Ancient Places: Addaura Cave

Wherever you go, you can be sure that someone else was there hundreds or thousands of years before you. There are incredible ancient places hiding all around us. Let’s go find them!

On the Northeast side of Mount Pellegrino in Sicily lies a hidden gem; a cave complex known as the Grotta dell’Addaura. Like many of the more famous caves like Lascaux or Altamira, these little-known ancient grottoes are filled with beautiful, complex and unique cave engravings which give the chambers a truly magical feel. But unlike other famous caves, whose walls are mostly adorned with animals, these ones are filled with people.

First explored by paleoanthropologists prior to the Second World War, they found Palaeolithic hunting tools and the remains of a dwarf elephant. While it’s hard to imagine an elephant roaming free in Italy nowadays, this skeleton shows us just how long ago it was that people were living here.

The cave’s stunning artworks weren’t discovered until much later, however, when an accidental explosion in 1943 (when the cave was being used by the Allies to store weapons) collapsed a rock wall and exposed the real treasures.

Engravings from Grotte dell’Addaura (Wikimedia Commons)

These intricate carvings show both humans and animals, something which came as a surprise to archaeologists as we rarely see humans in early art.

The most interesting scene shows a group of people arranged in a circle, some wearing headpieces or masks, but nobody can quite agree on what they’re doing. According to archaeologists they could be dancing, performing acrobatics or even conducting some mysterious ancient ritual. Either way, we can all agree that this cave and its artwork is enchanting.

The engravings are thought to date from the late Epigravettian and Mesolithic periods – that places them from around 12,000-6,000 BC.

Unfortunately, due to frequent boulder falls, the cave was closed to the public in 1997, and can now only be glimpsed through pictures taken by experts and past visitors.

However, this beautiful art, carved so long ago, shouldn’t be forgotten – the Grotta dell’Addaura is an underrated cave site which deserves to be remembered alongside other amazing sites which house similar finds. Perhaps one day they might even be available to explore online in 3D… Now that would be truly amazing!

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Georgina Cole

Written by Georgina Cole

Ginny is a Community Archaeologist with DigVentures and recent Durham University graduate. She has a passion for speaking to the public and she especially loves British archaeology and forensics. In keeping with archaeological tradition, when she isn’t in the trenches you can often find her grabbing a pint at the local pub!

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