Tag: Ekainberri

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.

 

September 11, 2008: Ekainberri replica cave site opens

 

640px-Ekainberriko_zaldiak_(Pottoka)

Exact replica paintings, based on the originals in Ekain, in Ekainberri. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

On September 11, 2008, the Ekainberri replica cave site in Zestoa, Gipuzkoa, opened to the public for the first time. It is a replica of the Ekain cave in Deba, Gipuzkoa, which is included in UNESCO’s “Cave of Altamira and Paleolithic Cave Art of Northern Spain” World Heritage Site.

Ekainberri outside view

Outside view of Ekainberri, from the museum website.

Ekain was discovered in 1969 by Rafael Rezabal and Andoni Albizuri, who on entering the cave came across intricate paintings–33 horses, 10 bison, 2 bears, 2 deer, 4 goats, and 2 fish as well as other nonfigurative marks–that would eventually be dated back to between 10,000 and 14,500 BCE. That same year, José Miguel de Barandiarán and Jesús Altuna began work on excavating the site, a task that lasted until 1975. Their findings were published in 1978 and updated in 1984. In short, they revealed one of the finest examples of cave paintings associated with the Magdalenian culture of the Upper Paleolithic period, on a level equal to that of the renowned paintings of Altamira and Lascaux.

Ekainberri exhibition hall

Exhibition hall in Ekainberri, from the museum website.

Given the obviously delicate nature of the original site it was impossible to allow full public access to these marvelous paintings. The various public authorities involved therefore decided to create a replica site, Ekainberri (“new Ekain”) as near as possible to the original, which would serve as a museum and information center about the people who inhabited these caves and the natural environment in which they lived. Although relatively new, Ekainberri has quickly become a landmark destination for visitors to the Basque Country.

Ekainberri replica

The actual replica of the Ekain cave in Ekainberri, from the museum website.

See the official Ekainberri site here.

The Basque Country is blessed with numerous cave sites. If you do get the chance to visit and are interested in these remarkable testaments to the remote human past, as well as Ekainberri be sure to set some time aside for a trip to the Cave of Zugarramurdi in Nafarroa and/or the Caves of Sara in Lapurdi.

If you’re interested in the topic, check out the Selected Writings of José Miguel de Barandiarán: Basque Prehistory and Ethnography, with an introduction by Jesús Altuna.

Our very own Joseba Zulaika, who grew up near Ekain, also talks about the cave and its resonance in Basque culture in his classic study, Basque Violence: Metaphor and Sacrament.