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Las Chimeneas Cave

Monte Castillo, Puente Viesgo
Magdalenian parietal art

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Cueva de Las Chimeneas, black outline painting of a stag
Black drawing of a stag, Las Chimeneas cave. Image by Gobierno de Cantabria. (CC BY 3.0)

Summary

Las Chimeneas cave (Cueva de Las Chimeneas) is one of five paleolithic caves that make up the Monte Castillo cave complex, in Cantabria, Spain.

Together with the neighbouring caves of El Castillo, La Flecha, La Pasiega and Las Monedas, it makes up one of most important sites of Franco-Cantabrian art on the 'Cantabrian Corniche'.

Las Chimeneas is noted for its rock engravings and cave paintings, including a range of abstract signs and geometric symbols.

Originally attributed to the Solutrean period, radiocarbon dating methods indicate that the cave art was created during the Magdalenian culture between 13,000 and 12,000 BC.

Since 2008, the site has been included on the UNESCO World Heritage list as part of 'The Cave of Altamira and Palaeolithic Cave Art of Northern Spain.' See below for the full list.

Location

Las Chimeneas is a limestone cave located in Monte Castillo, a conical hill, on the eastern edge of Sierra del Escudo de Cabuérniga, near the town of Puente Viesgo in Cantabria.

Discovery and Layout

Las Chimeneas was discovered in September 1953, by the engineer A. García Lorenzo. The discovery came much later than that of the other two major caves at the site: El Castillo Cave (1903) and La Pasiega (1911).

In 1950, road improvements at Monte Castillo led to the discovery of two new caves - Las Monedas and La Flecha.

Then, in 1953, a third cave was found, which had two levels. The upper level is just a bare warren, but the lower level was found to be decorated with numerous painted and engraved images.

It connected with the upper level, 20 metres above it, by means of several vertical shafts or karst 'chimneys' - hence its name 'Cueva de Las Chimeneas' (Cave of the Chimneys).

The lower passageway is aligned north-south, and has a width of 5 metres (at its narrowest), until its reaches a large chamber, where the cave art is located.

Other smaller galleries lead off this chamber. In total, the pasages at Chimeneas Cave run for almost 800 metres, which makes it the longest cave in Monte Castillo.

Excavation

The first study of the prehistoric art inside the cave was carried out in early 1954.

Three years later, the eminent Spanish archaeologist Joaquín González Echegaray (1930-2013) published a study which noted - in addition to a number of engraved drawings - the remains of stone tools, as well as some burials from the Neolithic era.

In addition, in the 1960s, Echegaray carried out several excavations adjacent to the original entrance to the lower passage and in the chamber containing the paintings, but found little of value.

No archaeological deposit was recovered, except for a few animal bones and flint artifacts.

Parietal Art

The parietal art at Las Chimeneas consists of engravings and paintings on both the walls and ceiling of the lower level.

The engravings consist mainly of finger-flutings and other finger-produced drawings of animals, and are limited to simple outlines.

Compare these with the La Roche-Cotard Cave engravings in the Loire Valley, and the finger drawings at Baume Latrone Cave in the Gard (both in France).

The main body of engravings is located at the end of the main passage, where numerous depictions of animals can be seen on several panels.

Subjects include: aurochs, chamois, deer, and ibex. There is also an unfinished engraving of a horse.

The cave paintings, mostly grouped together in a short gallery, are found deeper in the cave.

Rather like the engravings, the animal figures are painted in outline only, and are drawn exclusively in black pigment.

The main subjects are five stags, whose antlers are presented in twisted perspective, and whose bodies contain no internal detail.

A horse's head is also depicted, along with an ibex.

In addition, painted signs appear in numerous places. These ideomorphs, or pictographs, range from simple dot signs and lines, to more complex quadrangles and Spanish tectiforms, although they do not match the signs on the 'Inscription' panel at the nearby La Pasiega Cave.

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Dating

Monte Castillo was occupied first by Neanderthals, before they were replaced by modern humans around 37,000 BC.

La Pasiega Cave, for instance, has a scalariform sign which dates to 62,000 BC, well before Homo sapiens arrived in northern Spain.

However, the human occupation of Las Chimeneas occurs much later.

According to carbon-14 tests conducted on pigment samples, using accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS), the hunter-gatherer art in the cave dates to between 13,070 BC and 11,949 BC.

Prehistoric Cave Art

For an A-Z list of articles on prehistoric art and the people that created it, see Stone Age Culture.

UNESCO List of Spanish Caves

In addition to the cavities at Monte Castillo, the following caves appear on the UNESCO World Heritage list as part of 'The Cave of Altamira and Palaeolithic Cave Art of Northern Spain'.

Asturias

Cantabria

Basque region

References

(1) Moure Romanillo, A.; González Sainz, C.; Bernaldo de Quirós.; Cabrera Valdés, V. 1996. Dataciones absolutas de pigmentos en cuevas cantabricas: Altamira, El Castillo, Chimeneas, Las Monedas. (Absolute dating of pigments in Cantabrian caves: Altamira, El Castillo, Chimeneas, Las Monedas) En Moure, A. (ed.): "El Hombre fósil" 80 anos después. Servicio de Publicaciones. Universidad de Cantabria. Santander, pp 295-324.
(2) González Echegaray, J. 1974. Pinturas y grabados de la cueva de Las Chimeneas (Paintings and engravings from the Las Chimeneas cave) (Puente Viesgo, Santander). Diputación Provincial de Barcelona. Instituto de Prehistoria y Arqueologia. Wenner Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research. Monografias de arte rupestre. Arte Paleoliico, No. 2. Barcelona.
(3) Ontanón Peredo, R. 2018. 10 Cuevas Patrimonio Mundial en Cantabria. (10 World Heritage Caves in Cantabria) Santander: Consejería de Educación, Cultura y Deporte - Gobierno de Cantabria / Asociación de Amigos del MUPAC.

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