The Escoural Region is at a crossroads between the basins of the Rivers Tagus and Sado and the Alentejo peniplain. With these rivers as the main natural routes to inland Portugal, this area has become essential to understand the mechanisms of the natural history of the region, and also a reference point for past communities. The presence of an outcrop of limestone in an area dominated by granite allowed the formation of the cave, which consists of chambers and passages on three levels. It is the only cave inside a radius of nearly 50km and became a compulsory stopping-place for human communities during the last 50,000 years. At first these populations used Nature (in the Palaeolithic) and later they transformed it (from the Neolithic onwards).
Regional Archaeological Context:
The first settlements in the area go back to the Middle Palaeolithic (about 50,000 years ago), when groups of Neanderthals used the cave as a temporary camp for their main activity: hunting large mammals. Knapped stone tools found together with the remains of such animals as aurochs, deer and horses give us an idea of the life of these early communities. Most of the remains of that period are in a small passage next to the south-east entrance of the cave.
In the Upper Palaeolithic (35,000 – 8,000 BC) the cave was used as a shrine by modern humans (Homo sapiens). The walls of the main chamber near the entrance and its side-passages were used for art, the expression of the collective imagination. The representations of animals: horses and bovines, as well as different kinds of signs that are difficult to interpret, can probably be related to some primitive religion or magic.
Later, in the Neolithic (5000-3000 BC) the cave became a burial place for the first farmers in the regions. The bodies of the deceased were deposited in the cave together with grave goods: pottery, polished stone axes, stone knives, bone and shell adornments, and so on. These everyday objects acquired new symbolism, representing the perpetuation of life after death and the link between the living and the dead. These Neolithic communities used the rock walls outside the cave to express their art; thus at the top of a hill near the cave entrance a symbolic space made with limestone slabs has schematic engravings and stylised figures of animals. They represent a new artistic cycle and the expression of the human attitude towards the new world around them.
At the end of the Neolithic, the entrance was blocked. We do not know whether this was intentional or not. The area outside was used in the Copper Age (2000 BC) for a fortified settlement and a megalithic monument where they buried their dead. This, called Tholos Escoural, is located 600m from the cave. It consists of a circular chamber, a corridor and an entrance. The first metal-working communities had a more complex and varied economic structure, divided between agriculture, animal-herding and mining.
Archaeological evidence at the site:
Escoural Cave contains an outstanding group of Palaeolithic paintings, in black and red, and engravings that represent animal figures and non-figurative or abstract motifs. Most of the animal representations are horses and bovines. Escoural is particularly interesting because it is one of the few caves with Palaeolithic rock art in the interior of the Iberian Peninsula and the only one in Portugal.
Upper Palaeolithic. Most of the art appears to date from the Solutrean period (22,000 – 17,000 years ago).
Type of Site: Cave
Adress: Herdade da Sala Santiago do Escoural Montemor-o-Novo
Telephone: (351) 266 769 450
Fax: (351) 266 769 451
Province: Évora - Alentejo
Town: Santiago do Escoural
Location: Herdade da Sala
Booking and access:
The Visitors' Centre has disabled access. It is a small centre with an exhibition room with displays, multimedia presentations and some of the Palaeolithic and Neolithic artefacts found in the cave.
It has a reception area, toilets and a shop.
Nearby cultural destinations:
Accommodation near the site:
There is a wide range of accommodation in Évora and Montemor-o-Novo.
For accommodation in Santiago do Escoural, see:
Restaurants near the site:
For information about restaurants in Évora and Montemor-o-Novo, see:
For restaurants in Santiago do Escoural, see: