Researchers discover large number of animal skulls in Spanish cave

Researchers discover large number of animal skulls in Spanish cave
Credit: Javier Trueba/Madrid Scientific Films

Researchers have discovered a large number of animal skulls in a Spanish cave dating from 40,000 years ago.

This discovery, described in a paper published in Nature Human Behavior, involved the finding of 35 large animal skulls on the third level of Cueva Des-Cubierta, a multi-level cave system located in the Madrid region of Spain.

These skulls were found alongside Neanderthal teeth and tools, which indicate that the area was inhabited by these ancient humans.

The animal skulls, which included 28 bovine animals, five deer, and two rhinoceroses, were carefully removed from the bodies and had been worked using tools and, in some cases, fire.

Cueva Des-Cubierta has been a popular area of study for archaeologists due to its potential as a source of information about Neanderthal culture and practices.

The cave was first discovered in 1978 and since then, multiple excavations have been conducted in the hope of gaining more insights into the lives of these ancient humans.

The presence of these skulls in the cave is highly irregular and doesn’t match the pattern of Neanderthal caves found in the past. Typically, Neanderthal caves have been related to fairly mundane activities such as hunting or tool-making.

However, the authors of the paper conclude that the skulls found in Cueva Des-Cubierta were not related to subsistence but had a symbolic use, a concept that has not been seen in the Neanderthal archaeological record until now.

The skulls appear to have been stockpiled for a considerable amount of time, as they occupy an entire sediment layer that represents “years, decades, centuries, or even millennia”. The purpose of the skulls remains unknown, but the researchers suggest that they may have been hunting trophies.

This latest discovery has opened a new avenue for research and has the potential to shed more light on Neanderthal culture and practices.