New traces brings Spain's Nerja Cave's history back more than it's been thought

"The prehistoric paintings were viewed in the flickering light of the flames, which could give the figures a certain sense of movement and warmth."
Nergis Firtina
Nerja Cave.
Nerja Cave.


A recent study led by the University of Cordoba shows that the Nerja Cave's history can be reconstructed using fossiled scoot and charcoal from more than 8,000 years old torches.

Located in Malaga, Spain, the Cave of Nerja has been a tourist attraction for years, and the study shows that the cave also has the same potential for 41,000 years, according to the study published in Scientific Reports.

As mentioned in the statement, an international team of researchers from the University of Córdoba, Marian Medina, who is currently at the University of Bordeaux, Eva Rodriguez, and José Luis Sachidrián, a professor of prehistory and the scientific director of the Cave of Nerja, have just published the latest surprise from the cave.

Together, they showed that humanity has lived in Nerja for about 41,000 years—10,000 years longer than previously thought—and that the European cave with Paleolithic art has experienced the most confirmed and frequent visits during prehistory.

New traces brings Spain's Nerja Cave's history back more than it's been thought
Marían Medina in the Navarro Cave (Malaga).

They have managed to record 73 distinct stages across 35,000 years of visitation, which suggests that human groups entered the cave roughly every 35 years, according to their calculations. The employment of the most up-to-date methods for dating the coals and remnants of fossilized soot on the stalagmites of the Nerja Cave has allowed for this level of accuracy.

This is what has been dubbed "smoke archaeology," a new methodology created by the work's main author, Marián Medina, a resident of Córdoba's Santa Rosa neighborhood and an honorary researcher at that city's university. Marián Medina has been reconstructing European prehistory for more than ten years by examining the remains of torches, fires, and smoke in Spanish and French caves.

The Carbon-14 dating technique was used

Medina describes the knowledge that Transmission Electron Microscopy and Carbon-14 dating techniques may provide on man's rituals and ways of life with the passion of someone who genuinely enjoys what she does.

This most recent work presents 68 datings, 48 entirely new, from the cave's lowest parts, where Paleolithic art and evidence of chronocultures that have never been documented have been discovered.

"The prehistoric paintings were viewed in the flickering light of the flames, which could give the figures a certain sense of movement and warmth," explains Medina, who underscores the funerary use of the Nerja Cave in the latter part of Prehistory for thousands of years. "There is still much it can reveal about what we were like," she says.

Study abstract:

Charcoal and micro-layers of soot trapped in speleothems from the inner galleries of Nerja Cave were analysed through an interdisciplinary study. The absolute dating of the prehistoric subterranean activity of the cave and the identification of different phases of visits to the deep parts are presented and discussed. The charcoal analysis includes anthracological analysis and SEM–EDX. The soot analysis includes optical microscopy, Raman spectroscopy and TEM–EDX, and the microcounting of soot microlayers. The 14C dating of 53 charcoals identified 12 phases of prehistoric visits to the cave between 41,218 and 3299 cal. BP, putting back the origin of human occupation of this emblematic cave by 10,000 years. The interdisciplinary analysis of the soot microlayers allowed us to perform a high-precision zoom on the last three visitation phases identified by Bayesian analysis (8003–2998 cal. BP.), demonstrating that these phases contain at least 64 distinct incursions, with an average of one visit every 35 years for the Neolithic period. Spatial analysis showed that not all areas of the cave were used in the same periods, highlighting the repetition of visits to certain specific sectors of the Lower Galleries of the cave. Lastly, the anthracological data indicate a cross-cultural and unique use of Pinus tp. sylvestris-nigra wood for lighting activities over an extended period between the Gravettian and Upper Magdalenian.

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