The Prehistoric Rock-Art Site of Escoural Cave (Portuguese: Estação Arqueológica da Herdade da Sala/Gruta do Escoural) is a structure known for its Paleolithic-era rock-art and funerary burial site, located in the Portuguese municipality of Montemor-o-Novo, in the civil parish of Santiago do Escoural.
|Prehistoric Rock-Art Site of Escoural Cave|
|Location||Santiago do Escoural, Alentejo, Portugal|
The earliest vestiges of human occupation date back to 50,000 years B.C. (pertaining to the middle Paleolithic), associated with the interior of the cave. The first occupants of the cave came from groups of Neanderthal hunter-gatherers, who used the cave as a temporary shelter in order to hunt. Based on bone evidence within the cave, these groups hunted nearby aurochs, deer and horse. Elements of rock art also pertain to the Upper Paleolithic (40,000 to 10,000 years B.C.) or final parts of the Neolithic period, when the interior was used as a funerary site, while a small settlement inhabited the area in the exterior. During the Chalcolithic period, a human settlement existed within the cave, developing into a fortified site by the end of Copper Age.
A series of archaeological investigations began in 1963, under Manuel Farinha dos Santos, which continued in 1980, while a team of international investigators performed soundings in 1989. In 1999 it was included in the Programa de Valorização e Divulgação Turística: Itinerários Arqueológicos do Alentejo e Algarve, under the Ministry of Commerce and Tourism and Secretary-of-State of Culture, in order to monetize the sight as a tourist pole. As a result, an interpretative centre was constructed from a local traditional building, then expanded, reopened in 2011 after new public works.
The rock-art site is located along the E.N.370 motorway between Santiago do Escoural and Alto da Abaneja, approximately five kilometres from the latter. A side road towards the east, in the direction of Herdade da Sala, in the locality of Fonte Nova, directs the traveller to a marble outcropping and cliff face embedded in igneous rock, on which the archaeological site is found. It is in an isolated rural location between the Tagus River and Sado River basins and the plains region of the Alentejo, near other important megalithic monuments, including the Cromolech of Almendres and the dolmen Anta Grande do Zambujeiro.
A complex subterranean structure, the cave is an irregular plan that extends longitudinally northwest to southeast, consisting of a network of horizontal halls and galleries at different levels sealed within a thick flowstone mantle. Although the excavation and investigation of the cave has been studied since the 1960s, prospecting in the cave has yet to be concluded. The cave, which develops in a very tangled and karst network with multiple connections to the outside, is located within a steep cliff of hard limestone.
The latest surveys, made in 1989 (Silva and others, 1991), have revealed new chambers, resulting in further progressive investigations. Beyond the important cave art, paintings and engravings, the underground system has revealed numerous funerary burial sites dating from the Neolithic to the Chalcolithic, with a universe of interesting artifacts. Outdoors, in an area defined by the extent of the cliff face, there were recorded traces of a village that existed throughout the Neolithic to the Chalcolithic.
The monument is a singular example of Neolithic Portuguese archaeology, whose prehistoric art paintings are comparable to those of Altamira and Lascaux. The site was the first in Portugal in which prehistoric art was identified, and the only location that has examples of Paleolithic artwork. There have been identified hundreds of motifs, engravings and paintings of animals, abstract forms and geometric shapes in the archaeological site.
- IGESPAR, ed. (2011). "Estação arqueológica situada na Herdade da Sala (Gruta do Escoural)" (in Portuguese). Lisbon, Portugal: IGESPAR-Instituto de Gestão do Património Arquitectónico e Arqueológico. Retrieved 20 September 2011.
- Branco, Manuel; Nunes, Castro (1994). SIPA (ed.). "Estação arqueológica da Herdade da Sala/Gruta do Escoural" (in Portuguese). Lisbon, Portugal: SIPA – Sistema de Informação para o Património Arquitectónico. Retrieved 20 October 2011.
- AAVV (1991), "A Gruta do Escoural: Novas perspectivas para o seu estudo e valorização", Actas das IV Jornadas Arqueológicas (Lisboa 1990) (in Portuguese), Lisbon, Portugal
- Glory, A.; Vaultier, M.; Santos, Manuel Farinha dos (1966), La grotte ornée d'Escoural (Portugal) (in Portuguese), 62, Paris, France: BSPF
- Gomes, Mário Varela (1991), "Corniformes e figuras associadas de dois santuários rupestres do Sul de Portugal. Cronologia e interpretação", Almansor: Revista de Cultura (in Portuguese), pp. 17–74
- Santos, Manuel Farinha dos (1964), "Vestígios de pinturas rupestres descobertos na Gruta do Escoural", O Arqueólogo Português (in Portuguese), 5
- Santos, Manuel Farinha dos (1967), "Novas gravuras rupestres descobertas na Gruta do Escoural", Revista de Guimaraes (in Portuguese), 77
- Santos, Manuel Farinha dos (1969), "O monumento eneolítico de Santiago do Escoural", O Arqueólogo Português (in Portuguese), 3
- Santos, Manuel Farinha dos; Gomes, M.V.; Monteiro, J.P. (1980), "Descobertas de Arte Rupestre na Gruta do Escoural (Évora, Portugal)", Altamira Symposium (in Portuguese), Madrid, Portugal
- Gomes, R.V.; Gomes, M.V.; Santos, Manuel Farinha dos (1983), "O santuário exterior do Escoural. Sector NE (Montemor-o-Novo, Évora)", Zephyrus (in Portuguese), 36, Salamanca, Spain
- Santos, Manuel Farinha dos (1985), "Manifestações neolíticas no contexto dos testemunhos pré-históricos do outeiro da Herdade da Sala (Escoural, Montemor-o-Novo, Portugal)", Actas XVI Congresso Nacional de Arqueologia (in Portuguese), Zaragoza, Spain
- Santos, Manuel Farinha dos; Gomes, Mário Varela; Cardoso, João Luís (1991), "Dois artefactos de osso, pós-paleolíticos, da Gruta do escoural (Montemor-o-Novo, Évora)", Almansor: Revista de Cultura (in Portuguese), pp. 75–94