BARCELONA – A unique piece of Paleolithic art believed to be more than 12,500 years old has been unearthed in Spain, according to a research publication seen by EFE on Monday.
Researchers from the University of Barcelona made the discovery, which is considered to be exceptional because it depicts a scene that has only been observed in two other articles in the whole of Europe.
The object, a piece of limestone measuring about 30 centimeters (12 inches) long, was found at an excavation site in Margalef de Montsant, near the northeastern city of Tarragona, in which two human figures can be recognized alongside two birds, a scene that researchers say represents hunting and maternity.
“The birds attract the attention of the humans who pursue and imitate them, but there is also a bird with its offspring fleeing from them,” said researcher Ines Domingo, adding that the depiction was unique in that it features a combination of hunting and motherhood.
The research paper, which has been published in the scientific journal “L’Anthropologie,” said the art was exceptional” for its rarity and for its excellent state of conservation.”
“This paper reports the discovery of a new example of portable art in northeastern Iberia dating to the Late Upper Paleolithic,” the journal said.
“The anatomical features of one of the birds suggest that it is a crane, a species that has been depicted in a limited number of sites,” the journal added. “Moreover, there are only three known examples of birds and humans interacting in a narrative scene in Paleolithic art,” it said.
According to the research team, the only cave paintings in Europe with humans and birds are at the caves of Lascaux in France and those at the Gönnersdorf site in Germany.
There are few examples of Paleolithic art in Catalonia, the province that encompasses Tarragona and the Montsant valley, but this discovery suggests that the region was influenced by the Mediterranean artistic trends of the Upper Paleolithic period.
“This new find has the potential to change the classic definition of European Upper Paleolithic art and integrate the region in the artistic trends circulating along Mediterranean Iberia during the Upper Magdalenian,” the research paper said.
Domingo said that researchers at the Polytechnic University of Valencia have created a three-dimensional reproduction of the piece so as to enable more people to study it and because it provides a better way of seeing “details that are not appreciated by the naked eye.”
Researcher Josep Maria Fullola said that although it was true that all images have meaning, this is normally linked to social convention which makes any interpretation subject to a degree of conjecture.
“We enter a church and recognize that a child with wings is an angel because it is part of our culture, a person from another place in the world would not know it and the same thing happens with this piece, we cannot know what it means unless we had some contact with that society,” Fullola said.
However, Domingo said that despite not knowing the exact meaning that prehistoric inhabitants may have attributed to the piece, “what we do know is that birds were not only valued as hunting prey but also had a symbolic value.”
The piece was discovered in 2011 but was not published on previously because it was necessary to excavate the entire area in order to contextualize it, explained excavation director Pilar Garcia Argüelles.
She said only “around 10 or 15 centimeters” could be excavated each year.
Jordi Nadal was the researcher who found the piece and said that, from the first moment, he was aware “of the exceptional importance of the piece, these are things that rarely happen in life, to see a figure that has spent 12,500 years buried and forgotten.”
Researchers have been excavating in the area of the Montsant valley since 1979 and have found numerous sets of tools and also the only Paleolithic engraving in Catalonia, the paper said.