L’ultimo leone delle caverne d’Europa

Europe's last cave lion

The image of a big cat was identified in the stone found in Grotta Romanelli, southern Italy, by an international team comprising researchers from Sapienza University. The find was dated to around 12,000 years ago when there were few lion specimens on our continent. The study reveals important facts about the art of the last hunter-gatherer societies of Italy and Europe

A new study, the result of an interdisciplinary approach involving researchers from various institutions, including Sapienza University of Rome, identified the image of a large lion, dated to around 12,000 years ago, in a stone found 80 years ago in Grotta Romanelli (Castro, Lecce, southern Italy). The find is the last representation and the last evidence of a cave lion in Europe. The research, in which CNRS, Université Jean-Jaurés, ISPC-CNR, Universidad Complutense de Madrid, University of Milan, University of Turin, IGAG-CNR and the University of Cagliari also collaborated, was published in the journal Quaternary Science Reviews.

The artefact, now in the Museo delle Civiltà in Rome, was examined using advanced analytical techniques and revealed further details about the artistic tradition of Grotta Romanelli, showing how much the environmental context influenced the development of a symbolic-figurative heritage and how the cave lion - one of the largest felines ever to have existed - was a prominent figure for prehistoric populations, justifying its presence in European wall and furniture art.

The depiction would have been made between 12,700 and 11,000 years ago, when there were few cave lions in Europe, apparently in southern Italy. And the one in Grotta Romanelli is the date after which there are no more traces of this animal on our continent.

The researchers also found a series of scrapings on the stone, due to surface preparation, and the presence of traces of red pigment revealing the use of ochre. The technical, stylistic and thematic aspects place the art of Grotta Romanelli in the artistic tradition of the late Upper Palaeolithic period in Europe.

In addition to the lion, the block is engraved with a European donkey (Equus hydruntinus), a series of lines in no apparent order, and a fringed rectangle that was made before the lion.

“The interdisciplinary nature of this work”, says Raffaele Sardella of Sapienza’s Department of Earth Sciences, “highlights the importance of this type of approach in research, as well as the need to revive old collections that still have so much to reveal, and, in this specific case, it opens up new research perspectives on the symbolic value of big cats for Palaeolithic populations and on the extinction of the cave lion in Europe”.

Grotta Romanelli is a site of great importance for the study of prehistory in Italy since the first research was carried out in the early 20th century. The cave and the contents of the sediments deposited in it were studied until the early 1970s when they were partially forgotten. In 2015, after more than 40 years of closure, new field research was started, authorised by the SABAP of Brindisi and Lecce and financed by the Grandi Scavi di Sapienza project, led by Raffaele Sardella, characterised by a strong interdisciplinary approach, involving different scientists from different institutions and scientific expertise.




The last cave lion of the late Upper Palaeolithic: the engraved feline of Grotta Romanelli (southern Italy) - Dario Sigari, Camille Bourdier, Claudia Conti, Jacopo Conti, Luca Forti, Marcos García Diez, Giorgio Lai, Ilaria Mazzini, Pierluigi Pieruccini & Raffaele Sardella - Quaternary Science Reviews doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.quascirev.2024.108670


Further Information

Raffaele Sardella
Department of Earth Sciences

Monday, 20 May 2024

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