Saturday, September 15, 2018



 Halibut, La Pileta Cave, Spain.

The question of the meaning of images in rock art has been perennially discussed. It usually reflects one of two positions; animals in rock art represent spiritual powers that the people perform rites to, or animals in rock art represent groceries for the people producing it. If we visualize these two theses as opposite ends of a spectrum, then most rock art students fall somewhere in between in their own understanding of what they might represent. My position is more toward the groceries end of the scale. (I wrote on this in my May 2, 2011 column; Bighorn Sheep Petroglyphs - Groceries, or Metaphor?) While I cannot deny that people may have had spiritual feelings that involve the animals (in much the same way that the Native Americans revered the bison that they subsisted on), my intuition is that they were more focused on acquiring food than worshiping it.

Close-up, Halibut, La Pileta
Cave, Spain.

I certainly feel that this is the case with the painting of a halibut found in La Pileta Cave, in Spain. La Pileta, in the Province of Malaga, Andalucia, in southern Spain, is currently 34 km. (approx. 21 miles) from the ocean, although with the lowered sea levels during the glacial Paleolithic it would have been farther then. It was certainly not too far for a hunter to have traveled before returning home to picture the remarkable sight he had seen.

"At the end of the longest gallery in the deepest part of the cave, is the "Fish Chamber", which is dominated by La Pileta's most famous drawing: a large black fish (thought to be a halibut), about 5 feet (1.5m) in length." (

Public domain.

The Atlantic halibut "is the largest flatfish in the world, reaching lengths of up to 4.7 m (15 ft) and weights of 320 kg (710 lb). Its lifespan can reach 50 years."(Wikipedia)

The halibut is "not only the largest of flatfishes, but is one of the best characterized; its most obvious distinctive characters, apart from its size, being that fact that it lies on the left side, that its mouth gapes back as far as the eyes, and is armed with sharp curved teeth; that the rear edge of its tail fin is concave, not rounded; that its two ventral fins are alike; and that its lateral line is arched abreast of the pectoral fin. Furthermore it is a narrower fish, relatively, than most of our flatfishes (only about one-third as broad as it is long) but is very thick through, and its eyes are farther apart than they are in most of the other flounders. In the eastern Atlantic, halibut have been reported doubtfully from the Gulf of Cadiz, and definitely from the Bay of Biscay." (

As to the date of this picture, "one recent radiocarbon test of charcoal taken from a drawing of one of the aurochs in The Sanctuary (of La Pileta), gave a date of 18,130 BCE. Relying on this analysis, archeologists believe that the earliest art in the cave was created during the era of Solutrean art (20,000 - 15,000 BCE), though some of it might belong to the preceding period of Gravettian art (25,000 - 20,000 BCE). The remaining Upper Paleolithic works are assigned to Magdalenian art, created during the period 15,000 - 10,000 BCE." (

Whether the artist of this picture had been personally involved in hunting for this giant fish, or perhaps, saw it while visiting people who lived along the shore and who possessed more of a maritime culture we cannot know. I can conjecture, however, the impression such a fish would have made on the artist, and understand the desire to record such an experience for the rest of the group.

NOTE: Some images in this posting were retrieved from the internet with a search for public domain photographs. If any of these images are not intended to be public domain, I apologize, and will happily provide the picture credits if the owner will contact me with them. For further information on these reports you should read the originals at the sites listed below.


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