Paleolithic Cave Complex in Spain Reveals Over 110 Ancient Prehistoric Paintings

In the vicinity of Valencia, Spain, archaeologists have unearthed an astounding collection of over 110 prehistoric cave paintings and engravings, their origins dating back at least 24,000 years. This remarkable Paleolithic or Stone Age rock art is being hailed as possibly the most significant discovery along the Eastern Iberian Coast in Europe, according to a statement issued by the research team.

Situated in the municipality of Millares, the 1,640-foot-long (500 meters) cave known as Cova Dones (also spelled Cueva Dones) had been recognized by locals and hikers for some time. While Iron Age artifacts had been identified within its confines, the Paleolithic artwork remained undocumented until 2021 when researchers stumbled upon it. Initially, the team encountered four painted motifs, including the head of an aurochs, an extinct cattle species. However, subsequent investigations in 2023 unveiled the site’s true significance as a major Palaeolithic art sanctuary, as detailed in a study published on September 8 in the journal Antiquity.

Aitor Ruiz-Redondo, a senior prehistory lecturer at the University of Zaragoza in Spain and a research affiliate at the University of Southampton in the U.K., remarked on the significance of the discovery: “When we saw the first painted aurochs, we immediately acknowledged it was important.”

Spain boasts the highest number of Paleolithic cave art sites globally, including the renowned 36,000-year-old cave art at La Cueva de Altamira. Nevertheless, most of these sites are concentrated in the northern part of the country, making this newfound location in Eastern Iberia a unique revelation. Ruiz-Redondo emphasized, “Eastern Iberia is an area where few of these sites have been documented so far.”

What distinguishes these Paleolithic compositions is not only their sheer quantity but also the diversity of techniques employed in their creation. The cave may very well hold the distinction of showcasing the most Stone Age motifs among all European caves, with the last significant discovery of this magnitude occurring in 2015 when at least 70 cave paintings, dating up to 14,500 years old, were found at Atxurra in Spain’s northern Basque Country.

In the recent study, the researchers meticulously documented at least 19 depictions of animals, including horses, hinds (female red deer), aurochs, and a stag. Additionally, the cave’s artwork features signs such as rectangles, isolated lines, and “macaroni” shallow-groove lines formed by dragging fingers or tools across a soft surface. It is noteworthy that many of these motifs were fashioned using red, iron-rich clay—a technique seldom observed in Paleolithic art, according to the researchers.

Aitor Ruiz-Redondo elucidated the creative process, stating, “Animals and signs were depicted simply by dragging the fingers and palms covered with clay on the walls.” The cave’s humid environment facilitated slow drying of the paintings, preventing certain parts of the clay from rapidly disintegrating, while other sections were encased in calcite layers, thus preserving them until today. Furthermore, some engravings were crafted by scraping limestone on the cave’s walls, an intriguing detail added by the research team.

As the investigations into this “rich graphic assemblage” are still in their early stages, the researchers have noted that there are more areas of the cave to explore and additional panels to document.

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