They were born about 17,000 years ago in a cave in the current Euzkadi, then came millennia of darkness and now they have come back to life thanks to the experts of the universities of the Basque Country and Durham (United Kingdom). There are four horses engraved in the mud on a prehistoric wall and they keep a secret: Why were they painted in a bend of a grotto difficult to access and using a very unusual technique?
Its recent history started in June 1968 when cavers Andoni Albizuri and Rafael Rezabal found in Deba (Gipuzkoa) what is known as Ekain's cave, one of the most important examples of rock art in Spain, and at the height of Altamira. It is a huge cavity in which fifty animals are represented and which was designated a World Heritage Site by Unesco in 2008.
Now, a team led by archaeologist Blanca Ochoa has discovered in a tiny gallery (La Fontana) the four copies, in addition to reinterpreting the engravings studied in previous decades thanks to new technologies: what was thought, in principle, that they were rhinoceroses , in fact it corresponded to figures of deer and bison.
"The four figures that we have found now were made directly with the fingers in the clay by the occupants of the grotto", explains Ochoa, something that is not frequent in this type of caves, since most of the existing ones in the world were engraved with stone instruments or painted with ocher. "As the wall is made of clay, they looked for a pictorial technique that allowed them to leave their mark. The carving or the painting does not remain in the mud. Only the recording on the clay endures. " That means, says the expert, what they wanted to tell us something. "The problem is the what".
The date of the drawings is unknown, but the experts consider that they are of Magdalenian period; that is, a stage that occupies between 17,000 and 13,000 years of our era.
Between 1969 and 1975, according to the data that the Basque Government has posted on the web dedicated to this cave, the site was excavated in six campaigns. The results were published in 1984 by Jesús Altuna and José María Merino until they have been updated with Ochoa's discoveries.
The cave was occupied in a non-continuous way between 42,000 and 5,600 years ago, corresponding mainly to the human groups of the Homo sapiens "although the deepest zone could show the habitat of the Homo neanderthalensis. "
In addition to the remains of deer, chamois, goats and wild boars brought by men for their consumption, bear bones have appeared, indicating that the cave was used as a place of hibernation by plantigrades when humans abandoned it.
About 11,000 years ago Ekain was occupied with greater intensity. During the Magdalenian period – a period that was mainly temperate and humid – there were instruments in bone for hunting and numerous tools in stone, some made of rock crystal (points, scrapers, burins …).
Ten thousand years ago, the cave stopped frequenting and it was not until 5,600 years ago, when the human groups that already knew agriculture, livestock and ceramics turned it into a burial site.
"Ekain is part of a global phenomenon of the hunter-gatherer communities that inhabited southwestern Europe during the Upper Palaeolithic. Its universal and exceptional value lies in the human creative genius and in being a unique, or at least exceptional, testimony of a vanished civilization, "says the cave's official website. And Ochoa concludes: "But there are still many things to find and understand, like what they wanted to tell us with the four clay horses."