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Traces of 14 Palaeolithic children's footprints found in Spain's La Garma Cave

The Vice-President of the Government of Cantabria, Pablo Zuloaga, together with the Director of Caves of Cantabria and MUPAC, Roberto Ontañón, and Pablo Arias, Professor of Prehistory at the University of Cantabria and researcher, today announced the "extraordinary discovery" of traces of 14 Palaeolithic children's footprints at the archaeological site of La Garma, in an exceptional state of preservation.

Traces of 14 Palaeolithic children's footprints found in Spain's La Garma Cave
Footprint of a child found in La Garma [Credit: Gobierno de Cantabria]

This discovery "places Cantabria at the epicentre of scientific and archaeological research" and consolidates La Garma "as one of the most important sites in the world for the knowledge of human behaviour in the Palaeolithic period", according to Zuloaga, who reaffirmed the commitment of the Executive, through the Directorate General for Heritage, to the research work being carried out and to the dissemination of its results.

Ontañón and Arias, who have also co-directed the research being carried out at this site for the last 25 years, agreed that La Garma "is a continuous succession of surprises" and an "inexhaustible source of discoveries", and they were convinced that the site will still provide "many archaeological delights".

"La Garma is currently the most important site in the world for the study of hunters from the end of the Palaeolithic period; there is nowhere else with the quality and variety of remains that we have at La Garma", said Arias.

Roberto Ontañón explained that the exploitation of this new sector of La Garma "has only just begun", as the extreme fragility of the evidence found means that the research team has limited itself to the initial photographic documentation, which was presented today, and will soon proceed to document this new archaeological evidence with geomatic techniques, such as topographic survey by laser scanner, photogrammetry, high resolution photography and 3D restitution of the site, for its ichnological analysis, and will continue to explore this gallery.

Traces of 14 Palaeolithic children's footprints found in Spain's La Garma Cave
Image of the removed earth found next to the footprints [Credit: Gobierno de Cantabria]

With this discovery, La Garma is consolidated as one of the most important sites in the world for the knowledge of human behaviour in the Palaeolithic period, since, in addition to its important group of cave art and its Magdalenian levels and constructions, for which it was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2008, it is now joined by a vivid testimony of the activity of the youngest members of that society.

The discovery has been made in a new gallery that had gone unnoticed until now because of its location in a very elevated area, some 25 metres above the lower gallery, which is very difficult to access and was not visible. It is between 3 and 4 metres high and approximately 6 metres wide.

According to Ontañón, last February, researcher Marián Cueto, while working in the Weitzman-Kreger gallery, observed a possible access several metres above Zone VII of the Lower Gallery.

On April 9th, Ontañón, with the technical support of the speleologists Alfredo Corral de Miguel and Ana Varela Fernández, from the Club Espeleológico Ábrigu, began to explore the gallery and, after a complex route, they arrived at a gallery located in a very deep part of the cave, in a sector of clayey soil, where they observed that some segments of clay had been removed, movements which, in principle, they attributed to an animal, such as a bear.

Traces of 14 Palaeolithic children's footprints found in Spain's La Garma Cave
Approach to the cave, entrance covered by a white sheet [Credit: Mario Modesto/Wikipedia]

On approaching the site for a closer look, the explorers found that the edges of the hollows had traces of human fingers in a vertical arrangement, which could be the result of the action of pulling or lifting the polygonal fragments of clay.

The director of the MUPAC has detailed that on closer inspection he first detected a small barefoot footprint and then the rest, up to a total of 14 footprints with a length of 18 cm from toe to heel, which would correspond to children of between 6 and 7 years of age.

In addition, they have located footprints only from the heel, others that could be from an elbow, which, together with the earth movements, they believe could be due to a child or group of children playing on a soft ground surface where it is easy to leave footprints.

So far, very few remains of this type of behaviour are known and those that do exist, such as in the Tuc d'Audoubert cave in the French Pyrenees, are from the same period as those found at La Garma.

Source: Gobierno de Cantabria [trsl. TANN; May 17, 2021]

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