The Higuerón cave, one of the sites for the ancient art. / SUR

What ancient pictorial representations can be unravelled from the Malaga caves?

The province has a dozen caves where Palaeolithic art has been discovered, with the caves of La Pileta (Benaoján), Ardales and Nerja standing out


A geoarchaeological conference held in Alcaucín last Saturday, 24 September, heard from the team of researchers linked to the Ardales and Nerja caves some initial conclusions on the origin of the region's prehistoric rock art.

Malaga province has a dozen caves where Palaeolithic art has been discovered, with the caves of La Pileta (Benaoján), Ardales and Nerja standing out. Less well known are the paintings in the caves of La Victoria and Higuerón/Tesoro, Rincón de la Victoria, as their prehistoric galleries were closed to visitors until last February.

Between them, more than four thousand drawings made between 65,000 and 8,000 years ago have been preserved, according to the researchers.

The researchers say the series of pre-figurative graphic codes that are represented are the forerunner of the figurative art that spread throughout Europe and part of Asia and Africa.

They were made with red paint from iron oxides, and there are different types detailed by the researchers:

- Hands made by applying red or black pigment directly, or by blowing the pigment around the hand, producing a silhouette of the hand.

- Loose bars or parallel strokes made by applying red pigment with the fingers.

- Large meanders and strokes, sometimes parallel, made by applying red or brown pigmented clay pasted by fingertips.

- Rounded spots made by blowing red pigment.

- Small dots of red pigment made with the fingertips.

- Fine black strokes made with a charcoal point.

- Marks and parallel strokes engraved directly with the fingers.

All this graphic repertoire was the "direct antecedent" of later Palaeolithic figurative art, which was designed as a naturalistic reflection of Quaternary hunters and fishermen, the researchers say. However, due to a lack of technology, the differing artforms have not been chronologically separated. This had led to a scientific neglect of the entire non-figurative repertoire which is now being reviewed by a number of international projects.

In 2018, the journal Science published the dating of rock art from the Ardales cave, which broke the 40,000-year ceiling for the origin of human art. Subsequent research, published in the international journal PNAS in 2021, corroborated the Neanderthal authorship of the paintings in the cave, with the use of red pigments. Since then, researchers have continued to study prehistoric art and the first human occupation of the bay of Malaga.