In 1930 the French spelunker N. Casteret discovered several parietal engravings of Palaeolithic age in Alkerdi cave. Later on in 1974 a detailed study of these engravings was made by I. Barandiarán, who also, more recently, has excavated the cave. In 2014 more than twenty new figures were discovered by D. Garate and O. Rivero in an almost unknown sector of the cave called ‘Galería de los Bisontes’.
One year ago I helped Diego Garate to the cave We went to make photos and document the rock art. Diego told me the nature of the findings, but the reality exceeded any description. The Gallery was narrow, so tight that it was impossible for two persons to stay one beside the other. We entered creeping, pushing ahead all the equipment, then we stopped in front of the left wall.
I was able to see some faint bluish lines, but until Diego started pointing the engraved lines with his finger I was unable to realize that I was in front of a big bison. The figure was impressive, 67 cm long, with the eye, the horns and the snout carefully represented. Three lines drawn in the flank of the animal represented nailed spears or arrows. The animal, with his tongue sticking out, seemed hurt, almost agonizing. I was shocked by the strength of the representation but then Diego started pointing the different figures and I realize the beauty and the relevance of the discovery he made.
The cave of Alkerdi is located in Navarre, just beside the actual frontier between Spain and France. It opens in the slopes of Arleun mountain, where are also located other archaeological caves as Alkerdi 2 or Beroberria, which has a Late Upper Palaeolithic sequence excavated by I. Barandiarán.
Alkerdi is a relatively small cavity which can be divided in different sectors. The entrance chamber has a very low ceiling and here were made the archaeological excavations of a single Gravettian layer. At the end of one narrow passageway which starts from this entrance chamber is located the already known decorated sector. After the main chamber, a second one is present at the back of the cave. Here, also a small passageway opens on the left wall. In this narrow place is where the new figures have been found.
These new figures have been studied with innovative methods of photography, photogrametry and 3d laser scanning. Also advanced methods of image editing and infographics have been used to record and show the engravings.
The figures were made with superimposed faint engravings, probably due to the hardness of the wall, creating complex lines which nowadays are still clearly visible. The figures are small and adapt to the narrow space where they are represented. In fact it is quite surprising that such a narrow space was used, but similar examples have been found at Mas d’Azil or Etxeberri. The most represented animal is bison, followed by horse. There are also some less clear figures as a possible doe and a wolf. Bisons have been represented in great detail following the conventions that are typical during the Middle Magdalenian at the Pyrenean region: S profile horns, beard and hump represented with parallel tracings, representation of eye, ear and snout; occasional representation of tongue, hoofs and hooks, sex, etc. Horses have also typical conventions as the detail of anatomical parts or the representation of the mane with parallel tracings.
The rock art discovered at Alkerdi cave is clearly related with the rock-art sites found at the close Gaztelu hill (Isturitz, Oxocelhaya and Erberua). Also, the ‘pyrenean’ style of the representations is related with classic sites as Niaux, Fontanet or Tuc d’Audoubert. This discovery enhances the knowledge of the rock art at the region and offers new data to assess the mobility of Middle Magdalenian populations, helping to understand the existence of a ‘global’ art expression in Western Europe 14.000 years ago.
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