Archeology The oldest baskets in southern Europe reveal the social complexity of 9,500 years ago

Everyday objects tell the story of those who use them

Archeology The oldest baskets in southern Europe reveal the social complexity of 9,500 years ago

Everyday objects tell the story of those who use them. Some esparto baskets from the Cueva de los Murciélagos site in Albuñol (Granada), which have been revealed to be the oldest in southern Europe, reveal an unexpected complexity in the societies of the last Mesolithic hunter-gatherers in Spain.

This set of basketry, in great condition and kept in the National Archaeological Museum (MAN), has been subjected, along with other pieces, to a new dating process with current techniques, which places it at 9,500 years before the present. , about 2,000 years before what was believed and before agriculture reached the Iberian Peninsula.

Some data that "opens a little the window towards a new vision" of the last hunter-gatherer societies, which were "much more complex on a technological, social and funerary ritual level than previously thought," the author tells Efe. principal of the study, Francisco Martínez Sevilla, from the University of Alcalá (Madrid).

The research published by 'Science Advances' has once again analyzed part of a set of objects made with organic materials, baskets and sandals, as well as two wooden utensils, deposited in the MAN and in the Archaeological and Ethnographic Museum of Granada.

Found in the 1860s, in the prehistoric funerary site of the Bat Cave, all of them were cataloged, in the nineties of the 20th century, as Neolithic.

The result of the new analysis surprised the team, Martínez Sevilla acknowledges, since three of the esparto baskets are from the Mesolithic (9,500 years) and the rest of the pieces are from the Early and Middle Neolithic (7,200 and 56,000 years before the present), between both dates. There is a void of objects.

The oldest utensils were used by Mesolithic hunter-gatherers and the most recent by Neolithic farmers, among the latter there are - adds Martínez - children's sandals that are "spectacular."

As much or more so, are the three baskets, between 10 and 15 centimeters, now dating back to the Mesolithic, the oldest and curiously the best preserved, so much so that in some parts you can see, at first glance, geometric decorations of various colors, indicates the MAN curator, Ruth Maicas.

These three baskets are displayed in the MAN along with three others that, due to their technique and characteristics, are thought to be from the same period, he adds.

The team, made up of experts from the Autonomous universities of Barcelona, ​​Cantabria, Córdoba, Granada, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Salamanca, as well as the MAN, the CSIC and the University of Durham (United Kingdom), studied 76 utensils from both museums and established 14 new dates.

All the objects are part of the trousseau that these societies, both Mesolithic and Neolithic, had left for the deceased in the Bat Cave.

Remains of hair have been found inside some of the oldest baskets, "which makes us think that they were part of a complex funerary ritual that we cannot understand," says Martínez.

A deceased person's hair was cut to put in the basket or relatives cut theirs to leave as an offering. It is something - he adds - that speaks of the complexity of the funerary rituals of the hunter-gatherer societies of the early Holocene.

The team is doing DNA analysis of those hairs and also paleoproteomics to find out if there are remains of any organic element in the baskets, such as animal fat, to try to establish their use.

The elaboration of the pieces also points to the complexity of the technology. Those from the Mesolithic are made with a single technique and use raw esparto grass, although they did process the fibers to color them, although it is not yet known how.

The Neolithic objects, for their part, were made with three types of techniques and processed esparto appears, says Martínez, who makes special mention of the sandals (6,000 years before the present), made with knots and a central core of esparto or by means of a sewn spiral.

In addition to their good conservation, it is striking that they all belong to children, "about a 28" tall, and almost all of them would be from children's burials, but they would also have been used in life because they are worn out.

Martínez highlights that this entire set of pieces is the best preserved made with organic materials in Eurasia and they have carried out a geological study of the Cave to understand this factor.

In the cave, there is extreme dryness and there is no water circulation, which, together with the type of air circulation process, "most likely has helped prevent bacteria from appearing and the materials being preserved."

The Mesolithic is a period about which there is little information and organic matter is "very difficult" to preserve, hence - says Maicas - the importance of these baskets, which "allow us to see a very careful technology, with a certain aesthetic criterion" and that rebuild a very important part of your set of daily supplies.

These utensils, Martínez Sevilla concludes, reveal that those hunter-gatherer societies had baskets, bags and other objects that they used in their daily lives, to collect food or to carry their belongings.