History - Prehistory

Prehistory in Andalucia - Up to 3rd century BC

Andalucia, with its extensive coast and proximity to Africa, just across the Strats of Gibraltar - was often one of the first areas to be explored and settled by new tribes. For this reason, the region is rich with archaeological remains going back millennia, some better preserved and explained than others. Many towns - even small ones - have their own museums displaying the artefacts which were uncovered in the vicinity, whether from tombs, caves, dolmens or other structures or dwelling places.

Historians disagree, by many millennia, on dates for ancient civilizations in Spain, especially in the melting-pot, multi-cultural first century BC, but this is broadly the early history of the region. The prehistory of the Iberian Peninsula begins with the arrival of the first hominins 1.2 million years ago, and ends with the first written records, being the Punic Wars.

The dates for the periods below refer to their adoption in southern Iberia.



Paleolithic period - up to 25,000 BC

Hominin inhabitation of the Iberian Peninsula dates from the Paleolithic. Early hominin remains have been discovered at a number of sites. Homo sapiens first entered Iberia towards the end of this period and continued to inhabit the peninsula through the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods.

Many of the best preserved prehistoric remains are in the Atapuerca region of northern Spain. In the cave of Gran Dolina six hominin skeletons, dated between 780,000 and 1.2 million years ago, were found in 1994.

NEANDERTHAL MAN  -  70,000 to 25,000 BC

Neanderthal man lived in caves on the Rock of Gibraltar and at least about ten other sites in southern Iberia.  They may have been among the last of their species according to a number of hypotheses which claim that  Iberian Peninsula acted as a "refuge" for the Neanderthal populations retreating the advance of the ice age. They existed until around 24,000 years ago.

In 1848 an ancient skull, now housed in the British Museum in London, was discovered in Forbes' Quarry which is at the foot of the Rock's steep North face. It was a woman's skull. Eight years later an identical skull was discovered in the Neander Valley near Dusseldorf in Germany. This skull came to be known to us as that of Neanderthal Man but it could be strongly argued that Neanderthal Man should in fact be Gibraltar Woman.  

Subsequent Gibraltar Neanderthal discoveries have also been made including the skull of a four-year-old child discovered nearby in 1926. In July 2012, archaeologists discovered an engraving in Gorham's Cave, buried under 39,000-year-old sediments, which has been called "the oldest known example of abstract art". The Gorham's Cave complex was added to the UNESCO World heritage list in 2016. Access to the caves is strictly controlled, and visitors must be accompanied by a guide approved by the Director of the Gibraltar Museum.

In Zafarraya, Granada a Neanderthal mandible (lower jaw bone) was found in Cueva del Boquete in 1983 was dated 28.000 BC and Neanderthal tools found in 1995 were dated 25.000 BC  These dates make the Zafarraya remains the youngest evidence of Neanderthals and have expanded the timeline of Neanderthal existence.

At the Ardales cave near Malaga, stalagmites and stalactites that form curtain-like patterns on the walls appear to have been painted red.  In this cave there are more than 1,000 prehistoric drawings from the paleolithic period. A study published in Science magazine in March 2018, together with the caves of Maltravieso (Cáceres) and La Pasiega (Puente Viesgo, Cantabria) using the precise and non-destructive uranium-thorium technique found the wall paintings  are the oldest in the world. A formation of speleothems (stalagmites) in Ardales cave was decorated with elongated or pseudo-ellipsoidal red concentrations at least 65,500 years ago. this is 20,000 years older than the time archeologists believed that prehistoric art began.   

Upper Paleolithic - 25,000 to 10,000 BC

Aurignacian culture (work of Homo sapiens) succeeds the Neanderthal. Aurignacian remains have only been found along the Mediterranean coast and sparsely distributed in the south, namely the Cueva del Higuerón (Rincon de la Victoria, Malaga) and Gorham's Cave, Gibraltar.

Gravettian culture followed the steps of the Aurignacian expansion. Its remains are more common in the south of the peninsular. Namely in Cueva Los Borceguillos, Cueva Zájara II, Cueva Serrón, and Gorham's Cave.

Solutrean culture shows its earliest appearances in Dordogne, France. In Southern Iberia the presence of Solutrean materials have been reported in a total of 103 sites. Caves and rock-shelters are the most common locations. Mural art increases in frequency in the Solutrean period, when the first animals are drawn, but it is not until the Magdalenian cultural phase when it becomes truly widespread. Solutrean culture has been found in the following locations Cueva Higueral, S. Valleja, Llanos de Don Pedro, La Escalera 3; La Fontanilla, Casa de Postas, Choritto, Cubeta de la Paja, Tajo de la Figuras, Cueva de Levante, Cueva del Moro, Río Palmones, Sewell's Cave, Gorham's Cave, Cueva del Higueral de Motillas, Abrigo del Bombín, Cueva de la Pileta,; Trinidad de Ardales, Cueva Tajo del Jorox, El Bajondillo, Toro, Complejo del Humo, Cueva del Hoyo de la Mina, Cueva del Higuerón, Cueva de la Araña, Cueva Boquete de Zafarraya, Cueva de Nerja, Peña Grieta, El Pirulejo, Cueva de Malalmuerzo, Pantano de Cubillas, Cueva de los Hojos.

Magdalenian culture spans from approximately 15,000 to 10,000 BC and is this towards the end of the ice age. Magdalenian remains have been found in Nerja Cave.



Epipaleolithic and Mesolithic - 10,000 to 6,000 BC

Around 10,000 BC, the climatic became warmer, the peoples of Iberia modified their technology and culture. The main change is the reduction of size of stone and bone tools. The cave sanctuaries seem to be abandoned and art becomes rarer and mostly carried out on portable objects, such as pebbles or tools.
There were also changes in diet, as terrain becomes woodlands. Hunted animals are smaller, typically deer or wild goats, and seafood becomes an important part of the diet.

Neolithic (Stone Age) - 6,000 to 3,000 BC

Neolithic or Stone Age. North African tribes arrive with developed crops. They were later known as Iberians. 

IBERIANS - 6,000 to 4,000 BC

The presence of domestic animals is unlikely, as only pig and rabbit remains have been found. They also consumed large amounts of olives but it's uncertain too whether this tree was cultivated or merely harvested in its wild form.  Whilst man was still hunting there was increasing examples of seasonal agricultural camps. These communities perfected tool making with wood and polished stone. Ceramics were also used. Their typical artifact is the La Almagra style pottery which is a red-ochre colour from the clay and sand being mixed with ferric oxide. By the end of the Neolithic period, dwellings are circular huts rather than caves, which are now used as burial chambers. The small clay fertility symbol Venus de Estepona is from this period as are artifacts such as Indalo Man and painting in Cueva de los Letreros

Next: Copper Bronze and Iron ages in Andalucia

Pre history Archaelogical Sites in Andalucia

Where to see Prehistorical artefacts

Several museums in Andalucia also have spaces dedicated to artefacts drawn from many of the sites above, or simply found in various locations over the years. Most towns have a municipal museum with local finds. However the main museums include Huelva Museum, Seville´s Archaeological Museum, Seville´s Antiquarium, Seville´s Palacio de Lebrija, as well as the Antequera Municipal Museum, Malaga Museum and Almeria Museum and Cadiz Museum Jaen Museum Iberian Museum.

Next: Copper Bronze and Iron ages in Andalucia