Ardales Cave. SUR
Study of seashells from inland Ardales cave demonstrates their use for adornment 32,000 years ago

Study of seashells from inland Ardales cave demonstrates their use for adornment 32,000 years ago

Archaeology ·

The scientific journal Environmental Archaeology details that the first Homo sapiens wore necklaces and earrings made with pieces collected from the Bay of Malaga

Andrea Jiménez


Friday, 2 June 2023


The first Homo sapiens wore necklaces and earrings made with seashells from the Bay of Malaga, according to a study published in the environmental scientific journal Environmental Archaeology . This details how 13 marine and freshwater shells collected in the Malaga province cave during the excavations in the Sala de las Estrellas date to Upper Palaeolithic, Gravetian period (33,000 - 26,000 years before the present).

The study led by the University of Cadiz, in collaboration with the Neanderthal Museum of Cologne, the University of Cologne and the Ardales Cave has once again placed this location "among the most important in the Iberian Peninsula". According to the scientific article, the shells were "carefully transformed" by humans of the genus Homo sapiens sapiens into ornaments and pendants to decorate the bodies of these groups that occupied the Ardales Cave.

The analysis of these shells has been headed by UCA professor Juan Jesús Cantillo Duarte. "It is unusual to find this type of marine remains in caves located so far inland and with such an ancient chronology. On the Mediterranean, only a little more than a hundred remains were known, and all of them are located on the coast," the professor said.

Archaeological excavation of a dentalium shell piece in the SUR

This study also highlights the presence of vermetids in the cave, "a kind of tube-shaped snail that is uncommon in the archaeological record," said Cantillo Duarte. The chronological framework and the association of these ornaments with the rock art and lithic remains documented inside the cave confirm their social dimension. "The results of the excavations in the Ardales Cave suggest that it was used as a place for specialised symbolic activities during various phases of the Upper Palaeolithic," said Pedro Cantalejo, research director of the Ardales Cave, for whom the cave still has much to tell.

It is "more logical" to find some specimens of this type in Palaeolithic sites on the coast of Malaga, such as those located in the caves of Bajondillo (Torremolinos), La Araña (Málaga), La Victoria (Rincón de la Victoria) and Nerja (Nerja), but they are "very rare" in the caves located inland, as is the case of the Ardales Cave, "where the thirteen specimens studied represent a large percentage of the shells used as ornaments during the oldest phases of Homo sapiens in the entire Mediterranean peninsular [area]," Cantalejo said.

The combination of three species, Thylaeodus (cylindrical tube-shaped), Dentalium (sharp cone-shaped) and Trivia (closed shell-shaped), confirms the interest of these human groups in the aesthetic variety of their personal adornments and highlights the importance of contacts between inland and coastal caves. This mobility was repeated seasonally and involved the use of materials of different origins in both ecosystems: marine shells were used inland and flint pieces from the inland mountain ranges were used on the coast, according to the researchers.


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