Stay in an Andalusian farmhouse. Experience Doñana National Park.
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Spain’s largest collection of fossilised footprints has been found buried beneath the sand, where the pale shore meets a wind-brushed sea. Discovered by accident and estimated to be over 100,000 years old, the prints were made by the Neanderthals that once roamed the area.

The Kukutana Team

Several small footprints indicate there was a group of young children frolicking, even dancing, on the golden sands of Matalascañas beach.

Fossilised footprints

In total, scientists have discovered around 87 Neanderthal fossil footprints in the park, as well as prehistoric tracks left by mammals such as wild boars, prehistoric cattle and straight-tusked elephants that once trampled through the vegetation.

The footprints were discovered by two biologists – Dolores Cobo and Ana Mateos – as they were taking a stroll along the long coastline. A change in sea currents and some strong winds had cleared the sand from a stretch of the beach, revealing the remarkable fossils which had remained buried for thousands of years.

A team of palaeontologists led by Eduardo Mayoral from the University of Huelva were brought in to investigate the find, with a number of footprints – of both our ancestors, and many of the wild creatures that also roamed the land – discovered within the area.

“We have found some areas where several small footprints appeared grouped in a chaotic arrangement,” Mayoral explained. The prints “could indicate an area of passage of very young individuals, as if they were playing or loitering on the shore of the nearby waterlogged area.”

Using high-tech equipment to measure and scan the prints, the team determined that up to 36 individuals, including 11 children, created the footprints, most probably whilst on a hunting or fishing trip.

According to Mayoral and his team, the prints likely date back to about 106,000 years ago, when Neanderthals were known to live in the area. If correct, these prints are likely to be the oldest Neanderthal tracks in Europe, and possibly the world.

Given the location of the footprints so near to the shore, and the unceasing work of the tides, the footprints will soon be covered by encroaching sand. They will disappear from view and be hidden once again, perhaps for another thousand years.

In addition to the Neanderthal prints, evidence of various other unknown creatures were also discovered. Hoof-shaped footprints, likely belonging to a prehistoric camelid species or perhaps an ancestor to modern deer, were also discovered winding their way along the beach.

Elephant visitors 

More extraordinary still, a collection of smooth, oval-shaped prints show that straight-tusked elephants, who once roamed Europe and Western Asia as far north as the UK, also frequented the area.

Many of the tracks belong to newborn or young elephants, leading the research team to believe that the area was perhaps an elephant nursery. Using the size of the prints to estimate the height of the elephants, it is likely the herd was led by three female adults over 15 years old, accompanied by a group of adolescents – older siblings of the youngsters.

Whilst the straight-tusked elephants died out about 30,000 years ago, only a little after our Neanderthal cousins, the area has a rich biodiversity that continues to evolve and adapt to this day.

After all, the area is home to one of Europe’s largest and most biodiverse nature reserves, providing a refuge to a myriad of animal species such as European polecats, Egyptian mongooses and the Iberian lynx, a wild cat until recently on the precipice of extinction. It is also home to various threatened bird species, flocks of pink flamingos and hundreds of thousands of migratory birds and waterfowl who overwinter here every year.

So whilst exploring the reserve from Kukutana may not give you a glimpse of a prehistoric elephant or a Neanderthal roaming the beaches, you are certain to spot a bewildering array of wildlife, whether exploring on foot, on bike, or by horseback.

For more information, or to organise a stay with us, please feel free to contact the team and we would be delighted to help.

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I’m struggling to put into words everything that we have experienced these past days, from the very first moment it has all been exceptional. The team and the hosts are marvellous, the experiences unforgettable - we will cherish these days forever.

Guest, Madrid

A unique experience surrounded by friends and hosted by this wonderful family who have poured their dreams and love into this project. The most memorable G&T in history! We will be back soon.

V.U. Madrid

The magic of southern Spain and the warmth with which we have been received have made these days unforgettable. What an incredible project you have created!

A.L. Germany

Thank you for the most magical few days in this piece of Paradise! It was the most memorable time and holiday that we have ever had. The food was delicious, the horses were beautiful and cannot believe that we saw a Lynx! We cannot thank you enough for all you have done. Hope to see you again soon and best luck for the creation and adventures that you plan.

J&M.H United Kingdom


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