Rock engravings, including horses, found in Spain extend range of ancient art culture

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Working conditions in the decorated passage in Aitzbitarte Cave III. Photos: S. Laburu; Garate et al. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0240481

Researchers have identified important stylistic links between recently discovered ancient rock art in northern Spain depicting horses and bison and other works across ancient Europe.

The Palaeolithic engravings in the Spanish caves reveal that a common art culture once extended from the Iberian Peninsula across ancient Europe.

Until now, this style of engraving was unknown in Spain and across the rest of the Iberian Peninsula.

The findings of an extensive analysis of the rock art by Diego Garate, of the International Institute of Prehistoric Research of Cantabria, and his colleagues was published today in the open-access journal PLOS ONE.

The researchers concluded, after studying the art, that the ancient Gravettian art culture was far more widespread than thought.

The history of ancient human art includes various cultural complexes characterized by different artistic styles and conventions.

In 2015, the rock art was discovered in three caves in Aitzbitarte Hill in northern Spain, representing an artistic style previously unknown in the region.

A photograph and tracing of the horse dubbed B.II.1, engraved on the right-hand wall in Aitzbitarte Cave III Photo: O. Rivero and D. Garate

Garate and colleagues set about comparing this particular style to others from across Europe.

The artwork in the caves, in the Basque Country, consists mostly of engravings of bison, complete with the animals’ characteristic horns and humps.

The authors noted the particular style in which the animals’ horns and legs are drawn, typically without proper perspective. Pairs of limbs are consistently depicted as a “double Y” with both legs visible, and the horns are similarly drawn side-by-side with a series of lines in between.

This is consistent with the artistic style of the Gravettian arts culture, characterized by specific customs in art, tools, and burial practices between about 34,000 and 24,000 years ago.

The style seen in the Spanish caves is more characteristic of southern France and some parts of the Mediterranean, they said.

A photograph and tracing on the panel dubbed B.VII at the bottom of the ramp in Aitzbitarte III Cave: At right is an indeterminate animal. Next, a couple of small lines depict bovid horns. At right is the front of a horse, with its muzzle represented in the rock. Photo: O. Rivero and D. Garate
A photograph and tracing on the panel dubbed B.VII at the bottom of the ramp in Aitzbitarte III Cave: At right is an indeterminate animal. Next, a couple of small lines depict bovid horns. At left is the front of a horse, with its muzzle represented in the rock. Photo: O. Rivero and D. Garate

“The study has shown the close regional relationships in Western Europe cave art since very early times, at least 25,000 years ago,” they said.

Their paper also describes several depictions of horses, including one where the pointed edge of a rock acts as its muzzle.

The study team comprised Garate, Olivia Rivero, Joseba Rios-Garaizar, Martín Arriolabengoa, Iñaki Intxaurbe and Sergio Salazar.

Garate D, Rivero O, Rios-Garaizar J, Arriolabengoa M, Intxaurbe I, Salazar S (2020) Redefining shared symbolic networks during the Gravettian in Western Europe: New data from the rock art findings in Aitzbitarte caves (Northern Spain). PLoS ONE 15(10): e0240481. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0240481

The study, published under a Creative Commons License, can be read here

 

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