underwent the procedure required it on both ears. It is presumed that her condition was painful, enough so that she was willing to undergo what must have been an incredibly painful surgery.

Further inspection of the skull showed she had lost a lot of teeth, suggesting she was quite old for the time.

The researchers also found evidence of enlarged auditory canals, likely the result of the surgical procedure.

In the same tomb as the surgical patient, a flint tool was discovered—it had evidence of having been reheated several times, likely making it a cautery tool for stopping bleeding.

Well-Preserved Visigoth Sarcophagus Found at Roman Villa in Spain

Well-Preserved Visigoth Sarcophagus Found at Roman Villa in Spain

Researchers in southeast Spain have uncovered an incredibly well-preserved Visigoth coffin at the site of a former Roman villa. The stone sarcophagus is about six feet, seven inches, long with a swirling geometric decoration along its slanted lid interlaced with intricate ivy leaves designs.

It’s estimated the coffin dates from the 6th century AD, when the Iberian peninsula was part of the Visigoth kingdom, after the fall of the Roman empire.

The coffin was uncovered at Los Villaricos, a Roman villa established around the first century near the modern town of Mula but abandoned by the fifth century.

Sometime between the 5th and 7th centuries, it was taken over by Germanic invaders.

A team led by Rafael González Fernández, a historian at the University of Murcia, found the coffin earlier this month, during a summer archaeological campaign.

Measuring about six-foot-seven, the carved stone coffin (above) is decorated with geometric patterns interlaced with intricate ivy leaves designs

‘We weren’t expecting this spectacular discovery,’ González told the Times of London—in fact, they initially thought they’d found an ornate rectangular column, or pilaster.

But after some delicate cleaning, they found a crismón, or Chi Rho, one of the earliest forms of Christogram, at the head of what turned out to be a coffin.

A Christogram is a combination of letters forming the initials of Jesus Christ, often overlapping the Greek letters chi (X) and rho (P).

A Christogram, or a combination of letters forming the initials of Jesus Christ, often overlapping the Greek letters chi (X) and rho (P)

Although the Visigoths were initially pagan, by the 6th century they had largely converted to Christianity.

Human remains were found inside the coffin, though more analysis will need to be done to learn more about who the deceased was. 

‘This sarcophagus … shows the archaeological power of [Los Villaricos] and confirms our commitment to the University of Murcia,’ Mula city councilor Diego J. Boluda told National Geographic History. ‘Undoubtedly, the piece will occupy a preferential place in the Museum of the City of Mula.’ 

While the Visigoths were initially pagan, by the 6th century they had largely converted to Christianity. Pictured: 1888 Painting depicting the 587 AD conversion of Reccared I, Visigothic king of Hispania, to Catholicism, by Antonio Muñoz Degrain

In its prime, Los Villaricos was a wealthy Roman villa, Murica Today! reports, with evidence of an olive press, storage for olive oil and other agricultural activity.

The Visigoths repurposed the villa’s main reception room into a Christian basilica and the adjoining patio into a necropolis.

The three-week excavation ‘was focused on finishing excavating the last three burials in the necropolis and continuing with the excavation work of the complex located north of the town,’ González told National Geographic.

During the Roman era, Los Villaricos was a stopping point along a trade route between Carthage and Complutum, a settlement northeast of Madrid.

Later, it would have been strategic due to its proximity to the Visigoth city of Cehegín.