woensdag 29 januari 2014

Portugal, Prehistoric Rock Art Sites in the Côa Valley and Siega Verde

The two Prehistoric Rock Art Sites in the Côa Valley (Portugal) and Siega Verde (Spain) are located on the banks of the rivers Agueda and Côa, tributaries of the river Douro, documenting continuous human occupation from the end of the Paleolithic Age. Hundreds of panels with thousands of animal figures (5,000 in Foz Côa and around 440 in Siega Verde) were carved over several millennia, representing the most remarkable open-air ensemble of Paleolithic art on the Iberian Peninsula.
Côa Valley and Siega Verde provide the best illustration of the iconographic themes and organization of Paleolithic rock art, using the same modes of expression in caves and in the open air, thus contributing to a greater understanding of this artistic phenomenon. Together they form a unique site of the prehistoric era, rich in material evidence of Upper Paleolithic occupation.

The Upper Palaeolithic rock art of the Côa valley is an outstanding example of the sudden flowering of creative genius at the dawn of human cultural throws light on the social, economic, and spiritual life on the life of the early ancestor of humankind in a wholly exceptional manner.
The earliest evidence for recurrent human occupation by a small group, possibly on a seasonal basis, in the Alto Douro region is from the Lower Palaeolithic period. There is a concentration of rock-art and settlement sites along the main rivers, the Douro and its tributaries, the Côa and the Aguiar. In the Côa valley the known settlements are located in the short section between Quinta da Barca and Salto do Boi, but this does not reflect the situation in early prehistory, owing to the differences in lithology between this area and that further downstream. More intensive cultivation in recent years has also destroyed many settlement sites without record.
The settlements are characterized by pavements of river pebbles and large schist slabs, on which were found thick deposits of the waste from making and trimming stone tools; the acid soil conditions militate against the survival of organic materials such as wood or bone. The activities carried out on these sites were the processing of animal carcasses and the working of hide, bone, wood, and stone. The sources of the stones used indicate that these groups would have moved over a large territory more than 200 km in extent. This form of hunter-gatherer economy ended in the Magdalenian phase of the Upper Palaeolithic period. The region appears to have been devoid of human occupation until the 6th millennium BC, when incoming groups brought a sedentary Neolithic farming culture to the north-west of the Iberian Peninsula. From then on there was continuous occupation through to the present day.
Rock art began with the Upper Palaeolithic in the Iberian Peninsula, but the Côa material is not all Upper Palaeolithic; certain groups or panels are of later date, from the Neolithic to the early modern period, while many are palimpsests. The rock art of the Côa valley occurs in three clearly defined clusters, separated by empty stretches. Furthest south is the small group of granite rock-shelter sites at Faia. Some 8 km further downstream is the cluster on either side of the river at Quinta da Barca and Penascosa, where the rock is schist. Finally, there is a cluster consisting of a series of occurrences starting at Ribeira de Piscos and continuing down the Côa to its confluence with the Douro. It is postulated, however, that the gap between Faia and Quinta da Barca/Penascosa may be artificial, the Palaeolithic rock art on the soft stone in this stretch not having been capable of resisting natural weathering. In all 214 decorated panels have been found in 22 separate groups. The species represented are aurochs, horses, red deer, ibex and fish (with one apparent human caricature at Ribeira de Piscos). The proportions of each species represented vary from panel to panel and site to site. There is no example of any unequivocally domestic animals such as sheep or chickens, which were absent from the Pleistocene fauna of the Iberian Peninsula. The conventions used are also identical - size, invariable lateral views, twisted rendering of horns, distended bellies, absence of ground lines, etc. One convention unique to this group is the frequent use of single bodies with two or three heads, in an attempt to convey a sensation of movement. This is usually associated with horse figures.
The Palaeolithic artists used several different engraving techniques: fine-line incision using a hard resistant tool, pecking, with direct or indirect percussion, abrasion of the surface, and scraping, a technique for producing colour differentiation by the selective removal of surface layers. In cases where only outlines of figures can be discerned, it is suggested that these may originally have been painted with mineral and vegetable pigments. The number of engravings outlined by pecking and incision is almost identical. The Côa engravings represent a fully outdoor art (with the exception of those in the Faia rock shelters). This is usually the case in later prehistory, but it is almost unknown in the Palaeolithic. The engraved panels are always on vertical rock faces, but the possibility of their having disappeared from horizontal or inclined surfaces cannot be ruled out. Following the Palaeolithic tradition, surface variations of the rock itself is used effectively in order to impart relief to the figures.
Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC
Historical Description
The earliest evidence for human occupation in the Alto Douro region is from the Lower Palaeolithic period (90,000 years ago). There has as yet been no Middle Palaeolithic site found, but the region was clearly favoured in the Upper Palaeolithic. There is a concentration of rock-art and settlement sites along the main rivers, the Douro and its tributaries, the Côa and the Aguiar.
In the Côa valley the known settlements are located in the short section between Quinta da Barca and Salto do Boi, but this does not reflect the situation in early prehistory, owing to the differences in lithology between this area and that further downstream. More intensive cultivation in recent years has also destroyed many settlement sites without record.
Analysis of the archaeological evidence suggests that the valley was occupied recurrently, possibly on a seasonal basis, by small human groups during the Upper Palaeolithic. Their settlements are characterized by pavements of river pebbles and large schist slabs, on which were found thick deposits of the waste from making and trimming stone tools; the acid soil conditions militate against the survival of organic materials such as wood or bone. The activities carried out on these sites were the processing of animal carcasses and the working of hide, bone, wood, and stone. The sources of the stones used indicate that these groups would have moved over a large territory more than 200km in extent.
This form of hunter-gatherer economy lasted from around 22,000 BC for 10,000-12,000 years, at the end of the Magdalenian phase of the Upper Palaeolithic.
The region appears to have been devoid of human occupation until the 6th millennium BC, when incoming groups brought a sedentary Neolithic farming culture to the north-west of the Iberian peninsula. From then on there was continuous occupation through to the present day.

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