Saturday, September 03, 2005

Stunning painting discovered in Gorham’s secret chamber

Archaeologists working deep inside Gorham’s Cave have discovered a rare prehistoric painting, that could be up to 13,000 years old, of a deer.

Paleolithic cave painting in this case of a horse, similar to the Deer paintings found at Gorham's Cave in Gibraltar
To the untrained eye it looks like a series of random scrawls on the cave wall. But with the help of the experts, the outline of an animal crowned with a distinctive set of antlers quickly becomes clearly discernible.

The discovery of the painting follows the previous find of cave art in St Michael’s Cave and highlights the wealth of archaeological remains in Gibraltar.

Alongside the painting, the archaeologists working in Gorham’s Cave have also made important Neanderthal finds during the past two weeks.

Gorham's Cave in Gibraltar - Photo courtesy of http://donsmaps.com/mousterian.html“The surprises seem to come one after another each year,” said Professor Clive Finlayson, director of The Gibraltar Museum and co-director of the excavation at Gorham’s Cave.

“What we have now in Gibraltar are eight caves where we know there has been Neanderthal occupation.

We also have a number of caves with occupation by modern people, of which at least two have cave art, which is of great heritage value in global terms.

This makes Gibraltar one of those unique places for the study of prehistory and for this rich heritage.

Certainly in terms of Neanderthal occupation sites, for a peninsula this size to have eight is unique in the world.

There is no other place like that,” he concluded.

Of the recent discoveries at Gorham’s Cave, the cave painting of the deer is perhaps the most significant. From its style, the experts working in the cave can tell that it is an Upper Paleolithic painting from the Magdalenian period, making it approximately 12,000 to 13,000 years old.

“It is extremely unique,” Professor Finlayson said. “In the south of the Iberian peninsula it is probably the second one,” he added, explaining that similar artwork is common only in the south of France and, to a lesser extent, northern Spain.

That could suggest a link between prehistoric communities there and those in this region, who perhaps were sheltering in southern Iberia during a glacial period.

“This is a really major find and there may well be more in there,” he said.

Aside from these broader lines of enquiry stretching halfway across Europe, the paintings are helping experts build a clearer picture of what life was like in Gibraltar thousands of years ago.

“Both this find and the one in St Michael’s Cave help to fill in details of the life of our hunter-gatherer ancestors who lived on the Rock,” said Maria Dolores Simón, an archaeologist from the Fundación Cueva de Nerja who is closely involved in the excavations in Gibraltar.

The painting is just one of a series of important discoveries made by archaeologists working in Gorham’s Cave as part of an excavation programme that has been running annually since 1991.

They have been working on two distinct levels of sediment deep inside the cave, a ‘modern’ one dating back no more than 20,000 years, and a Neanderthal one that dates back at least 30,000 years.

Within the ‘modern’, Upper Paleolithic level, one of the most interesting finds this year has been the discovery of a complete hearth – “a barbecue if you like”, Professor Finlayson said, that prehistoric people were using to cook food as part of life inside the cave. The fireplace is believed to be anywhere between 16,000 and 20,000 years old.

But the researchers also found a very large hearth in the Neanderthal level. They are still waiting to have this find dated, but already it is being described as significant.

“We can show that not only were these modern people living and cooking inside the cave, but we have an incredibly large Neanderthal hearth,” Professor Finlayson said. From the clues in the cave, researchers are starting to draw initial conclusions.

The Neandearthals did not survive in this part of the world more recently than 30,000 years ago, but the oldest human remains date back to around 20,000 years ago.

“What this means is that, at least in this cave, Neanderthals and modern humans never met,” Professor Finlayson said.

Gorham's Cave perspective on the east side of Gibraltar
“Therefore in this cave we can very definitely say that the modern people, contrary to what the general belief is, did not cause the extinction of the Neanderthals.

Now I’m not going to generalise this beyond that case, but the fact that we can question it in one cave questions the globality of that principle.”

Tests are now being carried out on remains found in both hearths. The results will give researchers an idea of the kind of plants and wood used in the fires, and by extension a better understanding of the flora during both periods.

Excavation work in the cave continues until September 22.


Related Links:

The Gibraltar Museum

Photos of previous explorations of Gorham's Cave by Jose Berrocal

Cueva de Nerja

1 Comments:

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