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Inside Nerja cave. E. Cabezas
Study reveals humans occupied Nerja Cave 10,000 years earlier than previously thought

Study reveals humans occupied Nerja Cave 10,000 years earlier than previously thought

The work of researchers from the University of Cordoba has been possible thanks to a new technique called ‘smoke archaeology’

Eugenio Cabezas

Nerja

Friday, 12 May 2023, 11:57

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A new study has dated human presence in the Nerja Cave to 41,000 years ago; 10,000 years earlier than previously thought. This new study has documented 35,000 years of visits in 73 different phases, which, according to the researchers, means that human groups entered the cave every approximately every 35 years, according to a press release from the University of Cordoba in April.

The investigations were carried out by an international team including researchers from the University of Cordoba, including Marián Medina who is currently at the University of Bordeaux, Eva Rodríguez and José Luis Sachidrián, professor of Prehistory and scientific director of the Cueva de Nerja. The findings were published in the Scientific Reports journal on the website Nature.com.

This level of detailed knowledge is possible thanks to the use of the latest techniques for dating the charcoal and fossilised smoke remains in the cave’s stalagmites. The technique is known as ‘smoke archaeology’ and was developed by the main author of the work, Marián Medina, who has spent more than a decade reconstructing European prehistory through the remains of torches, bonfires and smoke from Spanish and French caves.

Still a lot to be revealed

Medina highlighted that the information smoke archaeology techniques can yield about human rituals and lifestyles "is impressive". In the Nerja cave project, 68 dates were presented, 48 unpublished, from the deep areas of the cave and with Palaeolithic art, and evidence has been found of chronoculture not recorded until now in the Nerja cave.

"The prehistoric paintings were seen with the flickering light of the flames, which could give a certain sense of movement and warmth to the figures," said Medina, who also highlighted the use of the cave for funerals for thousands of years, and that "there is still a lot to be revealed about how we lived".

In May 2020, a team from the University of Cordoba, which also included Medina and Sanchidrián, published a study that questioned the Neanderthal authorship of the rock art through the Nerja Cave and studied the evolution of the artistic manifestations.

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