Images of seven horses, two now-extinct cattle, seven female deer, and a stag are all depicted in a cave 1,640 feet below ground near the Mediterranean Sea. The figures are among 110 Paleolithic artworks recently uncovered by a team of archaeologists working in Cova Dones in the region of Valencia, Spain. The discovery could open doors for further prehistoric research in the area and help historians understand the symbolism in European Paleolithic art.
The markings were first discovered in 2021. In April of this year, a team of archaeologists — Virginia Barciela González and Ximo Martorell of the University of Alicante and Aitor Ruiz-Redondo of the University of Zaragoza — began to take a closer look. They’ve documented their discoveries and conducted in-depth research into some of the artworks so far, although a few wall segments have yet to be examined closely. The scholars published their findings in the academic journal Antiquity on September 8.
The figurative works in Cova Dones comprise etchings, shapes shaded with mondmilch (a white substance found in caves), and subjects drawn with red clay taken from the cave floor. These unusual red clay figures have been partially covered by calcite over the millennia, making some difficult to identify with the naked eye. They are considered a rare archaeological find.
“We expect that the documentation of this large number of ‘clay paintings’ in Cova Dones will lead to us and other teams to pay more attention to the presence of this kind of pigments in other caves,” Ruiz-Redondo told Hyperallergic over email.
Cova Dones also features rectangles, singular markings, and finger-drawn line clusters called “macaroni.” The artworks have proven difficult to date, but the macaroni offered Ruiz-Redondo and his team a vital hint: They’re marked by the scrapes of a bear claw. Based on this specific type of cave bear’s date of extinction, the researchers believe the markings are around 24,000 years old. That timeline places the artworks’ creation firmly in the Paleolithic Period, which lasted from 2.6 million to 10,000 years ago, the end of the last Ice Age.
“We hope that the impact will be major in the area,” Ruiz-Redondo said. “The eastern coast of Spain does not have the strong research tradition in Paleolithic rock art that the Cantabria region of Spain or the Dordogne region in France has. Those have been developed for almost 150 years.”Indeed, caves with Paleolithic art in Cantabria and Dordogne have been named UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The latter region boasts the Lascaux cave, which contains the famous red cow drawing seared into the minds of many a former Art History 101 student (and which Western scholars have gone so far as to name the beginning of human artistic expression).