Tag: cave engravings

July 7, 2008: Three Basque Caves Declared World Heritage Sites by UNESCO

On July 7, 2008, UNESCO declared three Basque caves–Santimamiñe in Bizkaia and Ekain and Altxerri in Gipuzkoa–to be World Heritage Sites. The Basque Country is at the epicenter of arguably the most important cave complex in Europe, an area framed by the world famous caves of Lascaux, Dordogne in southwestern France and Altamira, Cantabria, in northern Spain. Their designation as World Heritage Sites implied official international recognition for the cultural value of the cave art discovered in the three sites.

In order to preserve the cave art in these locations, they are, naturally, closed to the public. However, we can still get a flavor of what treasures lie deep within their walls. As regards Santimamiñe, one can undertake an amazing online virtual visit (click here to start) as well as view a great photo gallery of the cave and its surrounding area (click here to see).  And when it comes to Ekain, as well as the option of a virtual visit (click here to start), those of you lucky enough to actually set foot in the Basque Country (congratulations by the way, it will be an unforgettable experience!), a replica of the original site exists, Ekainberri, which offers a unique opportunity to experience what it must have been like to live deep underground. Click here to visit the Ekainberri website.

If you’re interested in this topic, check out Selected Writings of José Miguel de Barandiarán: Basque Prehistory and Ethnography, the only text in English that summarizes the key works of the most important Basque ethnographer of all time. Reflecting on the relationship between humans and animals, that intimate connection that underpins much of the cave art, Barandiarán observes (p. 148):

Among the species that inhabited the Basque Country during the Neolithic were cows, horses, deer, mountain goat, roebuck, chamois, wild boar, fox, mountain lion, the weasel, and the martin. Deer and especially wild boar were the animals most hunted by man.

Sheep already existed in Bizkaia, as we know from their remains in Santimamiñe; this is an indication that the practice of domesticating and using them had already reached this part of the Pyrenees.

*Images

Top: A horse depicted in Santimamiñe, image by ETOR Entziklopedia, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Bottom: The neck and head of a saiga antelope looking left. A bit more to the right is the beginning outline of another antelope and its horn. Image by GipuzkoaKultura, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

 

Major new find of millennial rock engravings in Lekeitio

The Provincial Council of Bizkaia has just announced a major new find of possibly 14,000-year-old rock engravings in Lekeitio. Remarkably, these engravings, which total about 50 in all, have been discovered within the town of Lekeitio itself, approximately 165 feet deep into the Armintxe cave well-known to local residents. The discovery was made in May this year by the ADES speleology team from Gernika and the Agiri archaeological association from Kortezubi, and follows another major find this year in the Atxurra caves near Berriatua, Bizkaia, which we covered in an earlier post here.

These images depict, among other things, 18 horses, 5 goats, and 2 bison. Aside from the striking clarity of the representations the find is also significant in that the engravings also include 2 lions – a completely new feature of paleolithic art discovered to date in the Cantabrian region. Alongside the animals there are also semicircles and lines making up calviform or club-shaped features, the first example of this type found within the Iberian Peninsula itself and more reminiscent of shapes found in the world famous caves of the Pyrenees.

The engravings are of an exceptional quality and experts speculate they were made using a novel technique of carving by means of dragging the carving instrument along the rock and hoisting up at the last moment to create a groove in the surface, creating a kind of scaling effect. There is still some doubt as to their exact age, with suggestions dating the find somewhere between 12,000 and 14,500 years. But whatever the case, this would appear to be a significant discovery. Check out the video below highlighting this amazing discovery!

Check out more on the story here.