Rock Art of the Mediterranean Basin on the Iberian Peninsula
The late prehistoric rock-art sites of the Mediterranean seaboard of the Iberian peninsula form an exceptionally large group. Here the way of life during a critical phase of human development is vividly and graphically depicted in paintings whose style and subject matter are unique.
Justification for Inscription
Criterion iii: The corpus of late prehistoric mural paintings in the Mediterranean basin of eastern Spain is the largest group of rock-art sites anywhere in Europe, and provides an exceptional picture of human life in a seminal period of human cultural evolution.
The corpus of late prehistoric mural paintings in the Mediterranean basin of eastern Spain is the largest group of rock-art sites anywhere in Europe, and provides an exceptional picture of human life in a seminal period of human cultural evolution. Its uniqueness, its documentary value, its integration into a landscape bears the imprint of man but is also of high ecological value, and its fragile and vulnerable nature. It is exclusive to the Mediterranean basin of the Iberian Peninsula because of the complexity of the cultural processes in this region in later prehistory, and to the factor related to conservation processes, such as the nature of the rock and specific environmental conditions.
The eastern Spanish rock art is an exceptional historical document which, because of its range, provides rare evidence in artistic and documentary terms of the socio-economic realities of prehistory. The predominant colour used was red, in various shades, black to a lesser extent, and white used in some areas. The scenes represent the first narrations in European prehistory and cover a number of different areas. Hunting activities, most frequently represented, show hunting by groups, with details of animal traps and the tracking of wounded animals. Gathering activities, such as that of honey, the most common, is of exceptional historical material to beekeepers. The earliest depictions of combats and executions appear in the form of archers shooting at their victims. Scenes of domestic daily life show groups of people sitting and talking, people walking together, seated hunters, butchering of animals, etc. The representations of the human figure provide information on clothing and personal ornament, such as different hairstyles, bracelets, arm-rings and necklaces, and mark the beginnings of social inequality. Funerary rites are shown in the form of recumbent corpses and ritual scenes. Scenes illustrate the mythologies of these prehistoric societies: sorcerers in strange costumes are common, as are figures combining human characteristics with those of animals (deer, bulls, birds). Female figures are also common, and these seem to represent female deities because of their prominent positions in the scenes depicted and their larger size.
Human modification of the landscape that was begun by the first Neolithic communities has less impact on these upland areas where the hunter-gatherer cultures that created the eastern Spanish art evolved. These lands are the last reserves of very interesting biological communities, such as a number of the most threatened European species of raptors, such as the royal eagle, the partridge eagle, and the peregrine falcon. Among the mammals the rarest species in Europe, the Iberian lynx, is still to be found in some places, also a large number of the animal most represented by prehistoric artists, the wild goat, are still in the area of rock-art sites. The existence side by side of living fauna and prehistoric art gives these areas the exceptional quality of a timeless landscape. The rock art in the over 700 sites have a number of regional variations, which are not always easy to distinguish:
- northern zone: single naturalistic zoomorphic figures and the rare stylized human figures;
- Maestrazgo and Lower Ebro: dynamic hunting and combat scenes, containing human figures;
- mountain areas of Cuenca and Albarracín: paintings in shelters and rocks in siliceous rocks;
- Júcar river cave and neighbouring mountain area: depiction of hunting scenes that are full of action;
- Safor and La Marina regions (Valencia and Alicante): hunting and social scenes but no combat.
- Segura River basin and neighbouring mountain areas: zoomorphism predominates;
- Eastern Andalusia: this form of rock art is to be found in two areas of eastern Andalusia;
- Los Vêlez region and the foothills of the Sierra Morena: mostly zoomorphic figures.
The Iberian peninsula has a rich heritage of prehistoric rock art. A number of important sites from the Palaeolithic period are known from the region of eastern Spain, where the best examples are from the Solutrean culture (c 19,000-16,000 BC), derived from southern France.
It was not until the advent of Neolithic sedentary communities based on agriculture that the characteristic art of the eastern side of the peninsula developed and flowered. The dating of this art has been the subject of many years of debate among prehistorians. It is now generally accepted that the art is not Palaeolithic, because of the culture that it depicts, but its precise attribution - whether it began in the Epipalaeolithic (from c 10,000 to 5000 BC) or in the full Neolithic that followed - is still not fully established.
The nomination dossier proposes an elegant partial reconciliation of the two points of view: "It is the art of peoples whose cultural roots lay in the Epipalaeolithic, who continued to use primarily hunter-gatherer economic systems, and who gradually incorporated Neolithic elements into their cultural baggage." This may interpreted as a bracket in time between c 8000 and 3500 BC.Source: Advisory Body Evaluation