Saturday, January 14, 2017


Engraved horse head,
 Parpallo cave-6,

"Parpalló cave is located in the Monduber Mountains, close to Gandia, in the province of Valencia, Spain. The cave was discovered by Vilanova y Piera in 1872.

The cave was excavated by L. Pericot between 1922 and 1931. The resulting stratigraphical record, which was recently revised, shows a timeline of occupation extending from the end of the Gravettian period, through the entire Solutrean period to the Mediterranean Upper Magdalenian, indicating a time interval approximately ranging from 28,000 years to 11,000 years before the present.

Engraving,  Parpallo cave-6,

Besides the importance of the artefacts uncovered - stone tools and worked bone - the main reason for Parpalló cave’s position of prominence in the field of Palaeolithic art is due to the impressive collection of mobile art found in the cave. This mobile art includes more than 5,000 decorated limestone plates and blocks discovered during archaeological excavations." (

Parpallo cave-1,

"The mobile art of Parpalló is designed on bone (more than one hundred objects) and, predominantly, on the famous collection of thousands (5,034) of limestone plates and blocks as well as some pebbles. The designs are primarily of animals (mainly horses, goats, deer and bovines, as well as very rare carnivores and some birds) and abstract signs (consisting of complex linear shapes, such as waves, zigzags, dotted step shapes and swirl shapes, squares, etc.) and there is a single anthropomorphic design.

Parpallo cave-3,

This impressive set of artefacts was primarily produced using the technique of engraving. In some cases the figures were subsequently filled in by painting or by a combination of these two procedures (engraving and painting) within the initially defined space of the representations." (

The examples of portable art from Parpallo were created over a vast period of time indicating repeated occupations of the cave for the same length of time. Examples have been dated from 28,000 B.P. to 11,000 B.P., a record of at least 17,000 years in the one location illustrating evolving styles and influences. "Its relatively slow start, in terms of numbers, was during the Gravettian occupation (28,000 - 21,000 years before present). This stage encompasses only 7 plates, all with animal engravings and some with a painted interior".

"The next period, identified as the Solutrean (21,000 – 16,500 years before the present) includes the time said to be the peak of Parpalló mobile art. It is the phase when artistic expression and originality are at a maximum. This phenomenon, as it happens, can be generalised for all Palaeolithic art south of the River Ebro. No-one knows why this is so, but it could be due to the concentration of Palaeolithic communities in this area, which was likely an area of refuge from the worsening climate conditions that occurred at the height of the last ice age.

Accordingly, more than 150 plates have been dated to the Lower Solutrean (± 21,000 years before the present).

Parpallo cave-7,

More than 850 decorated pieces were attributed to the Middle Solutrean (± 20,000 – 19,000 years before the present), , - the development of some innovative aspects can be seen, such as the increased variety and complexity of geometric patterns and, above all, the significant increase in the size of the stones on which the engravings and painting are made. That increase in size, reaching half a metre in length in some cases, seems to want to convey the idea that the art of Parpalló wishes to leave its mark in stone.

The Evolved Solutrean (19,000 – 16,500 years before the present) comprises two distinct phases of development. The initial phase (Upper Solutrean), to which 915 pieces are attributed, encompasses a reduction to the size of the stone media, returning to their usual standard, as well as a sharp decrease in the use of the some pictorial elements, especially as regards animation and the representation of scenes. In the final phase of this period, known as the Solutrean-Gravettian, and represented by 558 objects.

The mobile art attributed to the Magdalenian period (16,500 – 11,000 years before the present) can also be divided into different phases, like the art of the previous period.

Hence, in the Lower Magdalenian (16,500 – 14,000 years before the present), the first phase of development (Ancient Magdalenian A) has links to some of the standards and norms of the preceding early Solutrean period i.e. a decrease in pictorial richness (less dynamics and detail, and even the evident regression of pictorial technique) and fewer pieces of art (323 plates). The standards and precepts are again reversed in the final phase of this period (Ancient Magdalenian B). This reversal comprises, in the first instance, an increase in the quantity of figures (671 pieces of art), as well as the establishment of the qualities that come to represent the essential characteristics of art of the late Pleistocene in Europe, i.e. the dominance of representations of animals, realism, respect for proportions and the attention to anatomical details. The Ancient Magdalenian B phase is also noted for the reappearance of geometrical patterns and their increased complexity and diversity.

Finally, the Upper Magdalenian (14,000 – 11,000 years before the present) is represented through 440 objects (including stone plates and engraved bone tools). The trend for naturalist representations in this period entails continuity of the processes initiated in the previous stage."

Parpallo cave,

A recent study published in the online journal PLOS studied the pigments used to paint the Parpallo Cave plaquettes by energy dispersive X-ray fluroescence spectometry (EDXRF), for 73 sides with red paint from 67 plaquettes, and 15 sides with yellow images from 14 plaquettes. Samples were also studied under Fourier Transform Infrared spectroscopy (FT-IR) to confirm the EDXRF findings. These confirmed that all red and yellow pigments used at Parpallo were iron based (oxides and/or hydroxides) with the addition of a large number of elements in smaller amounts such as arsenic, manganese, and lead (Garcia et. al. 2016). We are rushing into an era where the study of rock art can be viewed in many aspects as a hard science. For full details of this interesting study I will direct you to the original paper listed below.

NOTE: The images used to illustrate this review were retrieved from the Internet with a search for Parpallo Cave Art Public Domain. If any of these images were not public domain I apologize to the owners of the rights to the image.


Garcia, Clodoaldo Roldan; Bonilla,Valentin Villaverde; Marin, Isabel Rodenas, and Mascaros, Sonia Murcia,
2016   A Unique Collection of Palaeolithic Painted Portable Art: Characterization of Red and Yellow Pigments from the Parpalló Cave (Spain), PLOS,

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