Lost for over 50 years, a Spanish cave has revealed over 100 “exceptional” prehistoric artworks that have astonished archaeologists. The Cova de la Vila cave, located in the Tarragona province of Catalonia, was first excavated in the 1940s, but was subsequently lost. Now, a team from the Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution (IPHES) has rediscovered the cave, unveiling an eight-meter panel of prehistoric engravings.
Re-discovered in Glorious Technicolor
Containing archaeological artifacts dating back to the Upper Paleolithic period, around 12,000 to 10,000 years ago, the site was first excavated by Salvador Vilaseca in the 1940s but it had since been lost. Now, researchers have announced the rediscovery of “exceptional” prehistoric art works within this lost chamber of ancient arts.
Detail of one of the images found in Cova de la Vila. (Maria D. Guillén / IPHES-CERCA)
An Exceptional Discovery
The team of archaeologists from IPHES have so far identified “more than 100 prehistoric engravings” on an eight-meter (26.24 ft) panel, inside the Cova de la Vila cave. The painted cavern has subsequently been called “ Sala dels Gravats” (Engravings Room).
The depictions found in the so-called ‘Mediterranean underground gallery’ have been described as “exceptional,” both for “their singularity and for their excellent state of conservation.” According to IPHES archaeologist Ramón Viñas, the mural represents “the world view of first farmer societies” during the Chalcolithic Copper-Bronze Age, between the late 5th and the late 3rd millennia BC.
Detail of one of the images. (Arnau Pascual Monells / Departament de Cultura )
A Historic Milestone for Prehistoric Archaeology
The IPHES researchers said in a statement that the engravings were first discovered on May 13, 2021, by a group of three cave explorers, and that the site was formally analyzed by archaeologists and palaeontologists thereafter.
The IPHES researchers managed to open a small hole between blocks of stone and came into an oval room measuring around than 90 square meters (295.27 sq ft). The ancient artisans painted a surreal range of “quadrupeds, zigzags, linear, angular and circular lines, and a series of zoomorphs (possibly bovids and equines), star shapes and reticular lines.”
The images take many forms, from patterns to anthropomorphic and zoomorphic forms. (Arnau Pascual Monells / Departament de Cultura )
The regional government of Catalonia said the discovery of the cave art constitutes “one of the few representations of underground schematic art in the entire Mediterranean Arc.” And according to IPHES, the discovery marks “a historic milestone for prehistoric archaeology”.
The first to enter the cave since the 1940s was Juli Serrano, who, “to his surprise,” saw a mural full of lines and figures. He says that when he entered the large, circular cavity, and realized what was hidden within, he felt great emotion, “which I will take with me for life.”
Serrano had rediscovered one of the most important prehistoric cave art sites in Spain, and all of Europe, leading to researchers Ramon Viñas and Josep Vallverdú from IPHES working on the site.
Viñas spoke on a panel of engravings featuring five horizontal lines, one on top of the other, and how each of them contains “different engraved figures that have their own meaning and symbolism.” He described the lines as “absolutely unusual” depicting “a worldview on the part of the populations of the territory during the neolithization process.”
Probing Data Beyond the Lines
Viñas explained that the images were probably made during the transition period between the Chalcolithic and the Bronze Age , between the late 5th and the late 3rd millennia BC. At this time, human groups generally lived above ground in Catalonia, Andalusia, Segovia, Burgos and Soria, which makes the site unique.
The site is now regarded as a cultural asset of national interest and work is now underway to create a 3D model of the cave which will allow a closer inspection of the artworks. One of the “singularities,” according to Viñas, is that this cave art was made exclusively with the “engraving technique” using a stone or wooden tool, or directly with the fingers. The style of art is described as “stylistically very homogeneous,” which suggests it is not the result of chance and that every line holds a deeper “symbolic meaning”.
Top image: The panel of prehistoric engravings found in Cova de la Vila, Catalonia, Spain. Source: Arnau Pascual Monells / Departament de Cultura
By Ashley Cowie