Freshwater and marine shells used as ornaments 30,000 years ago discovered in Malaga’s Cueva de Ardales

Image of researchers in the Cueva de Ardales.

Image of researchers in the Cueva de Ardales. Credit: University of Cadiz.

Up to 13 marine and freshwater shells that were carefully transformed by humans between 25,000 and 30,000 years ago have been found in Malaga’s Cueva de Ardales.

As detailed in a press release from the University of Cadiz, this incredible discovery was the result of research carried out in collaboration with the Neanderthal Museum of Colonia, the University of Colonia and the Cueva de Ardales.

Their work was recently published in the journal ‘Environmental Archeology: The Journal of Human Paleocology’.

The find has once again placed this archaeological enclave among the most important in the Iberian Peninsula. Body adornments are a topic of great interest among the scientific community when it comes to the Paleolithic period.

These ornamental elements-pendants were probably used to decorate the bodies of the genus Homo sapiens that occupied the cave complex in the past.

The symbolic charge and the distance that, at times, human groups had to travel to collect these natural supports and transform them into decorative elements, represented a significant advance in the development of cognition.

Juan Jesús Cantillo, a professor at the University of Cádiz, and the principal investigator of this study, explained that: “the discovery of this type of marine remains in caves located so far inland and with such ancient chronologies is unusual”.

Until now, on the Mediterranean side of the country, only a little more than 100 remains are known and: “all of them are located on the coast. The inhabitants of the Ardales cave, however, had to travel a distance of more than 50 km to collect the shells on the coast”, added Professor José Ramos.

Also noteworthy was: “the presence of vermetids, a kind of tube-shaped snail that is uncommon in the archaeological record”, stressed Jesús Cantillo.

The chronological framework and the association of these ornaments with rock art and the lithic remains documented inside the cave confirmed their social dimension.

“The results of the excavations in the Cueva de Ardales suggest that it was used as a place of specialised symbolic activities during various phases of the Upper Paleolithic”, confirmed Pedro Cantalejo, research director of the Cueva de Ardales.

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Written by

Chris King

Originally from Wales, Chris spent years on the Costa del Sol before moving to the Algarve where he is a web reporter for The Euro Weekly News covering international and Spanish national news. Got a news story you want to share? Then get in touch at