More than 100 engravings found in the Cova de la Vila cave in the city of Tarragona, in the Catalonia region of Spain, date back 3,000 to 5,000 years. The engravings were discovered arranged on an 8-metre long panel inside the cave.
The depictions found in the Mediterranean underground gallery were described by a team from the Catalan Institute for Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution (IPHES) as “extraordinary both because of their singularity and their excellent state of preservation.”
According to IPHES expert Ramón Viñas, these murals represent the worldview of the first farming communities of the Copper-Bronze age. In a statement from the institute, it was stated that the engravings were first discovered by a group of three cave explorers on May 13, 2021, and then subjected to analysis by archaeologists and paleontologists from IPHES.
Examples of cave art included representations of different figures such as quadrupeds, zigzags, linear, angular, and circular lines, and a number of zoomorphs (possibly bovids and horses), star shapes, and reticular lines. The regional government of Catalonia said the discovery of the cave art constitutes “one of the few representations of subterranean schematic art in the entire Mediterranean Arc”.
The discovery marks “a historic landmark for prehistoric archeology,” according to IPHES.
The cave was explored by Salvador Vilaseca in the 1940s, but its location had been lost. The IPHES researchers managed to dig a small hole between the stone blocks and entered an oval room larger than 90 square metres.
The first person to walk in was Juli Serrano, who was surprised to see “a mural full of lines and shapes.” He says he felt “a tremendous feeling that I will carry with me for life” when he came to the big, round space and saw what was inside. He had unwittingly discovered one of the most important assemblages of prehistoric cave art. From then on, researchers Ramon Viñas and Josep Vallverdú from IPHES started working on the site.
Viñas highlighted how the engraving panel is structured along five consecutive horizontal lines and contains different carved figures, each with its own meaning and symbolism. The scientist points out that it is an “absolutely unusual” composition, showing “a worldview of the population of the region during the process of neolithization.”
During the transitional period between the Copper and Bronze Ages, between the late 5th and the late 3rd millennium BC, human groups were mostly found outdoors, their presence in the underground cavities of Catalonia in the northeast of the Iberian peninsula very rare. Examples of underground dwellings have also been found elsewhere in Spain in Andalusia, Segovia, Burgos and Soria.
To ensure its protection, the regional government has closed access to the Sala dels Gravats (Engraving Room). The site has been designated a cultural property of national interest and work is underway to create a 3D model of the cave.