Precautionary Excavation

The Llenes’ cave is a cavity known for its archaeological potential. This is a site excavated in the 50s by J. Maluquer de Motes under the framework of Prehistory by the Instituto de Estudios Pirenaicos. For two seasons, the team conducted an exploration six meters from the entrance, in a perpendicular section to the axis of the cave and about 1.5 meters wide. The results of the studies placed Llenes’ cave at a very advanced stage of the Pyrenean culture, in a late stage of the Bronze Age.

However, in the framework of a new research project carried out by the Catalonian Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution (IPHES) directed by archaeologists Maite Arilla, Edgard Camarós and Jordi Rosell, human occupation during the Paleolithic has been demonstrated in the cavity. Specifically stone tools such as hand axes, cores or flakes have been discovered. These stone tools seem to be made by Neanderthals 200,000 years ago. At the same time, we have identified remains of quaternary fauna such as cave bears and cave lions, hyenas and rhinoceros.

This discovery demonstrates that human occupation in the Pyrenees is older than previously thought. As a consequence, these exceptional findings place Llenes’ cave in a special position for the study of human evolution. These findings fill a hole in the history of our ancestors.



Stone tools recovered in Llenes' cave. a) hand axe; b) hand axe; c) core; d) scraper; e) flake.

Archaeological sites belonging to these chronologies in the Pyrenees are scarce and, in part, poorly documented because of the deterioration suffered over time. The last glacial period caused the destruction or collapse of many caves which would have been potentially suitable for the discovery of ancient populations. The preservation of Llenes’s cave, the lithic industry and associated fauna found inside show their conservation. This aspect denotes its uniqueness and the interest in conducting a research project.

Archaeologists are meant to continue the archaeological project to dig out many more remains to regain the lifestyle of Neanderthals. All this data can provide information concerning the earliest occupation of the Pyrenees, since the team suspects that the chronology of the human presence in the cavity could reach 300,000 years.


Carnivore remains recovered in Llenes' cave. a) ursus cervical vertebra;b) ursus metapodial; c i d) ursus phalanges.


The results obtained in this first precautionary archaeological work conducted by the Catalonian Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution (IPHES) were presented at the conference “Llenes’ cave: First settlers of the Pyrenees?” which took place on February 1st, 2013 in the Conference Hall of the Comú de Particulars in La Pobla de Segur.

Because of the media impact of these findings and the danger of plundering or looting of archaeological heritage, it has been necessary to close the cavity.

In view of the results obtained a research project which will start this summer 2013, with systematic and extended excavations.