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Welcome New Year with 25,000-Year-Old Cave Art

cab_covalanasYesterday, after our second attempt visiting a nearby cave, Cueva Cullalvera, we got lucky and happened into a guided visit of another cave in the Ramales area, Cueva Covalanas.

These and a half dozen others in this Cantabrian region of Spain were added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites in 2008. I didn’t realize until we got here that one of the earliest discoveries of Paleolithic caves and drawings was right here in Cantabria, well documented at the Museo de Altamira which we visited a week ago. In fact, that discovery wasn’t authenticated until later, when similar findings in France were recognized, and the Spanish historian who discovered the Altamira caves, Marcelino Sanz de Sautuola, pressed for acknowledgement of his findings.

The caves here were inhabited during a couple different eras 25,000 to 10,000 years ago. We’re talking in the transition period from Neanderthal to Homo Sapiens.  And we are talking about civilizations that used fire, hunting, gathering, and connections with neighboring tribes to advance their existence.

Considering the caves are cultural treasures, jewels of Spanish patrimony, and World Heritage sites, they aren’t very well marked. One sign from the main road, and then you are on your own. On our first try, we walked off in the wrong direction, and by the time we found the actual entrance, it was too late to go in. Yesterday we tried again, also missed the mark, but backtracked to the mouth of the cave where we found we’d just missed a tour and would need to wait an hour – and that the cave pictures were not accessible to the public. We called about another cave tour down the road, and even took a test drive to find it so that we’d be sure to make it there in time.

Caballo_covalanas_00The Covalanas Cave was never inhabited, but higher up the mountain from a dwelling cave. Its use, apparently, was exclusively for art, worship, or your guess here. No photographs are allowed on the tour, but even a picture wouldn’t convey the vibrant images. Most of the paintings are of deer, all are red, painted with successive fingerprints, dots forming very clear lines and very artistic impressions of animals.  Even in steady light they are painted with dimension and movement – forms turning, one deer in front of another, the shape and cracks of the rocks often enhancing the drawings. In flickering light, they really shimmer and move and come alive. In this cave there are 14 deer, a bison, and a horse, all of which we could view closely in our small group of four visitors.

I guess Giotto’s showing depth and perspective with folds in fabric, though innovative for the Middle Ages, was not all that new in the scheme of things.

Our new year good fortune continued yesterday and today with the successful completion of errands: stocking up on horse feed and hay. These horses look just like the red horse in the cave. It’s an amazing continuum.



2 Responses to “Welcome New Year with 25,000-Year-Old Cave Art”

  1. You had me in the cave with you. Loved this.

    Posted by Ann Loar Brooks | January 6, 2013, 8:08 am

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