Hidden Cave of Prehistoric Art: 24,000 Yr Legacy

Fareeha Arshad

In a hidden cave near Valencia, Spain, researchers from the University of Zaragoza and the University of Alicante made a groundbreaking discovery. The cave, known to locals and spelunkers, had concealed over 110 ancient paintings and engravings for approximately 24,000 years. This treasure trove of Paleolithic rock art offers valuable insights into the lives of ancient artists and their environment.

Cova Dones, located near Spain's Mediterranean coast, boasts well-preserved rock art created by humans over two millennia ago. Among the findings are 19 depictions of wildlife, including horses, red deer, and aurochs, an extinct bovine species believed to be the ancestor of modern cattle. This abundance of Paleolithic art in Eastern Iberia is exceptional, as this region typically lacks such dramatic galleries of cave paintings in northern Spain.

The significance of this discovery became apparent only after a systematic survey was conducted. Researchers emphasised that this cave's importance became evident once researchers grasped its magnitude. In contrast to the Franco-Cantabrian region, which hosts most known Paleolithic cave art sites, Eastern Iberia had relatively few documented sites, particularly those featuring painted figures.

Cova Dones comprises a single gallery cave approximately 500 meters deep. Despite previous discoveries from the Iron Age, there were no indications of Paleolithic inhabitants until the 2021 investigation. The researchers identified 110 distinct graphical units in three cave zones, showcasing a diversity of motifs and artistic techniques. This site may be one of the most significant rock art sites along the Iberian Peninsula's Mediterranean coast, rivalling those found in Cantabrian Spain, southern France, and Andalusia.

The cave's art includes engravings in a typical outline style. Still, the artists also used a rare technique of shading figures by scraping limestone precipitate against the walls, unheard of in Eastern Iberia. Moreover, the paintings used iron-rich red clay instead of the more common diluted ochre or manganese powder. This unique method involved applying clay with fingers and palms, allowing it to dry slowly due to the cave's humid environment, thus preserving the artwork over millennia.

The significance of Cova Dones extends beyond the initial discovery, with ongoing work to document more art and survey unexplored cave areas. This revelation challenges previous notions about the distribution of Paleolithic art in Eastern Iberia, offering fresh insights into the culture and symbolism of ancient societies from the Paleolithic era.

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I am a scientist by profession and a historian by passion. I mostly write about history and science.

Texas State

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