The wrong call rock art, whose term comes from the Latin "rupes”(Stone), refers to all human activity carried out on the rock. With this concept, everything is included drawing, sketch or symbol that our primitive ancestors captured on cave walls, ravines, cliffs and in general any type of rocky shelter in which they lived.
The cave painting has been considered from its first discoveries as a artistic expression of our remote ancestors, but in truth, such a conception is wrong. The shaman of the tribeBy leaving his mark on the rock walls, he did not have in his mind the idea of creating something artistic, according to the conception of art we understand today.
It did not exist, therefore, an idea to create something beautiful, striking, that it would last for centuries to come as the sample or image of a certain moment in history.
On the contrary, in those days of great danger and need, what guided man was “the immediacy of the moment”, There was no place for the superfluous and everything, from the tiniest tool to the most complex hunting technique, obeyed an eminently practical nature, and the painting was no less.
Guided by a mystical intentionality, magical, the shaman represented the silhouettes of those animals that made up his livelihood, in an attempt to link and chain the soul of those beasts to the territory of the tribe.
Let us remember that in those first steps of humanity, human groups were nomads, they moved as did the herds of animals they hunted.
The fact that a herd of bison or deer left their territories, supposed a mobilization of the group in search of new hunting territories, something that in times of extreme scarcity such as in the ice ages could lead to the disappearance of the group if they were not found quickly. new dams.
Thus, the magical thinking of primitive man He understood that representing the figure of the animal linked its essence to the place, preventing it from escaping from its captors.
It is also very common succession of hunting images for a similar reason. The idea seems to be to infuse the hunters with courage and strength to bring down their prey, a kind of stone talisman by which the natural gods reward the group with the skill necessary to bring food to their own.
The cave painting in the North of the Peninsula: the Cave of Altamira.
Once the background of the cave painting, we will analyze the most important redoubts of the Spanish geography where these representations are housed, contrasting and comparing the existing differences between them.
Starting with the north peninsula, on the Cantabrian coast, we find the famous Cave of Altamira, discovered by Marcelino Sanz de Sautuola in 1879, in the town of Santillana del Mar.
The controversial caves of Altamira (because in their discovery it was said that they were forgeries) are considered part of the World Heritage Site by UNESCO, being of great international relevance.
The large main hall of Altamira, where are the most colorful representations, It is considered the "Sistine Chapel" of rock art international. Hundreds of animals and symbols are reflected on its ceiling, highlighting the bison (a fairly common animal at that time and geographical location) in different attitudes, accompanied by other animals such as horses, wild boars, and bulls.
The pictorial techniques used in the site are diverse, probably due to the fact that they were made by different men over several generations, engraving, silhouetting, painting, scraping and, of course, carbon shading being common.
The multiplicity of techniques together with the fact that its artists played with the irregularities and contours of the rock itself to give the effect of relief and depth to the painting, result in a composition of great dynamism and beauty. unique in paleolithic art.
Its realization dates back to 14,000 yearsIn the first pieces and according to the orography data, it seems that we can enjoy them due to a rock fall that 13,000 years ago buried the entrance of the cave, preserving its secrets from the weather and its attacks.
The Altamira painting It is made with natural ocher, possibly obtained with clayey components and pigments, which gives them a certain sanguine hue. On the contrary, the contour of the figures, the black lines and the shading effect were achieved by means of charcoal, possibly from the embers of the bonfires.
From the great main room a figure stands out above the rest, the one called «Great Doe«, The largest figure painted in the cave, measuring 2.25 meters in length and perhaps the one with the most complexity in its engraving, reaching great realism.
Despite the fact that the great “Sistine room”Has the largest representative cargo of AltamiraWe cannot pass the narrowest and lowest area of the cave, a small corridor, known as «the tail».
In this peculiar and remote area of the cave is the place where a black signs series (engravings using the aforementioned charcoal) that researchers and scholars in this field understand a representation of possible hunting traps.
It is a remote area with little showiness in its representations that is often overlooked, but that we should not forget to mention because provides great information on how our Cantabrian ancestors hunted and what devices did they use for such purposes.
