Humans visited the Paleolithic paintings in the Ojo Guareña cave for 12,000 years

Humans visited the Paleolithic paintings in the Ojo Guareña cave for 12,000 years

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From 13,000 years ago to a thousand years ago, Several groups of humans from the Paleolithic to the Middle Ages repeatedly and frequently visited the cave art in the Sala de las Pinturas in the cavity of Ojo Guareña in Burgos, the largest cave in Spain.

This is confirmed by a study that has analyzed and dated the small fragments of charcoal to make bonfires and paintings inside.

In the Hall of Paintings of theOjo Guareña Cave in Burgos there are spaces decorated with differentpaintings of animals, schematic human figures and signs.

It is a relatively hidden place within one of the largest cavities in the world, since it has more than 110 kilometers.

To access it, you have to go through one of its multiple entrances and walk about 300 meters deep until you see a small hole on one side, about a meter and a half, which gives access to the Carton Room, the preamble to theHall of Paintings.

This is the path followed by various human groups who visited this space ofrock art from 13,000 years ago to 1,000 years ago. This occurred over the course of at least five phases that correspond to different moments, from the last hunter-gatherers of thePaleolithic untilHigh Middle Ages, passing through the Neolithic, Chalcolithic and Bronze periods, three periods linked to the development of the first producing (livestock and agriculture) and metallurgical societies.

Scientists have just documented it thanks to the application ofMass Spectrometry with Accelerators (AMS) on the walls of the cavity that has allowed the drawings to be dated to the final stage of the last European hunter-gatherer groups.

“It is a gallery that is hidden, so there has had to be, as it were, some kind ofcultural tradition of an oral nature that has meant that for thousands of years it has been transmitted to different human groups that there is something in this space ”, he saysMarcos Garcia Diez, co-author of the study and researcher at the department of Prehistory, Ancient History and Archeology at the Complutense University of Madrid (UCM).

Scientists know that different human groups were seeing these for a long time paintings, because there are fires of a quite remarkable intensity. “It was not just that they passed by, but that they made fire under the paintings. Of course, we do not know the meaning they gave it or if they modified it ”, adds the researcher.

The study, published in the journalArchaeological and Anthropological Sciences,indicates that the repeated visit by human groups implied the speleological exploration of the underground space, even being necessary to resort to climbing techniques. In addition, it entailed the reuse of symbols by human groups with a later and different economic and symbolic tradition.

“What the article highlights is that human groups from different cultures and traditions are taking advantage of a previous symbolism. This reuse of later groups does notpaleolithic it also implies a respect for paintings ”, adds García Díez.

The Middle Ages paralyze visits

Another fact that is found at work is that during theChristianity these visits disappeared. “When the Middle Ages arrived, there was no evidence of activity, even knowing that there are hundreds of sites with evidence in the area linked to Christianity. A tradition of using previous imagery is broken ”, emphasizes the scientist.

In fact, one of the entrances that is located relatively close to the Hall of Paintings, has evidence of Christianization from the 8th or 9th century. It is where the so-called hermitage of San Tirso and San Bernabé is located, which is still used today.

The researchers also verified that the last groups even Christianized the place, marking the symbols now considered pagan. At the entrance to the Sala de las Pinturas you can see a narrow area where someone painted a cross that is dated as a historical period.

“This indicates that in theMiddle Ages there was a knowledge - but not an awareness - of the existence of Paleolithic art. Someone from that time saw it because the entrance is marked with that cross, ”continues García Díez.

Possible symbolic uses of human groups

The dating has been carried out on thesmall pieces of charcoal linked to the lighting inside the cavity, either as torches (chips to light fire) or as lighting points on the floor, and to the realization of animal drawings and signs on the walls. With the latter, charcoal was used as a “pencil” to draw.

"The frequenting and use withsymbolic purposes of the caves is documented throughout history, which implies the existence of a human behavior maintained over time that considers the cavities as symbolic places possibly linked to spiritual or ideological actions ”, concludes the researcher.

In addition to the UCM, the research also involved theEdelweiss Speleological Group, theAtapuerca Foundation and theNational Research Center on Human Evolution, with the support of the Junta de Castilla y León.


Ortega-Martínez, A.I., Martín-Merino, M.Á. & García-Diez, M. “Palaeolithic creation and later visits of symbolic spaces: radiocarbon AMS dating and cave art in the Sala de las Pinturas in Ojo Guareña (Burgos, Spain)”.Archaeol Anthropol.
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