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Recreation of the way the neanderthals lived inside the Cueva del Humo.
Not as rough as we thought

Not as rough as we thought

Experts have discovered that the neanderthals died out about 43,000 years ago, not 30,000 as they had believed until recently

FRANCISCO GRIÑÁN

Friday, 2 June 2017, 16:36

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If H. G. Wells time machine were to take us to the caves at La Araña during the paleolithic period, we would meet our ancestors, the neanderthals, and our first reaction would probably be to run away. This species has a reputation as being brutal and savage, and a people whose inability to evolve led to their own extinction. However, scientists are becoming increaingly convinced that this was not so, and the archaeological site at La Araña is now providing essential information about their refined culinary habits and how their caves were organised.

They werent much different to our homes today, explains archaeologist Julián Ramos, the site director, who says evidence is increasingly being unearthed to indicate that the neanderthals were more intelligent than we used to believe.

So the stigma of beings without human abilities is being destroyed by the way the interiors of the caves in the Complejo del Humo were organised. They were very well separated and structured, says Julián, and he explains that the remains of tools, food and toys which have been discovered show that the neanderthals used to use one area as a workshop, another as a kitchen/dining room and there were even areas for meetings and leisure.

All this shows that they had the same ability that we do and the same level of social behaviour, he adds. Neanderthals lived in these caves in Malaga for thousands of years, and this has enabled the scientists to carry out significant studies and even recreate the way they organised themselves via infographics.

Also, in terms of food, they didnt only take advantage of what was on offer in the sea and on land, but also had some rather gourmet tastes. A mussel shell found in the lower levels of the Cueva del Humo had been roasted by the neanderthals, at a time when the Cro-Magnons had not even arrived in Europe. This shows not only that they used fire, but also that they did so for cooking.

Julián Ramos has been working on these excavations for 40 years and is the head of the Yacimientos de La Araña association, which administrates the site. He says that so far they have barely scratched the surface of the six cave complexes, which he calls the biggest archive in Malaga. We have only looked at about one per cent so far, and we already have remains and evidence of half a million years of humanity, he says.

The sediments in the caves date from the pre-neanderthal period to the Copper Age and even the Roman era. The site was open to the public on the recent Noche en Blanco cultural event so people could come and find out more about Malagas first inhabitants.

The site at La Araña is so large that it continually brings to light new findings and means that previous conclusions have to be reviewed. The problem is that the association which protects the site lacks public funding and relies on its members fees and donations from visitors. For this reason, it is also taking advantage of the interest of numerous universities all over the world to finance its research projects.

Were better known abroad than here in Malaga, says Julián, giving as an example a recent study by Oxford University which has enabled them to age the presence of the neanderthals at La Araña.

We always thought they lived here until 30,000 years ago, but the latest dating of organic fragments of shells and bones shows that they died out about 43,000 years ago, explains Julián.

He says that one of the challenges for the future is to find out exactly when this species coexisted with the one which followed it, the Cro-Magnons. The answer to that may not be far away. Specifically, it is lying buried in La Araña caves, just waiting to be discovered.

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