| 4 September 2005
Ancient painting discovered inside Gorham’s Cave
Archaeologists working deep inside Gorham’s Cave have (Gibraltar) discovered a rare prehistoric painting, that could be up to 13,000 years old, of a deer. To the untrained eye it looks like a series of random scrawls on the cave wall. But with the help of the experts, the outline of an animal crowned with a distinctive set of antlers quickly becomes clearly discernible.
The discovery of the painting follows the previous find of cave art in St Michael’s Cave and highlights the wealth of archaeological remains in Gibraltar.
Alongside the painting, the archaeologists working in Gorham’s Cave have also made important Neanderthal finds during the past two weeks. "What we have now in Gibraltar are eight caves where we know there has been Neanderthal occupation. We also have a number of caves with occupation by modern people, of which at least two have cave art, which is of great heritage value in global terms," said Professor Clive Finlayson, director of the Gibraltar Museum and co-director of the excavation at Gorham’s Cave.
Of the recent discoveries at Gorham’s Cave, the cave painting of the deer is perhaps the most significant. From its style, the experts working in the cave can tell that it is an Upper Paleolithic painting from the Magdalenian period, making it approximately 12,000 to 13,000 years old.
"In the south of the Iberian peninsula it is probably the second one," Professor Finlayson added, explaining that similar artwork is common only in the south of France and, to a lesser extent, northern Spain. That could suggest a link between prehistoric communities there and those in this region, who perhaps were sheltering in southern Iberia during a glacial period.
Aside from these broader lines of enquiry stretching halfway across Europe, the paintings are helping experts build a clearer picture of what life was like in Gibraltar thousands of years ago. "Both this find and the one in St Michael’s Cave help to fill in details of the life of our hunter-gatherer ancestors who lived on the Rock," said Maria Dolores Simón, an archaeologist from the Fundación Cueva de Nerja who is closely involved in the excavations in Gibraltar.
The painting is just one of a series of important discoveries made by archaeologists working in Gorham’s Cave as part of an excavation programme that has been running annually since 1991. They have been working on two distinct levels of sediment deep inside the cave, a 'modern' one dating back no more than 20,000 years, and a Neanderthal one that dates back at least 30,000 years. Within the 'modern', Upper Paleolithic level, one of the most interesting finds this year has been the discovery of a complete hearth – "a barbecue if you like", Professor Finlayson said – that prehistoric people were using to cook food as part of life inside the cave. The fireplace is believed to be anywhere between 16,000 and 20,000 years old.
"At least in this cave, Neanderthals and modern humans never met," Professor Finlayson said. "Therefore in this cave we can very definitely say that the modern people, contrary to what the general belief is, did not cause the extinction of the Neanderthals."
Source: Gibraltar Chronicle (3 September 2005)
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