The boat, at the bottom of this drawing of the rock art, shows a mast and probable rowing stations.

Rock art may Memorialize Ancient Contact between Atlantic and Mediterranean

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A meeting of the peoples of the European Atlantic coast and the Mediterranean coast may be memorialized in an ancient rock carving of a sailing vessel in the north of Spain. Sailing vessels were native to the Mediterranean, while rowing vessels were used on the Atlantic coast, where the petroglyph is located.

Along the Atlantic coast of northwestern Spain in Galicia, is an unusually high concentration of rock art, according to Dig Ventures . This sailing vessel scratched into a rock surface in the Costa de Castros region is unique in the known Bronze Age rock art of the Atlantic coast, though many boats are depicted in rock art along that coast.

Evidence has been surfacing that contacts between the Mediterranean and Atlantic areas before the Roman era were more intense and occurred earlier than researchers used to think, Dig Ventures says.

“Archaeological discoveries have already shown that the relationship between Atlantic Galicia and the Mediterranean consolidated during the Iron Age,” Dig Ventures reports. “Punic goods and a bronze axe known to be used for Mediterranean trade have been excavated at A Cabeciña Costa dos Castros, while just 50km up the coast, the discovery of a Punic garum factory dating to 600 BC shows that Mediterranean traditions were being incorporated into Atlantic life. Connections were more than just commercial, and closer than previously thought.”

But when did the peoples of the Atlantic coastal regions and the Mediterranean coastal areas begin to interact? Dig Ventures maintains that this is a difficult question to answer, but the ship carved into the rock face may signal the beginning of the relationship.

Researcher Javier Costas Goberna traveled throughout Europe to find art comparable to the sailing vessel at Costa de Castros. He looked for comparable depictions of boats in petroglyphs from Britain, southern Spain and Scandinavia. He came up with nothing that resembled the Costa de Castros petroglyph, which is called Auga dos Cebros. Like a fish out of water, the Auga dos Cebros carving shows a sailboat in a world of galleys or oar-powered boats along the Atlantic coast.

Looking at depictions of Mediterranean boats on petroglyphs, pottery, murals, coins, stamps, reliefs and embellishments, he found that many Mediterranean boats shared features with the type of boat depicted on the Auga dos Cebros petroglyph. One shared feature is that the bows and sterns of Mediterranean boats open slightly outward, Dig Ventures says.

A seventh century BC relief of an Assyrian boat shows oarsmen.

A seventh century BC relief of an Assyrian boat shows oarsmen. ( Wikimedia Commons )

Another commonality between Auga dos Cebros and Mediterranean boats is that sail power is bolstered with rowing. Auga dos Cebros shows a mast and some perpendicular lines that may represent benches for rowers. Another researcher, María Ruiz-Gálvez Priego, concluded the Auga dos Cebros boat resembles boats that were used from Egypt to Tyre and most closely parallels models used in the Aegean Sea around 2000 BC, Dig Ventures says.

Goberna visited Turkey to see a reconstructed boat of the same design of a shipwreck from 1400 BC.

Goberna visited Turkey to see a reconstructed boat of the same design of a shipwreck from 1400 BC.

Dig Ventures is raising money to clear the area around the Auga dos Cebros petroglyph and to develop an educational arboretum in the area. To follow archaeological excavations online, Dig Ventures charges a fee. See the link at DigVentures: Costa de Castros to donate and receive gifts in return. Dig Ventures is also taking people to do physical archaeological excavations at the site.

Featured image: The boat, at the bottom of this drawing of the rock art, shows a mast and probable rowing stations. ( Drawing from Dig Ventures )

By Mark Miller


Sometimes I wonder if archaeologists read books written by other archaeologists from the past, orwhether they just talk to current colleagues.  Scholars for well over 100 years have written about sailors from the Meidterranean sailing to Africa, South America, North America, and other places.

We know without any doubt that Semitic sailors  made it to Brazil.  We know without a doubt that ancient sailors from all parts of the world sailed all over the world.

But most of us grow up believing humans in the past somehow had less intelligence than we have today.  To me, if people had not sailed all over the world many times during the long existence of humans on the earth, that would surprise me a lot more.

I think human civilizations have risen and fallen many times in the past, and the evidence for the really ancient civilizations no longer exists.  It makes no sense that humans with the same brains as we have today would grub around for roots, when they could live in beautiful houses made by skilled crafts people.


Tom Carberry

Ok … if the drawing and rock art is that of a boat … I guess the goods onboard were deer, sheep, goats and reindeer that were transported in it. You might as well conclude this was a Viking expedition taking their animals to market.

Why else were these animals depicted with a boat?

The Auga dos Cebros rock panel on the Atlantic north coast of Spain is in very poor condition.

Dig V’s web site has a low resolution showing this badly weathered petroglyph.

Interpretation of art is subjective and greatly influenced by one’s culture, opinions and desire to see things.

If you’re looking for a particular “something” found in today’s abstract art or ancient rock panel, chances are, your eye and mind just might make that “something” appear.

 “Boat” images in rock art are found in many countries - Azerbaijan, Canada, Scandinavia, and recently, rediscoveries in the desert showing petroglyph boat panels are being studied around Upper Egypt’s ancient capital of Nekhen or Hierakonpolis.

If you think an image is a boat, then you’ll be finding characteristics in the rock art that resemble what your boat should look like based upon your background experiences.

To you, it becomes your boat. For me, I might see something else.

Commonality with today’s designed boats is either similar or vastly different from one another.

Size, shape, function and price will determine the outcome of a boat’s design.

In Tom Carberry’s reply, he indicated research findings of many ancient seafaring connections with distant cultures.  

So what’s the big deal here? Commerce from the seas has been ongoing since the first boat was dropped into a river, pond, lake, ocean …

Good luck with their educational arboretum, because I don’t buy into this rock as Capturing the moment when Atlantic and Mediterranean Cultures met.

Without scientific data, conclusions remain conjecture.

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