Cave painting in the Levante Peninsular: Anthropocentrism
Moving away from the Cantabrian coast, we set our sights on the Spanish Levante, an area rich in rock representations and where perhaps, the milder climate, helped to shape the largest human settlements on the peninsula.
The Levantine cave painting extends over almost the entire Mediterranean coast, from Lleida to Almería, an area famous for the symbolic representation of the famous Indalo de Velez.
One of the main problems posed by Levantine painting It is the great chronological contradiction of it, the reason is because, although it is intended, there is no consensus regarding the dating, since there are no reliable data on when it arose, only speculations taking into account the dates of other humid archaeological zones of the peninsula.
It is not that there is no dating of Levantine art, but it fluctuates by the lack of consensus for lack of verifiable data. Let us remember at this point that when speaking of Altamira, We mentioned that the cave was buried 13,000 years ago.
This served to preserve the pictorial niche as if it were a time capsule.
But nevertheless, this has not been common in eastern Spain and cave caves have been exposed to the elements and the aggressive effects for centuries (which has greatly degraded the pigment of the same).
In addition, it is speculated that over the centuries they have been used as shelter by shepherds and bandits who with their bonfires and activity in the area have damaged some paintings already eroded by the time.
Even with all this, different dates are considered about its origin. Some establish their development in the paleolithic, while others date it in the epipaleolithic or mesolithic. There are investigations that even integrate some of them in the neolithic.
Of course, all this in very general lines, since it would be necessary to establish specific chronologies for each of the sites found, taking them into account, not as a “rock art”Levantine as has been considered habitually, but as concrete and independent deposits located in the Levantine strip.
The "Levantine art”Differs from the Cantabrian, in that while the second developed in the interior and sheltered from the depth of the caves (due to a much colder weather), the Levantine is common to meet him outdoors (reason for its worst condition and exact dating difficulties) in the cavities and cuts that are formed in the limestone mountains.
Regarding the painting itself and its methods, we found that The Cantabrians make almost exclusive use of ocher tones, while in Levantine painting a more reddish tone was used, black and especially white (practically non-existent in Cantabrian), which were obtained from different minerals.
It is noteworthy that Levante painting does not use bichromy or gradation of shades that helped shape the depth and relief of Altamira's painting. Levantine painting is flat and of less realistic rigor, seeming more interested in the symbolic charge of the drawing than in its representation close to reality.
Another notable difference is that by which the “Levantine art”Is more interested in human expression than in the merely animistic. Although hunting scenes appear, their true protagonists are men, who appear forming scenes of great dynamism.
We can establish three types of human representation: the war, with combat scenes, parades and warrior dances; those that reproduce activities related to hunting and those of daily life, which focus on food gathering, hierarchical organization and ritual dances.
The man usually appears naked and covered with beads (hierarchical in many cases) being common that they wield bows and arrows. The female figure, however, is represented with a bare trunk, showing her attributes, and with a flared skirt that reaches the knee. This exemplifies the symbolism associated with the sex of those primitive tribes: the male hunter and the female source of life and fecundity.
As we mentioned before, there is no realistic intention in the renderingsHowever, it seems interesting to capture dynamism, the force of movement.
To achieve this effect, the so-called “oblique perspective" Y "crooked perspective”, Consisting of showing the body in profile except for some parts that are placed in a frontal position, at the same time that the figures are bent to achieve a perception of movement.
In the drawings there is no detail, this does not matter, only symbolism is sought, and everything is reduced to signs and symbols that make the message clear (bows, shot arrows, sexual attributes ... and a long etcetera).
The most important deposits of the particular "Levantine art" are The Cogull Coat, in Lleida (with special symbolism of femininity), the Cave of the Horses of La Valltorta, Castellón (with great hunting representations) and the Spider's Cave, in Bicorp (Valencia) where we meet we found a horn hunt. In it, a group of hunters round up the animals and assault them.
In the drawing, one of the goats has fallen due to the impact of one of the arrows, it is on the ground, upside down, next to a dark colored stain, supposedly blood. As we see, the symbolic and narrative load of the events is inescapable.
Although we could go on talking about Spanish cave paintingsThese are the most representative in the Iberian Peninsula, although we could also talk about Portuguese paintings, but that is another story that we will tell you later.
Images: Public domain in Wikimedia