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João Zilhão

João Zilhão

Universitat de Barcelona


Prior to current appointment, taught at the Universities of Bristol and Lisbon, as well as, on a temporary basis, Paris and Bordeaux. Appointed January 1996 by the Portuguese government to set up the Côa Valley Archeological Park, coordinate scientific research to establish the age of its Paleolithic rock art, and prepare the nomination of the site for World Heritage status (listing date, December 1998). Created and directed the Instituto Português de Arqueologia (IPA), a department of the Ministry of Culture for the supervision of archaeological activity in the country (May 1997-2002). Member of the Executive Board of the European Association of Archeologists (2003-06). Humboldt Foundation Research Awardee (2003-04, University of Cologne) for "past achievements in teaching and research". Recipient of the London Prehistoric Society's Europa Prize (2005), for "significant and enduring contribution to the study of European prehistory". In 2012 profiled in "Science".

Research interests

The Middle-to-Upper Paleolithic transition has been the focus of my research for the last 20 years, leading to fieldwork at several sites: (a) the Lagar Velho rock-shelter (Portugal) and its burial of an early modern human child with diagnostic Neandertal features (evidence for interbreeding at the time of Neandertal/modern contact); (b) the Almonda karst system (Portugal), whose archeology spans half-a-million years and includes such important fossils as the 400,000 year-old Aroeira 3 cranium; (c) the Pestera cu Oase (Romania), site of Europe’s oldest modern humans; (d) Cueva Antón and Cueva de los Aviones (Murcia, Spain), with the earliest known use of personal ornaments, 115,000 years ago; (e) several caves in Iberia, France and Italy where U-Th dating of associated speleothems showed rock art to be >65,000 years old. These early artists were Neandertals, whose behavioral modernity and late persistence to the south of the Ebro drainage remain my main areas of interest.

Selected publications

ZILHÃO, J.; ANGELUCCI, D. E.; Le BOURDONNEC, F.-X.; LUCENA, A.; MARTÍN-LERMA, I.; MARTÍNEZ, S.; MATIAS, H.; VILLAVERDE, V.; ZAPATA, J. — Obsidian in the Upper Palaeolithic of Iberia. «Antiquity», 95, 2021, p. 865-884.

– PITARCH MARTÍ, A.; ZILHÃO, J.; d’ERRICO, F.; CANTALEJO-DUARTE, P.; DOMÍNGUEZ-BELLA, S.; FULLOLA, J. M.; WENIGER, G. C.: RAMOS-MUÑOZ, J. — The symbolic role of the underground world among Middle Paleolithic Neanderthals. «Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences», 118 (33), p. e2021495118.

ZILHÃO, J.The late persistence of the Middle Palaeolithic and Neandertals in Iberia: A review of the evidence for and against the “Ebro Frontier” model. «Quaternary Science Reviews», 270, 2021, p. 107098.

ZILHÃO, J.; ANGELUCCI, D. E.; ARNOLD, L. J. d’ERRICO, F.; DAYET, L.; DEMURO, M.; DESCHAMPS, M.; FEWLASS, H.; GOMES, L.; LINSCOTT, B.; MATIAS, H.; PIKE, A. W. G.; STEIER, P.; TALAMO, S.; WILD, E. M. — Revisiting the Middle and Upper Palaeolithic archaeology of Gruta do Caldeirão (Tomar, Portugal). «PLoS One», 16(10), 2021, e0259089.

Selected research activities

Six months of fieldwork (April-October) at Neolithic and Palaeolithic cave and open-air sites of Portugal’s Central Limestone Massif (Fonte Santa, Lapa da Bugalheira, Gruta do Aderno, Gruta do Caldeirão). Participation in ERC evaluation panels. Dissemination activities (participation in documentaries and podcasts broadcast in Spain, Portugal, Canada and the Netherlands, participation in Genova’s Festival della Scienza).

ICREA Memoir 2021