New insights into the study of Palaeolithic rock art: dismantling the "Basque Country Void"
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AuthorGarate Maidagan, Diego
The Vasco-Cantabrian region of northern Spain, together with southwestern France, is one of the richest areas in terms of Paleolithic cave art, but, until recently, by far the highest concentration of sites had been in the central-western sector: the provinces of Cantabria and Asturias. In contrast, the eastern sector, the Basque Country-between the Asón River and the Pyrenees-was thought to have a significantly lower density of cave art loci, and few of them were major “sanctuaries”. The density of cave art sites seemed to increase again in the central French Pyrenees. This unequal distribution was difficult to explain given the homogeneity in the distribution of undecorated (i.e., habitation) Upper Paleolithic sites, as well as the lack of major lithological or orographic differences between the eastern and central-western sectors of the region. In addition, the important geostrategic position of the Basque Country between southwestern France and northwestern Iberia seemed to contradict the marginal role traditionally suggested by the parietal art record. During the past decade, however, research projects aiming to address the issue of the so-called Basque rock art void have led to the tripling of the number of known decorated caves in the eastern sector. Some of the very recent discoveries, notably in Atxurra, Armintxe, and Aitzbitarte IV, fall into the category of major cave art sites. The evidence presented here contributes to a fuller understanding of artistic production, human connections, and settlement dynamics during the entire Upper Paleolithic among the Cantabrian, Pyrenean, and Aquitaine regions, underlining the importance of the Basque Country record.
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