Tech UPTechnologyThe cave of Santa Ana, key to knowing the...

The cave of Santa Ana, key to knowing the settlement of Europe


In Cáceres we have a prehistoric site in which outstanding materials have been found for the study of the population of Eurasia by hominids. These are typical Acheulean stone tools, a lithic industry spread throughout Africa, Asia and Europe for hundreds of thousands of years. The findings of the Spanish cave add another granite to continue investigating the knowledge of the life of our ancestors.

Santa Ana cave

Located about twelve kilometers south of the city of Cáceres, the Santa Ana cave forms part, like the Maltravieso and El Conejar caves, of the Cáceres calerizo, a large karstic formation in the community of Extremadura.

Since 2001, the Research Team of Primeros Pobladores de Extremadura (EPPEX) has been carrying out archaeological campaigns. The project is directed by Antoni Canals, researcher at the Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution, together with Eudald Carbonell, co-director of Atapuerca.

These institutions have joined forces to carry out a study of the set of Acheulean lithic tools discovered in the Santa Ana cave. Francisco Javier García Vadillo has headed the study published in the journal “Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports”, together with Xosé Pedro Rodríguez Álvarez and the aforementioned directors of the EPPEX project.

From 2001 to 2017, archaeological interventions have been carried out in the area of the current entrance to the cave. About 20 m 2 with a depth of 13 meters in which 578 objects have been recovered . Along with the tools, records of the fauna of the time have appeared with remains of bears, hyenas, rhinoceroses, horses and deer. A rich archaeological context to study the first settlers of Extremadura.

Acheulean technology

Among the tools found are 141 hammers, 47 bifaces, 36 retouched flakes and 210 unretouched, 87 cores, 6 picks, 10 cleavers and 18 spheroids. This abundant material reflects the lithic creations typical of the Acheulean industry. They are stone tools still pending dating , but similar to the first Acheulean manufactures with 1.75 million years located in East Africa.

This makes the Santa Ana cave an outstanding site in Spain for understanding the technological evolution and cultural processes of the Middle Pleistocene, when hominin populations began to spread and establish themselves throughout Eurasia. In the words of Francisco Javier García Vadillo:

“The set of Acheulean stone tools found in the Santa Ana cave indicates a phenomenon of technological stasis in the context of one of the largest and longest cultural dispersion processes in all of Prehistory: the expansion of Acheulean technology.”

In other words, the tools of Santa Ana correspond to the first Acheulean creations in North Africa, the Palestinian corridor, China and India, with dates that are over a million years old.

“The fact that these tools have not been modified in all that time and have traveled so many kilometers demonstrates their great operability, as well as the ability of hominids to learn, teach and reproduce the tools of other hominids.”

These large stone tools allowed hominins to transform their environment and control it like never before . A situation that greatly favored the strengthening of social relations and population growth.

“The success of the groups that made these tools led to this technology expanding rapidly throughout Africa, Asia and also Europe. Therefore, the Acheulean was one of the first phenomena that acquired a global extension and lasted until about 125,000 years ago”.

Singularity and unknowns

Santa Ana tools are like their Acheulean equivalents from the rest of the world in terms of shapes, however, they have a singularity: 69% of the material is made of quartz , a raw material little used in the making of Acheulean tools of Africa, Asia or the rest of Europe.

On the other hand, researchers are still having a hard time determining what the spheroids were for . As can be deduced from their name, they are ball-shaped pieces carved in stone. Among the hypotheses that experts are considering could be the use of these spheroids to extract marrow from bones or as throwable elements to hunt animals.

“Knowing why spheroids are so rare and why they disappeared from the repertoire of Acheulean stone tools is another great unknown.”

Work is currently being done inside the cave on some 30 m 2 of excavation in which new materials are appearing.

“There is still a lot to excavate, both towards the bottom and towards the walls of the cave, but we can say that we are already beginning to understand the cavity.”


Crespo Garay, C. 2022. The Santa Ana cave, a reflection of the hominid culture 500,000 years ago.

García Vadillo, F. J. et al. 2022. The large flake Acheulean with spheroids from Santa Ana Cave (Cáceres, Spain). Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 41, 103265. DOI: 10.1016/j.jasrep.2021.103265.

The Santa Ana cave, key to understanding cultural processes more than 500,000 years ago.

Sáez, R. 2022. The cave of Santa Ana, the Acheulean on large flakes and the intriguing spheroids.

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