Ice Age Cave Art: The Search for Submerged Spanish SitesJuly 1 2017
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Europe during the Ice Age
When modern humans first arrived in Europe around 40,000 years ago, the continent looked quite different than it does today. Ice sheets covered most of the north, and with so much water locked up in the ice, water levels in the region were much lower (up to 100 m) than they are at present.
The oldest art in the world
Dating to between 10,000 and 40,000 years ago, the Ice Age rock art of Europe is currently the oldest known in the world. Our distant ancestors decorated the caves and landscapes around them with vivid paintings and masterful engravings. Learning more about this practice allows us to explore the origins of art, symbolism and creativity, all of which are distinctively human characteristics.
The discovery of Cosquer Cave
Cosquer Cave was discovered off the coast of Marseilles, France in 1985. Its entrance is 37 m underwater today, but would have been accessible during the Ice Age. The angle of the tunnel and the trapped air in the main chamber preserved much of its art. This site contains over 150 intact paintings and engravings in near pristine condition. You can check out this amazing cave here: culture.gouv.fr/fr/archeosm/en/fr-cosqu1.htm.
Could other sites have survived?
During the Ice Age, the northern coast of Spain extended 10-15 km further out than it does today. Most of the cave art sites that are currently known in this region are found along river valleys that run north to south. The northern sections of these valleys are now submerged, but would have been above water in the past and may very well have had decorated caves running along their length. Could the right conditions exist for some of these sites to have survived just like their counterpart in France? There are only 450 known cave art sites in the whole of Europe, so every new find offers the exciting possibility of gaining additional insight into the world and lives of these ancient artists.
Who knows what hidden treasures are waiting to be discovered under the sea?
We plan to go find out in the summer of 2017 off the coast of Cantabria, Spain...