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The paintings of the Laja Alta Shelter rejuvenate 5,000 years in one fell swoop

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About 27 kilometers in a straight line from the coast and at an altitude of 370 meters, in Los Alcornocales Natural Park, in the municipality Jimena de la Frontera (Cadiz)opens a small rocky hollow known as the Laja Alta refuge. This cave hides a spectacular secret: the depiction of a marine scene on its walls. On the panels there are at least seven rowing or sailing boats, human figures, idols, suns and signs difficult to interpret, up to a total of more than fifty motifs made of red and black pigments. It was discovered in 1978 by Salvador Corbacho Rey, a local resident, who reported the find to the authorities. Since then, numerous national and international studies have attempted to explain these inland ships, with the general consensus that they dated back to prehistoric times (4th a small black idol. However, other experts pushed its authorship to the 3rd century BC and IIId .C., due to the advanced naval technology they show which apparently did not exist in prehistory.But now a new line of archaeologist’s research Ana Maria Gomar Barea He claims that the drawings actually correspond to a pictorial representation of medieval ships between the 12th and 14th centuries. He states that the analyzed idol has nothing to do with the confrontation. In other words, the battle is a depiction of the Middle Ages, but it was painted over prehistoric drawings. Hence the error.

As carbon 14 indicated, the black idol was invented between the fourth and third millennium BC. C. (rock art), the scientific community assumed that the remaining figures were of the same age, so the ships were believed to be the first sailing boats represented in Western Europe. The previous hypothesis, which defended that the frieze represented a meeting between indigenous peoples of the peninsula and eastern settlers, possibly Phoenicians, Carthaginians or Romans, between the 3rd century B.C. Corresponded to C and IIId. C., was therefore turned off.

But Gomar rejects all of these premises. in his studio The marine scene of the Laja Alta shelter, a new chronocultural proposalpublished in the prestigious journal zephyrus, explains that “since their discovery, there has been a great deal of debate about their chronology, because the vessels were remarkably distant from the known features of prehistoric rock art, where they were mostly contained”. For this researcher, “the context in which the scene is set, a rock shelter, together with the technique used to build the ships, red pigment, has contributed to them being conceptually placed in the prehistoric category, thereby supporting the hypotheses were distorted beginning of each investigation, in addition to prohibiting the entry of specialists in other periods”.

Above gallery of Laja Alta, below graffiti and drawings from the late Middle Ages.

Gomar confirms that the first work – before carbon 14 – attempted to draw morphological parallels to pots of oriental tradition from civilizations such as the Minoan, Egyptian, Sardinian, Archaic Phoenician and protohistoric Italic, but without convincing results. The archaeologist recalls that “the arrangement of the boats on the stage, the details of their elaboration, the use of perspective or the dynamics they represent” have no affinity with cave art or with Eastern tradition. In addition, “the panels are very heterogeneous, which means that they reflect different phases of execution. There are overlaps, different color nuances, strokes of different thicknesses, different dimensions of the figures and very different states of preservation. It is also significant that some motifs have a recent appearance with bright colors and an extremely fresh appearance, and it would be necessary to check whether they are copies or imitations,” he notes.

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Gomar was struck by “the case of the cross which is at the edge of the pictorial panel, a figure which bears resemblance to examples of pedestal peninsular crosses”, to which “an unusual detail and perspective of the ships, something which is added is far removed from the canons of rock art”. The researcher recalls that these ships have elements such as rigging, rudders, rudders, forecastle, single masts, two-legged masts, double masts, different types of sails, skids, rigging, shrouds, struts, aplustros, pennants and even the internal reinforcements of the hull frames.

The specialist therefore believes that “the naval scene of Laja Alta should be approached from an approach that takes care of the explanation of all the systems involved in its conception and creation, in order to give an answer to its physical, technical and typological context “. To do this, he made digital copies and restitutions of the figures in order to find parallels in different iconographic sources at any given time (prehistoric, protohistoric and historical) and finally to locate the elements of naval engineering that could be identified and dated .clearly.

These tests have “confirmed the slight deterioration of some ships after being dragged, as there are traces of two ships showing continuity in the rock crusts, suggesting a younger execution date than the prehistoric one”. In two of the ships – the so-called first and sixth – “we can even see an attempt at an axonometric representation of the hulls. The cover is made visible by seeking a kind of projection in which the object appears to be slightly rotated about an axis with respect to the projection plane, suggesting an attempt to give the figures a three-dimensionality, something incompatible with prehistoric schematic rock carving” .

Above, boat-shaped No. 3 from Laja Alta compared to (left to right) a 14th-century Venetian galley, a 15th-century Venetian galley and a 14th-century galley from Latin manuscripts.
Above, boat-shaped No. 3 from Laja Alta compared to (left to right) a 14th-century Venetian galley, a 15th-century Venetian galley and a 14th-century galley from Latin manuscripts.Anna Gomar

In what is known as “dead work” – elements above the waterline – the type of sails, specific rigging, stern finishes, spurs and pennants were clearly identified, all compatible with medieval naval technology. For this reason, Gomar confirms that “the peculiarities observed in the Laja Alta ships, the characteristics of the galleys from the 13th and conical piston that produced a spur and a single rudder order in the fourteenth century”.

In addition, the ships that appear in some codices from the 12th to the 15th centuries, together with the graffiti depictions of ships also from the same centuries and placed on the castle walls, most closely correspond to those of Laja Alta . Gomar emphasizes that “the morphological-stylistic comparison and the identification of engineering elements also lead to the naves being classified between the 12th and 14th centuries”.

And it ends: “The tablets of Laja Alta reveal a problem common to many prehistoric cave sites, in which different phases of execution and unusual typologies in prehistoric art are documented. In fact, in certain places it becomes extremely difficult to distinguish prehistoric figures from historical ones, since drawing in a schematic style is something universal and timeless.”

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