The origin and the date of the appearance of prehistoric cave art are still debated. Among the sites discussed, the Spanish cave of Ardales where a stalagmitic flow is colored red in places: the coloring would date almost 65,000 years1 but part of the scientific community had until then attributed it to a natural flow of oxide. of iron. This hypothesis has nevertheless just been swept aside by the results of an international team involving a CNRS2 researcher.
By analyzing samples of red residues collected on the stalagmite and comparing them with deposits rich in iron oxides present in the cave, the scientists concluded that ocher-based pigment was indeed applied to the stalagmites and especially that this pigment was probably brought into the cave from an outside source. This structure was therefore intentionally painted by Neanderthals (modern humans did not yet live on the European continent at that time).
In addition, variations in composition between the different samples of paint taken, corresponding to chronological differences, sometimes of several thousand years were noted: many generations of Neanderthals would therefore have visited the cave and marked them with red ocher. draperies of this great stalagmitic flow. This shows an interest in returning to the cave and symbolically marking a place, as well as a transmission of this tradition between generations. This work is published in PNAS on August 2, 2021.