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Remarkable 9,500 Year Old Woven Baskets

Items found in a Spanish cave call into question “simplistic assumptions” about early humans.

Spanish researchers have uncovered the first direct evidence of basketry in hunter-gatherer societies of southern Europe. Using carbon-14 dating, the team estimates the baskets are roughly 9,500 years old.

“My first reaction was, ‘Oh my God, that's not possible,’” lead researcher Francisco Martinez-Sevilla, who studies prehistory at the University of Alcalá in Spain, told the New York Times.

The oldest hunter-gatherer basketry in southern Europe, dating to 9,500 years ago.
Credit: MUTERMUR Project

Their findings were published last week in the journal Science Advances, dating 76 objects originally unearthed during 19th-century mining activities in the Cueva de los Murciélagos, near the city of Granada, Spain.

Archaeologists previously thought the woven baskets were made by farmers from the Neolithic period, when humans began living a more settled lifestyle, because they were intricately decorated with geometric motifs, made with dyed fibers and even adorned with human hairs or pigments, the study's authors say. But the carbon-14 dating determined they were made during the Mesolithic era, or Middle Stone Age - about 2,000 years earlier.

“The quality and technological complexity of the basketry makes us question the simplistic assumptions we have about human communities prior to the arrival of agriculture in southern Europe,” Martínez-Sevilla says in a statement. “This work, and the project that is being developed, places the Cueva de los Murciélagos as a unique site in Europe to study the organic materials of prehistoric populations.”


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