More Than 70 Engravings and Paintings from 14,000 Years Ago Discovered in a Spanish Cave

More Than 70 Engravings and Paintings from 14,000 Years Ago Discovered in a Spanish Cave

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A scientific team of archaeologists from the Provincial Council of Bizkaia (Biscay), Basque Country (Spain), has discovered fourteen panels with at least 70 engravings of animals dated to the Upper Paleolithic period. The discovery was made in the cave of Atxurra.

Specifically, the images have been dated to the middle/upper Magdalenian period (12,500 / 14,500 years ago). They were not detected before because they are located on dangerous ledges, about four meters (13.12 ft.) up, in a gallery located nearly 300 meters (984.25 ft.) from the entrance. The location can only be accessed after crawling through a small space. The drawings are also difficult to see because their black lines (possibly from coal) have almost completely disappeared – only scrapings on the stone are visible today.

As reported in the Spanish newspaper El País, the Atxurra cave is located about three kilometers (1.86 miles) from the coastal town of Lekeitio. It was excavated by Jose Miguel de Barandiaran between 1934 and 1935. Since then, the site has been well known to local speleologists (people who study caves and other karst features). However, the fact that the images are located on high and dangerous ledges has prevented the vast majority of cavers from setting foot in the area. This has made it possible to find important archaeological remains beneath the paintings as well, including a piece of flint and a piece of coal – which were almost certainly used to make the drawings.

Member of the research team looking at some of the newly discovered rock carvings.

Member of the research team looking at some of the newly discovered rock carvings. (El País)

Archaeologist Diego Garate and caver Iñaki Intxaurbe, the discoverers of the engravings, explained at a press conference in Bilbao that it is a "very important finding," and that is not just another cave with rock carvings "it's a sanctuary of 'champions '," they told various media outlets.

Garate also said at the conference that they have only made ​​four inspections of Atxurra to date, and have not yet explored a third of the cave, so the number of panels and animals represented could exceed the 70 that have been counted so far. This number is largely made up of bison and horses, although there are also goats, deer, or reindeer. Some places also have rubbed red stains:

Its potential is important because we will be able to contextualize how these figures have been made (...) We have not had a finding of this magnitude in Bizkaia since Santimamiñe.”

Some of the numerous engravings of horses discovered on the walls of the cave in Atxurra.

Some of the numerous engravings of horses discovered on the walls of the cave in Atxurra. (DEIA)

Among the figures represented, Garate highlighted a bison with a score of spears stuck in its belly: "This poor thing is possibly the most hunted animal across Europe", the archaeologist said, before explaining that the cave paintings of hunting scenes do not usually show "more than three projectiles."

The Deputy of Vizcaya Culture, Lorea Bilbao, told the Spanish news agent ABC that this finding is "exceptional", and has estimated it to be the site with the largest number of engravings of parietal Paleolithic art in the area.

The study of the grotto is expected to be complicated and time consuming as the dangerous access to the ledges where these samples of rock art are located will require the installation of scaffolding and various other safety systems.

Atxurra cave will be closed to the public during the first three years of archaeological research to keep these engravings and paintings safe. However, everyone will be welcome to learn about the art through scheduled works in 3D.

Top image: Figures of bison in some of the newly discovered rock carvings in the cave of Atxurra. Source: Bizkaia Bizkaimedia

By Mariló T. A.

This article was first published in Spanish at and has been translated with permission.

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