Cave of Aroeira

The Cave of Aroeira is an archaeological and paleoanthropological site in the central limestone massif of the Portuguese Estremadura. The cave is located in the village of Almonda, in the civil parish of Zibreira, in the municipality of Torres Novas in the district of Santarém. The cave contained stones from the Paleolithic Acheulean culture, and the skull of Homo heidelbergensis, circa 400,000 years old. The discovery of Aroeira 3 was announced in spring 2017 - the earliest human trace in Portugal.[1][2][3][4]

Cave of Aroeira
Gruta da Aroeira
Aroeira 3 - 400,000 years old
Homo heidelburgensis
The earliest human trace in Portugal
LocationAlmonda, Zibreira, Torres Novas, Santarém, Estremadura, Portugal
Coordinates39.5057°N 8.6157°W / 39.5057; -8.6157
Cave survey2017


The Cave of Aroeira is part of the Almonda-Karst system , which is named after a tributary of the river Tagus, the Rio Almonda, the source of which is a few dozen meters below the cave. It belongs to a labyrinthine network of partially collapsed corridors and caves with Pleistocene deposits and various buried entrances. The entrance to the cave was buried by the broken rock of the roof collapse when the excavation began in 1998 and was not uncovered until 2002. In the course of these excavations two hominin teeth were recovered, a relatively large left lower jaw - canine (Aroeira 1) and a left upper jaw - wisdom tooth (Aroeira 2), whose age was determined to be approximately 400,000 years. There were also several hand axes and plant-remains.

In 2013, the excavation work was resumed and the partially preserved skull Aroeira 3 was discovered in a large block of breccia. It was transported to Madrid for careful extraction.

The deposits in the cave are about four meters thick and are categorised in three stratigraphic layers, from the lowest of which the fossil Aroeira 3 was salvaged. Various independent analyses revealed an age of approximately 400,000 years, due to the detection of the oxygen isotope stage MIS 11c. The most recent deposits in the cave have been dated to an age of 60,000 to 40,000 years (MIS 3c).

The dating and analysis attribute the hominim skull to be Homo heidelbergensis.


  1. Phys Org, March 13, 2017, 400,000-year-old fossil human cranium is oldest ever found in Portugal
  2. Joan Daura et al.: New Middle Pleistocene hominin cranium from Gruta da Aroeira (Portugal). In: PNAS. Online-Vorabveröffentlichung vom 13. März 2017.
  3. The primitive man from Portugal, Article from 16 March 2017 des Hamburger Abendblatt, accessed on March 22, 2017
  4. Crânio de 400 mil anos é o fóssil humano mais antigo descoberto em Portugal 400,000 year old skull found the oldest human fossil in Portugal, Article from 13. March 2017 he Portuguese newspaper Público, accessed on March 22, 2017
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