Archaeologists have discovered figures of animals, mainly bison, engraved in a Gravettian style in three caves in northern Spain.

Engravings in the A panel of Aitzbitarte III cave in Spain. Top: tracing of the panel formed by the bird and the bison, engraved on the left wall. Bottom left: detail of the bird’s head. Bottom right: detail of the bison. Image credit: Garate et al., doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0240481.

Engravings in the A panel of Aitzbitarte III cave in Spain. Top: tracing of the panel formed by the bird and the bison, engraved on the left wall. Bottom left: detail of the bird’s head. Bottom right: detail of the bison. Image credit: Garate et al., doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0240481.

The three decorated caves, named Aitzbitarte III, V and IX, were discovered in 2015 in Aitzbitarte Hill in the easternmost part of Spain’s Cantabrian region.

The caves contain fine engravings of bison, horses, aurochs and birds as well as non-figurative depictions such as signs and lines.

“The particular style in which the bison horns and legs are drawn, typically without proper perspective,” said lead author Dr. Diego Garate from the Instituto Internacional de Investigaciones Prehistóricas de Cantabria at the Universidad de Cantabria and colleagues.

“Pairs of limbs are consistently depicted as a ‘double Y’ with both legs visible, and the horns are similarly draw side-by-side with a series of lines in between.”

The engraved figures in Aitzbitarte caves correspond to an artistic style that was unknown in the northern Iberian Peninsula.

The closest parallels of these figures are found in caves in south-west France — such as Gargas, Cussac and Cosquer — that were decorated by the Gravettian hunter-gatherers.

“This is consistent with the artistic style of the Gravettian cultural complex, characterized by specific customs in art, tools, and burial practices between about 34,000 and 24,000 years ago,” the archaeologists said.

“This culture is known from across Europe but has not been seen before on the Iberian Peninsula.”

The team’s discovery suggests that the Gravettian culture was more widespread and varied than previously thought.

“The Paleolithic animal engravings found in Aitzbitarte caves were drawn in a way that has never before been seen in northern Spain,” the researchers said.

“Our study revealed the close regional relationships in Western Europe cave art since very early times, at least, 25,000 years ago.”

A full account of the discovery was published online this week in the journal PLoS ONE.

_____

D. Garate et al. 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; doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0240481