Cops nab elderly Spanish ‘tomb raider’

A man has been arrested in the Aragonese city of Zaragoza for plundering archaeological sites of over 2,000 ancient artefacts including swords, spears and a rare helmet.

Cops nab elderly Spanish 'tomb raider'
Many of the pieces discovered were described as "falling apart". Photo: Guardia Civil

Police raided the man's home in August and discovered maps of archaeological sites across Aragon plus a treasure trove of 2,000 pieces, some of them in poor condition.

They also discovered a helmet "very similar to some Celtiberian pieces auctioned in Munich," according to a Civil Guard source.

The helmets in question appeared at German auctions between 2008 and 2012 and are suspected to have been smuggled out of Spain.

National daily El Pais reported that experts are analyzing the artefacts to determine their exact origin.

The man was arrested and charged with crimes against Spanish heritage on August 4th.

His arrest is related to a series of other investigations dating back to 1990 when 4th-2nd Century B.C. Celtiberian helmets, believed by experts to come from archaeological sites in Spain, first appeared in Germany, 

Despite complaints from both German and Spanish authorities, the helmets were eventually sold at auction for prices of between €19,000 and €77,000.

An investigation finally began in 2011 at the behest of Spanish authorities.

Dubbed 'Helmet I', it resulted in the arrest of Ricardo Granada who had plundered archaeological sites for 15 years to accumulate a haul of over 4,000 artefacts.

Documents and materials discovered in his possession led to a second investigation, 'Helmet II', which culminated in the raid in Zaragoza this month.

The man arrested is a known former accomplice of Granada and used to own a popular metal-detector shop.

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Study confirms ancient cave art in southern Spain was created by Neanderthals

Neanderthals, long perceived to have been unsophisticated and brutish, really did paint stalagmites in a Spanish cave more than 60,000 years ago, according to a study published on Monday.

Study confirms ancient cave art in southern Spain was created by Neanderthals
Photo: Joao Zilhao/ICREA/AFP

The issue had roiled the paleoarchaeology community ever since the publication of a 2018 paper attributing red ocher pigment found on the stalagmitic dome of Cueva de Ardales (Malaga province) to our extinct “cousin” species.

The dating suggested the art was at least 64,800 years old, made at a time when modern humans did not inhabit the continent.

But the finding was contentious, and “a scientific article said that perhaps these pigments were a natural thing,” a result of iron oxide flow, Francesco d’Errico, co-author of a new paper in the journal PNAS told AFP.

A new analysis revealed the composition and placement of the pigments were not consistent with natural processes — instead, the pigments were applied through splattering and blowing.


What’s more, their texture did not match natural samples taken from the caves, suggesting the pigments came from an external source.

More detailed dating showed that the pigments were applied at different points in time, separated by more than ten thousand years.This “supports the hypothesis that the Neanderthals came on several occasions, over several thousand years, to mark the cave with pigments,” said d’Errico, of the University of Bordeaux.

It is difficult to compare the Neanderthal “art” to wall paintings made by prehistoric modern humans, such as those found in the Chauvet-Pont d’Arc cave of France, more 30,000 years old.

But the new finding adds to increasing evidence that Neanderthals, whose lineage went extinct around 40,000 years ago, were not the boorish relatives of Homo sapiens they were long portrayed to be.

The cave-paintings found in three caves in Spain, one of them in Ardales, are throught to have been created between 43,000 and 65,000 years ago, 20,000 years before modern humans arrived in Europe. (Photo by JORGE GUERRERO / AFP)

The team wrote that the pigments are not “art” in the narrow sense of the word “but rather the result of graphic behaviors intent on perpetuating the symbolic significance of a space.”

The cave formations “played a fundamental role in the symbolic systems of some Neanderthal communities,” though what those symbols meant remains a mystery for now.