By Chris King • 11 September 2023 • 20:58
Image of researchers inside Cueva Dones in Valencia.
A combined team of researchers has uncovered the largest Paleolithic site ever found on the eastern Mediterranean coast of the Iberian Peninsula.
The teams from the Spanish universities of Alicante (UA) and Zaragoza (Unizar) made the discovery in the Cova de les Dones or Cueva Dones, located in the municipality of Millares in Valencia.
According to a statement from the Alicante academic institution, the Cueva Dones is a well-known place in the area. It is regularly frequented by speleologists and hikers, with visitors reporting findings there since the 18th century.
However, the existence of Palaeolithic paintings in the cave was unknown until their discovery in 2021 by three archaeologists who specialised in Prehistoric Art.
Over the last two decades, Aitor Ruiz-Redondo from the Unizar University in Zaragoza has been working with Virginia Barciela González and Ximo Martorell Briz from the University of Alicante. Between them, they have discovered more than thirty new rock art sites in different European regions.
More than a hundred graphic units (rock motifs) made by painting, simple engraving and scraping, are said to have been documented so far in Cueva Dones.
Due to a number of reasons and a variety of techniques, this makes the site the ‘most important’ Paleolithic complex on the eastern Mediterranean coast of the Iberian Peninsula.
It is: ‘Probably the cave with the greatest number of Paleolithic art motifs discovered in Europe since Atxurra’, the researchers said.
They were referring to the discovery of stunning cave paintings in the Atxurra Cave in the Cantabrian region of northern Spain in 2015.
At that time, two archaeologists came across what is now known as the Ledge of Horses, a rock wall carved with scores of horses, bison, deer, and mountain goats, dating back some 12,500 years, according to atlasobscura.com.
Unlike the latter – which was located in one of the places with the highest density of Paleolithic groups in the world – Cueva Dones is located in an area where: ‘these types of sites are not traditionally abundant’.
As the team pointed out, in almost 150 years since the discovery of Paleolithic cave art in Altamira in 1879: ‘No enclave of this importance had been found’ in the combined territories of Catalonia, the Valencian Community and Murcia.
They stressed that: ‘the scarcity of these large groups was paradoxical considering the existence of the Parpalló Cave in Valencia, which has the largest collection of decorated Paleolithic plaquettes in the world’.
The UA and Unizar researchers recently published an article on this discovery in the Project Gallery of the British magazine ‘Antiquity‘.
It consisted of a preliminary analysis of the characteristics and relevance of the site in the context of European Paleolithic Art.
This included at least 19 confirmed animal representations of deer, horses, aurochs and a deer. It stands out – in addition to its number of motifs and geographical location – for the technical peculiarity that most of the paintings were made with clay.
This technique is known in Paleolithic art, but examples of its use are scarce across the globe, while in Cueva Dones it is the most common technique.
Despite the simplicity of execution, the antiquity of these ‘clay paintings’ is supported – in addition to their style, which includes clear Paleolithic conventions – by the presence of thick crusts of stalagmites that cover several of them.
Combining the analysis of different indirect evidence, the authors estimated that the complex could be at least 24,000 years old.
Led by the authors of the publication, the project is in a preliminary phase. In the almost 500-metre-long cave, there are still many areas to be investigated and panels to be thoroughly documented.
With that in mind, the multidisciplinary team that is carrying out the research expects the discovery of new motifs in the coming years, as reported by 20minutos.es.
Aitor Ruiz-Redondo is a professor of Prehistory at the University of Zaragoza, a researcher at the University Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences of Aragon (IUCA), and an associate researcher at the universities of Southampton in England and Bordeaux in France.
Virginia Barciela González is a professor of Prehistory at the University of Alicante and a researcher at the University Institute for Research in Archeology and Historical Heritage (INAPH).
Ximo Martorell Briz is a professional archaeologist and an honorary collaborator of the Prehistory Area of the University of Alicante.
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Originally from Wales, Chris spent years on the Costa del Sol before moving to the Algarve where he is a web reporter for The Euro Weekly News covering international and Spanish national news.
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