The hills around the Spanish town of Mañaria are home to more than just stone quarries. Paleolithic-era drawings have now been found in the cave of Askondo, a site that is well known to residents living in the area. The cave had been partially destroyed by the activities at a local stone quarry and archaeologists wanted to see whether there were any worthwhile artifacts left in the caves.
When researchers entered the cave, they were searching for items such as bones, tools and other artifacts as well as stones that may have been used by early residents of the cave. What they found was far more valuable. Even though the cave had been examined many times over the years, the cave art that decorated the walls had never been spotted. Researchers did not even notice the drawings until they were on their way out of the cave.
It was then that the images of handprints and horses were spotted. The drawings have been dated and are believed to have been created approximately 25,000 years ago. The drawings included a red horse with a profile that resembled a duck bill. This was a feature that is fairly common to other European cave art examples.
Other caves in northern Spain have been decorated with Paleolithic cave art. The most famous is likely Altamira. In 1879, scientists discovered that the 270 meter long cave was full of artifacts that ranged in age from 18,500 years ago to 16,500 years ago. The cave was also home to drawings that had been created using ochre, hematite and charcoal. Further variations in color were developed by diluting these three main colors and the end result was a three dimensional image.
Animals tend to be used a lot in Paleolithic cave art. Often, these were animals that were hunted and consumed although not all were. Some of the most common animals that are found in cave art from this era include horses, bison and red deer (also known as hinds). Scientists have theorized that the differences in which animals were most common tended to be more of a regional or artistic difference.
The Basque culture has several legends about the Askondo cave. One legend is that the cave is the home to a mythological beast known as a lamia. This was a half woman-half duck that attacked a young boy and dragged him into the cave. According to legend, he was not seen from again. Other legends state that the cave was used as a meeting place for witches.
Scientists are examining the Askondo cave more extensively now that the cave paintings have been discovered. They plan to excavate the area in order to tell whether there were signs of people living in the cave at the time that the art was completed. Another plan is to restore the paintings that have sustained the most damage or which have faded more extensively than others. The researchers who are examining the cave say that they are excited due to the fact that it is possible to enter the cave using the original entrance, something which is not possible with many of the other caves where this type of artwork has been discovered.