Palaeolithic Archaeology of the Almonda Karst System (Torres Novas, Portugal)

The Almonda river flows out of a karstic spring located at the base of a ca.75 m high rock face, part of a fault escarpment that separates Portuguese Estremadura’s Central Limestone Massif from the Tertiary Basin of the Tagus. Over time, the incision of the underground river left a labyrinthine network of fossil galleries found at different elevations above the spring. Over the last twenty years, the corresponding collapsed entrances have been located from the inside. One of these, the Gruta da Oliveira, was re-opened for excavation, begun in 1991 and concluded in 2012, of a >6 m-thick Middle Palaeolithic sequence rich in artefacts, features, and animal and human remains.

The Middle-to-Upper Palaeolithic transition in the Mula basin (Murcia, Spain)

In 1991, mitigation work undertaken at Cueva Antón prior to raising of the La Cierva dam exposed a >4-m-thick fluviatile sequence containing Mousterian occupations. New excavations since 2006 revealed ephemeral human presence in the uppermost levels, which yielded a perforated and painted scallop shell. In the basal levels, the remains correspond to short stays organised around hearth features and buried in fine sands deposited by low-energy flooding of the shelter by the Mula River. Two adjacent rock shelters in the Rambla Perea canyon, Finca de Doña Martina and La Boja revealed stratified Epimagdalenian, Upper Magdalenian, Solutreogravettian, Upper Solutrean, Lower Solutrean, Middle Gravettian, Early Gravettian, Evolved Aurignacian and Mousterian occupations containing abundant lithics, ornaments, structured features (hearths), and charcoal. The two sites extend into MIS-2 times the MIS-3 and MIS-4 record of nearby Cueva Antón.

U-series dating of the Palaeolithic cave paintings of Western Europe

Dating rock art has traditionally been made by istylistical comparison or stratigraphic context. Radiocarbon has been applied to obtain direct dates for black paintings made with charcoal, but most cave art comes in the form of engravings or paintings made with mineral pigments (black manganese, yellow or red ochre) and small sample size makes it difficult to deal with contamination issues. U-series dating of samples as small as 10 mg makes it possible to cobtain minimum dates for art covered by calcite. At El Castillo (Spain), the method showed that red disks were painted before 41,000 years ago, possibly significantly earlier, and ages in excess of 37,000 years were obtained for hand stencils in the same panel. This approch is now being applied to a number of sites in western Europe, which will hopefully shed light on patterns of stylistical evolution and earliest authorship (by Neanderthals or Europe's first modern humans).