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Archaeologists in Spain Discover Unique Ancient Drawings

Ancient drawings discovered in Cova Dones, Spain, provide insights into the artistic techniques of Paleolithic people.
Ancient drawings discovered in Cova Dones, Spain, provide insight into the artistic techniques of Paleolithic people. Credit: Ruiz-Redondo/ Barciela/ Martorell

Archaeologists found ancient drawings of a big, extinct bull called an auroch on a cave wall in Spain’s Cova Dones. This cave is located in a place called Millares near Valencia. Experts initially assumed the drawings were special because most old drawings in Spanish caves are in the northern part of the country.

However, the scientists didn’t exactly know how significant this new drawing was until they returned to the site for further inspection.

“Once we began the proper systematic survey, we realized we were facing a major cave art site, like the ones that can be found elsewhere in Cantabrian Spain, southern France or Andalusia, but that totally lack in this territory,” explained Aitor Ruiz-Redondo, an archaeologist from the University of Southampton and the University of Zaragoza, who is one of the authors of a new study about this discovery.

Drawings and carvings found in the cave

Within the cave, the archaeologists found over a hundred drawings and carvings. They believe these drawings are at least twenty-four thousand years old. This information comes from a study that was recently published in a journal called Antiquity.

The team figured out the age of the drawings by looking at how they had been affected by the weather and by examining marks made by the claws of a cave bear that no longer exists.

Among these drawings, there are at least nineteen that clearly depict various animals. Some of these include female deer, horses, aurochs (those big extinct bulls we talked about earlier), and regular deer.

The cave is arguably the ‘most important’ Paleolithic rock art site ever discovered on the eastern coast of the Iberian Peninsula, the researchers said. The scientists believe it has more ancient drawings than any other cave in Europe found since 2015, so it is quite a big deal.

How were the drawings made?

One interesting thing about this new discovery is how the drawings were made. Some of them were scratched onto the surface, while others were colored with white mondmilch, which is a kind of limestone material. However, most of the drawings were made using clay.

The people who lived in Cova Dones in ancient times liked to use red clay for their drawings, which differed from what people typically used in this region. Usually, they used watery mixtures of colors such as ochre or manganese. Using clay for painting was not something that was done often in ancient times.

Challenging discovery of the technique

The unusual technique of using red clay for the drawings was not easy to notice at first. This is because, over time, a substance called calcite had partly made the red clay quite difficult to detect.

“Animals and signs were depicted simply by dragging the fingers and palms covered with clay on the walls,” Ruiz-Redondo said. “The humid environment of the cave did the rest: the ‘paintings’ dried quite slowly, preventing parts of the clay from falling down rapidly, while other parts were covered by calcite layers, which preserved them until today.”

The archaeologists are excited about their discovery, especially the unusual manner in which the art was created. They believe that this find will be rather helpful in the continued study of this region’s cave art. Ruiz-Redondo said, “We hope that by showing the many ‘clay paintings’ in Cova Dones, it will encourage us and other research teams to look for similar pigments in other caves.”

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