Research Article: Pre-Solutrean rock art in southernmost Europe: Evidence from Las Ventanas Cave (Andalusia, Spain)

Date Published: October 17, 2018

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Miguel Cortés-Sánchez, José Antonio Riquelme-Cantal, María Dolores Simón-Vallejo, Rubén Parrilla Giráldez, Carlos P. Odriozola, Lydia Calle Román, José S. Carrión, Guadalupe Monge Gómez, Joaquín Rodríguez Vidal, Juan José Moyano Campos, Fernando Rico Delgado, Juan Enrique Nieto Julián, Daniel Antón García, M. Aránzazu Martínez-Aguirre, Fernando Jiménez Barredo, Francisco N. Cantero-Chinchilla, Peter F. Biehl.


The south of Iberia conserves an important group of Palaeolithic rock art sites. The graphisms have been mostly attributed to the Solutrean and Magdalenian periods, while the possibility that older remains exist has provoked extensive debate. This circumstance has been linked to both the cited periods, until recently, due to the transition from the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic in the extreme southwest of Europe as well as the non-existence of some of the early periods of Palaeolithic art documented in northern Iberia. This study presents the results of interdisciplinary research conducted in Las Ventanas Cave. These results enabled us to identify a new Palaeolithic rock art site. The technical, stylistic and temporal traits point to certain similarities with the range of exterior deep engravings in Cantabrian Palaeolithic rock art. Ventanas appears to corroborate the age attributed to those kinds of graphic expression and points to the early arrival of the Upper Palaeolithic in the south of Iberia. Importantly, the results provide information on the pre-Solutrean date attributed to trilinear hind figures. These findings challenge the supposed Neanderthal survival idea at one of the main late Middle Palaeolithic southern Iberian sites (Carigüela) and, due to the parallels between them and an engraving attributed to this period in Gibraltar, it raises the possibility of interaction between modern humans and Neanderthals in the extreme southwest of Europe.

Partial Text

The south of the Iberian Peninsula is, together with the Cantabrian Region (northern coast of the Iberian Peninsula) and southern France, one of the areas with the largest number of caves with Palaeolithic rock art in the southwest of Europe. However, in these latter two, the graphic sequence seems to have begun earlier, spanning the entire development of the Upper Palaeolithic (UP) [1–5]. In this context, a series of caves with exterior graphics, also known as “first and second graphic horizons of the Nalón” [1, 6, 7] are among the oldest graphic expressions of Pleistocene art in western Europe, although their time span is also subject to some debate [8–10].

Ventanas is a cave located in the south of the Iberian Peninsula (Fig 1A) (lat. 37° 26′ 30″N, long. 3° 25′ 42″W), near the town of Píñar in the province of Granada (Spain). The site is situated at an altitude of 1,015 masl in the foothills of Sierra Harana (Fig 1B). The cave is 1,200m long with a vertical range of 37.5m between its highest and lowest points, and takes its name from its three entrances (Fig 1C).

The fieldwork focused on the outermost areas of the intermediate level (Fig 2) whilst a more general investigation was conducted inside the cave. During this fieldwork, rock art was only discovered at the entrances that receive direct sunlight (zones A, B and C, (Figs 1C and 3) areas which are discussed below. The rock art basically consists of engravings. These were found covered by herbaceous vegetation which was growing in sediment that filled cracks and fissures in the limestone surface (Fig 3). These plants prevented the adequate documentation of the graphic art, and were removed with scissors to avoid pulling out the roots and the sediment attached to them. Later, using non-metal tools, the sediment that covered the gaps was removed in order to demarcate and adequately document the engravings. This sediment was sifted using a mesh size of 0.1mm and preserved in PVC bags. Furthermore, in some areas, the engravings are superficially covered with lichen and carbon, which form a thin biofilm that covers the engravings but does not prevent a full reading being conducted, so they were not removed.

Ventanas (1,015 masl) is one of the highest altitude sites with Palaeolithic art in the whole of Iberia. The technique employed to produce the motifs was engraving, on the surface of the limestone in areas with sunlight, even though that sunlight only reached those areas directly at sunset.




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