Gruta do Escoural

Escoural Cave

Useful Information

Location: Near Santiago do Escoural. Municipality Montemor-o-Novo, Alentejo.
EN 114 (Montemor-o-Novo Evora) to the EN 370, turn off for Santiago do Escoural. The cave is about 2 km from the village. The Escoural Interpretative Centre is in the the village.
Open: Study Centre in Escoural: All year Tue 13:30-17, Wed-Sun 9-12, 13:30-17. Closed Good Friday, Easter Day, 01-MAY and 25-DEC.
Cave: All year daily 9-12, 13:30-17. Closed Good Friday, Easter Day, 01-MAY and 25-DEC.
Classification: SpeleologyKarst cave.
Light: LightIncandescent Electric Light System
Guided tours:
Bibliography: Marcel Otte, Carlos da Silva (1996): Recherches Prehistoriques a la Grotte D'Escoural, Portugal, Eraul 1996, 362p, figs, paperback, ISBN .
21 archaeological reports examine the history of the excavations, analysis of lithic manufacture during the Palaeolithic, the use of the cave during the Neolithic and the results of C14 datings.
A.C. Araújo, A.I. Santos, N. Cauwe (1993): Gruta do Escoural - a necrópole Neolítica, Trabalhos de Antropologia e Etnologia (Porto) 33: 51-90.
A.F. Isidoro (1981): Espólio ósseo humano da gruta neolítica do Escoural, Trabalhos de Antropologia e Etnologia (Porto) 24: 5-58.
Address: Centro de Interpretacao do Escoural, Rua Dr Magalhaes de Lima No 48, 7050-556 Santiago do Escoural, Tel: +351-266-857-200.
Direccao Regional de Evora do IPPAR, Rua de Burgos No 5, 700-863 Evora, Tel + 351-266-769-800, Fax + 351-266-769-855. E-mail: contact
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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BC 50,000 cave used by Neanderthal nomadic hunter-gathers as a temporary shelter.
BC 35,000 Upper Palaeolithic man used the entrance chamber and neaby passages and scatched engraving on the walls.
BC 5,000-3,000 used in the Neolithic period as a cemetery for the farmer-herdsman communities. After this the cave was blocked until discovered by quarrying.
17-APR-1963 discovered by men working in a marble quarry. Archaeological work started immediatley.
25-OCT-1963 declared a National Monument.
1998 taken over by the state and opened to the public.


The Gruta do Escoural is famous for its Paleolithic art, as it is the westernmost location in Europe with wall paintings and engravings. It is also the only karst cave in Portugal with Upper Paleolithic art. The cave is located on the Sala Estate in the municipality of Montemor-o-Novo. The entrance is in a former quarry, and the cave was discovered during quarry works. There is a reception and study centre in Santiago do Escoural, and visitors are recommended to visit the centre before going to the cave.

According to the excavations, the cave was used from the Middle Paleolithic (around 50,000 years BP) to the Late Neolithic. During the Middle Paleolithic the cave was used by groups of Neanderthal (Homo neanderthalensis) hunters-gatherers as a temporary shelter. It was the base for hunting large animals, e.g. the aurochs. During the Upper Palaeolithic the cave was used as a rupestrian sanctuary by modern man (Homo sapiens). This is the time when the paintings of horses and bison were made, they where dated to two differnt periods, around 25,000 BC and around 13,000 BC. There is also an undetermined symbol consisting of three vertical lines and a sideways v-shaped character. One possible interpretation is, the lines symbolize male and the v symbolizes female. Another one is, they represent a counting system. Much later, during Chalcolithic or Neolithic, the engravings on the outside of the cave were made. They show the skills of the long gone artists, to depict horses with a few simple lines. At this time the cave was used as a cemetery.

The geologic situation of the cave is really exceptional. It is located in a small outcrop of Cambrian marbles, very old metamorphized limestone, enclosed in igneous or crystalline rocks. This is the reason why cavs are extremely rare in the whole area and this cave obviously had some importance to prehistoric man.

The whole area bears Paleolithic remains, with a small Chalcolithic settlement on the hill above the cave and a tholos (megalithic tomb with a false dome) nearby. A little further are the Comenda da Igreja dolmen, the Almendrescromlech and the Zambujeiro dolmen.