Tractor ruins ancient rock art in Galicia

A rock bearing prehistoric designs was seriously damaged recently when annual weeding works at a Galician archaeological park went wrong.

Tractor ruins ancient rock art in Galicia
The Rock Art Archaeological Park in Campo Lameiro, Galicia. Photo: Parque Arqueológico del Arte Rupestre

The spiral design on the rock was partially obliterated when a tractor equipped with metal chains accidentally drove over it during regular maintenance work at the Rock Art Archaeological in Campo Lameiro, Galicia.

The park is operated by the company Espiral Xestión Cultural on behalf of the regional government, with the company awarded the contract automatically after the park's original operators went bankrupt in the first year. 

Heading up the company is Jorge Sayáns, who is the son of the long-serving local mayor of Campo Lameiro, Julio Sayáns.

When asked about the destruction of the piece of prehistoric rock art, Jorge Sayáns told Spain's El País newspaper that the rock was an area not open to the public. He added that much of the art remained uncatalogued, and that it was the responsibility of regional authorities to make sure this was the case.

Galicia's culture ministry differed, saying that all the areas where weeding could be carried out with a tractor were clearly marked.

However, the ministry said it was "satisfied with the services provided" by Espiral Xestión Cultural — at a total cost of €540,000 ($635,000) over three years.

The company's contract expired at the end of 2014, with its manager choosing not to say whether it would apply for another four-year contract.

The 32-hectare Campo Lameiro Archaelogical Rock Art Park was opened with great fanfare in 2011 with authorities saying it needed 60,000 to 80,000 visitors a year to be economically self-sustainable. The current figure is, however, closer to 20,000.

Plans to establish the park as a centre of international research into rock art have also failed, with the vast majority of visitors being school groups. 

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Study confirms ancient cave art in southern Spain was created by Neanderthals

Neanderthals, long perceived to have been unsophisticated and brutish, really did paint stalagmites in a Spanish cave more than 60,000 years ago, according to a study published on Monday.

Study confirms ancient cave art in southern Spain was created by Neanderthals
Photo: Joao Zilhao/ICREA/AFP

The issue had roiled the paleoarchaeology community ever since the publication of a 2018 paper attributing red ocher pigment found on the stalagmitic dome of Cueva de Ardales (Malaga province) to our extinct “cousin” species.

The dating suggested the art was at least 64,800 years old, made at a time when modern humans did not inhabit the continent.

But the finding was contentious, and “a scientific article said that perhaps these pigments were a natural thing,” a result of iron oxide flow, Francesco d’Errico, co-author of a new paper in the journal PNAS told AFP.

A new analysis revealed the composition and placement of the pigments were not consistent with natural processes — instead, the pigments were applied through splattering and blowing.


What’s more, their texture did not match natural samples taken from the caves, suggesting the pigments came from an external source.

More detailed dating showed that the pigments were applied at different points in time, separated by more than ten thousand years.This “supports the hypothesis that the Neanderthals came on several occasions, over several thousand years, to mark the cave with pigments,” said d’Errico, of the University of Bordeaux.

It is difficult to compare the Neanderthal “art” to wall paintings made by prehistoric modern humans, such as those found in the Chauvet-Pont d’Arc cave of France, more 30,000 years old.

But the new finding adds to increasing evidence that Neanderthals, whose lineage went extinct around 40,000 years ago, were not the boorish relatives of Homo sapiens they were long portrayed to be.

The cave-paintings found in three caves in Spain, one of them in Ardales, are throught to have been created between 43,000 and 65,000 years ago, 20,000 years before modern humans arrived in Europe. (Photo by JORGE GUERRERO / AFP)

The team wrote that the pigments are not “art” in the narrow sense of the word “but rather the result of graphic behaviors intent on perpetuating the symbolic significance of a space.”

The cave formations “played a fundamental role in the symbolic systems of some Neanderthal communities,” though what those symbols meant remains a mystery for now.