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The scanning of part of a rare stegamite. SUR
CAT scans of rare stegamites discovered in Malaga cave reveal some of their secrets
Science

CAT scans of rare stegamites discovered in Malaga cave reveal some of their secrets

Medical technology at a Costa del Sol hospital is being applied to these geological formations which are only found elsewhere in Australia, Puerto Rico and Slovakia

Regina Sotorrío

Malaga

Monday, 26 February 2024

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The 'Cave of the Stegamites' (La Cueva de las Estegamitas), in the area of the La Araña quarry, on the eastern edge of Malaga city, features rare stegamites which are formed in black calcite and appear as ridges along a cave floor. They are only found elsewhere in caves in Australia, Puerto Rico, and Slovakia. The Malaga cave was discovered by chance in 2021 when a cavity opened up after one of the quarry's blasting operations.

Now, the Vithas Xanit Hospital, the Geological Institute of the CSIC and the University of Malaga (UMA) have led a study with CAT scan technology to reveal the interior of a stegamite. "This innovative initiative has allowed us to contemplate for the first time the internal structure of this exceptional type of formation, revealing layers of growth whose age is still unknown, but it marks a milestone in geological research," the researchers said in a press release.

According to Juan José Duran Valsero, research professor at the Spanish Geological and Mining Institute (IGME-CSIC), two different patterns have been observed. One corresponds to the concentric layers representative of the growth, "which seems very homogeneous, with very similar layers in thickness". The other is stranger. It is "fan-shaped", with the apex at the central point and a series of "spokes" opening and curving towards the outer edge of the stegamite. "This pattern may be an orientation of crystalline growth or represent a diagenetic process, i.e. a later process," he explained.

The scan was carried out at the Vithas Xanit International Hospital. "It opens up a new horizon in the way we use medical technology, allowing us to look inside geological formations without altering their state," Durán said. It offers "new possibilities for knowledge", added Sergio Cañete Hidalgo, head of UMA.

This is not the first time that the Benalmádena hospital has participated in such a study. In 2022 it collaborated with the UMA and the IGME-CSIC to carry out a CAT scan on of two samples of stalagmites from caves in Malaga province, with the aim of finding out the evolution of Malaga's palaeoclimate. It also helped Mijas council, together with a group of UMA researchers to analyse a Phoenician cremation urn from the 7th century, located in the archaeological site of Cortijo de Acebedo in Mijas, where bone and metal remains were found after analysis.

The future of the cave is pending the opinion of the Junta de Andalucía on its protection. At the moment, the administration is analysing the report submitted two months ago by experts from the University of Granada on its geological value.

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