Study confirms cave paintings in Cueva Ardales originate from Neanderthals

A study of the pigments used in wall paintings in the Cueva Ardales caves in southern Spain originated from Neanderthals.

The cave was discovered in 1821, when an earthquake exposed the cave entrance. In 1918, the famous prehistorian Henri Breuil visited the cave and discovered the first Palaeolithic paintings and engravings.

- Advertisement -

The research, “The symbolic role of the underground world among Middle Palaeolithic Neanderthals” published in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America) was conducted by Àfrica Pitarch Martí and her colleagues from Collaborative Research Center 806 “Our Way to Europe”, where they performed a geoscientific analyses on red pigments from a massive stalagmitic pillar in the cave system.

The edges of the pillar show an entire series of narrow sinter plumes. In these sinter curtain alone, red paint spots, dots, and lines were applied in 45 places.

The objective was to characterise the composition and possible origin of the pigments. The results showed that the composition and arrangement of the pigments cannot be attributed to natural processes, but that they were applied by spraying and in some places by blowing.

The researchers found that the nature of the pigments does not match natural samples taken from the floor and walls of the cave, suggesting that the pigments were brought into the cave from outside.

- Advertisement -

Dating of the pigment suggests that they were applied on two separate occasions, the first being more than 65,000 years ago, whilst the other has been dated to 45,300 and 48,700 years ago during the period of Neanderthal occupation.

According to the authors, these are not art in the strict sense, but rather markings of selected areas of the cave whose symbolic meaning is unknown.


Header Image Credit : Africa Pitarch Martí

- Advertisement -
Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan is multi-award-winning journalist and the Managing Editor at HeritageDaily. His background is in archaeology and computer science, having written over 8,000 articles across several online publications. Mark is a member of the Association of British Science Writers (ABSW), the World Federation of Science Journalists, and in 2023 was the recipient of the British Citizen Award for Education, the BCA Medal of Honour, and the UK Prime Minister's Points of Light Award.

Mobile Application


Related Articles

Labyrinthine structure discovered from the Minoan civilisation

Archaeologists have discovered a monumental labyrinthine structure on the summit of Papoura Hill in Crete.

Dragon sculpture found on the Jiankou section of the Great Wall of China

Archaeologists conducting restoration works on the Jiankou section of the Great Wall of China have discovered an ornate dragon sculpture.

Waters at Roman Bath may have super healing properties

A new study, published in the Microbe journal, has uncovered a diverse array of microorganisms in the geothermal waters at Roman Bath that may have super healing properties.

9,000-year-old Neolithic stone mask unveiled

A rare stone mask from the Neolithic period has been unveiled for the first time by the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

Archaeologists recover two medieval grave slabs from submerged shipwreck

Underwater archaeologists from Bournemouth University have recovered two medieval grave slabs from a shipwreck off the coast of Dorset, England.

Study confirms palace of King Ghezo was site of voodoo blood rituals

A study, published in the journal Proteomics, presents new evidence to suggest that voodoo blood rituals were performed at the palace of King Ghezo.

Archaeologists search for home of infamous Tower of London prisoner

A team of archaeologists are searching for the home of Sir Arthur Haselrig, a leader of the Parliamentary opposition to Charles I, and whose attempted arrest sparked the English Civil War.

Tartessian plaque depicting warrior scenes found near Guareña

Archaeologists from the Institute of Archaeology of Mérida (IAM) and the CSIC have uncovered a slate plaque depicting warrior scenes at the Casas del Turuñuelo archaeological site.