La Garma cave complex

The La Garma cave complex is a parietal art-bearing paleoanthropological cave system in Cantabria, Spain. It is located just north of the village of Omoño, part of the municipality of Ribamontán al Monte. The cave complex is noted for one of the best preserved floors from the Paleolithic containing over 4,000 fossils and over 500 graphical units. It is part of the Cave of Altamira and Paleolithic Cave Art of Northern Spain World Heritage Site.

La Garma cave complex
Complejo kárstico del monte de La Garma
Approach to the cave, entrance covered by a white sheet
Location in Spain
LocationCantabria, Spain
Coordinates43°25′50″N 3°39′57″W
Typekarst cave complex
Site notes
Public accessNo


The La Garma cave complex is a parietal art-bearing paleoanthropological cave system in Cantabria, Spain, located on the southern side of La Garma Hill, north of the village of Omoño,[1] part of the municipality of Ribamontán al Monte.

The cave complex contains over 4,000 fossils[2] and over 500 graphical units, with 109 signs, 92 animal figures and 40 hand stencils.[3] The cave complex is noted for containing one of the best preserved floors from the Paleolithic. La Garma is listed as part of the Cave of Altamira and Paleolithic Cave Art of Northern Spain World Heritage Site.

There are 10 archaeological sites situated around La Garma Hill (elevation 185 m (607 ft) above sea level): the Lower Gallery (Galería Inferior), La Garma A, La Garma B, La Garma C, La Garma D, Cueva del Mar, El Truchiro, Peredo, Valladar, and a hillfort, Castro de La Garma. Cueva del Mar, Peredo and Valladar are not part of the La Garma cave system.[1] The La Garma cave system shows evidence of human use from 175,000 years ago through the Middle Ages.[1]

La Garma A

As of 2016 the entrance to the cave system leads through La Garma A,[4] as the only entrance into the cave system.[1] It lies at 80 m (262 ft) above sea level and has an extensive stratigraphy, containing Aurignacian, Gravettian, Solutrean and Magdalenian layers, as well as Mesolithic, Neolithic, Chalcolithic, Bronze Age and Middle Ages layers.[1]

La Garma B

La Garma B lies at 70 m (230 ft) above sea level and is situated between La Garma A and the Lower Gallery. La Garma B contains Chacolithic and Bronze Age layers.[1] La Garma B leads into the Intermediate Gallery, which contains Paleolithic cave paintings and deposits.[1]

The Lower Gallery of La Garma is situated at 59 m (194 ft) above sea level and is around 300 m (984 ft) in length.[1] It was discovered in November 1995.[5] Its original entrance was sealed during the Pleistocene by a rockslide about 16,000 years ago, preserving the cave floor in a pristine manner. The Magdalenian Lower Gallery cave floor is one of the best preserved Paleolithic cave floors ever discovered, and thus of great interest to paleoanthropologists.[4] Researchers have divided the Lower Gallery into 9 zones. The archaeological finds are found primarily in Zones I, III and IV.[4] The floor covers an area of over 500 m2 (5,382 sq ft). Thousands of animal bones and sea shells were found in this section, including Lithic, antler and bone artefacts.[6] Three stone structures, likely indicative of residential use, were discovered.[1] [4] In a pre-Magdalenian context 27 hand stencils in red, red dots, and simple animal paintings in red were found throughout the Lower Gallery. The Middle Magdalenian paintings and remains of residential structures were found near the entrance to this section of the cave.[7] A vertical bison representation from Zone IX was directly dated to around 16,512-17,238 BP.[8]

La Garma C and D

La Garma C and D are situated above La Garma A and contain burials from the Chacolithic.[1]

El Truchiro Cave

El Truchiro Cave lies at 39 m (128 ft) above sea level and contains Mesolithic and Chacolithic layers.[1] A late Mesolithic burial dating to around 5560–5310 BC was discovered,[9] with an individual buried in an oak bark coffin.[1]

Special findings

Cave lion remains

Nine distal phalanxes (claws) from an adult Panthera spelaea were discovered in the Lower Gallery. One of the claws was directedly dated and yields a date of around 14,800 BC.[4] The cave lion fossils came from a smaller specimen of Eurasian cave lions that was common in Cantabria.[4] The claws show signs similar to those made by modern hunters when skinning an animal to preserve its pelt. Since no other cave lion fossil elements were discovered, researchers believe that the fossil claws are the remains of a pelt from a cave lion skinned by the inhabitants of the cave.[10][2][4]

Portable art

La Garma is notable for its rich repository of Magdalenian portable art found in The Lower Gallery. The most outstanding artefact is a backwards-facing ibex depiction carved onto a bovine rib spatula. Other portable art elements found at the cave complex include perforated batons, contour découpé, decorated stone plaquettes and undecorated pendants.[11]

Mortuary practices

During the Neolithic, La Garma was less and less used as a residential site. From the Chalcolithic through the Bronze Age, it was used primarily as a collective burial site. The peculiar remains of five Visigothic youths were found deep in the cave system. Their skulls had all been deliberately crushed after the bodies had turned into skeletons.[1]

See also




  • Arias, Pablo; et al. (2009). "Burials in the cave: new evidence on mortuary practices during the Mesolithic of Cantabrian Spain". In McCartan, Sinead; et al. (eds.). Mesolithic horizons: Papers Presented at the Seventh International Conference on the Mesolithic in Europe, Belfast 2005. Oxbow Books. ISBN 9781842173114.
  • Arias, Pablo; et al. (2012). "La Garma (Spain): Long-Term Human Activity in a Karst System". In Bergsvik, Knut Andreas; et al. (eds.). Caves in Context The Cultural Significance of Caves and Rockshelters in Europe. Oxbow Books. ISBN 978-1-84217-474-6.
  • Arias, Pablo; et al. (2013). "Cantabrian portable art in its context: An approach to the study of Palaeolithic graphic expression in northern Spain.". In Pastoors, Andreas; et al. (eds.). Pleistocene foragers on the Iberian Peninsula: their culture and environment.
  • Bahn, Paul G.; et al. (1997). Journey Through the Ice Age. University of California Press.
  • Corchón, María; et al. (2014). Cien años de arte rupestre paleolítico. Universidad de Salamanca.
  • Cueto, Marián; et al. (2016). "Under the Skin of a Lion: Unique Evidence of Upper Paleolithic Exploitation and Use of Cave Lion (Panthera spelaea) from the Lower Gallery of La Garma (Spain)". PLoS ONE. 11 (10): e0163591. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0163591. PMC 5082676.
  • Gay, Marine; et al. (2015). "Palaeolithic paint palettes used at La Garma Cave (Cantabria, Spain) investigated by means of combined in situ and synchrotron X-ray analytical methods". Journal of Analytical Atomic Spectrometry. 30 (3): 767. doi:10.1039/c4ja00396a.
  • Nuwer, Rachel (26 October 2016). "Humans May Have Hunted Cave Lions to Extinction—For Throw Rugs". Smithsonian. Retrieved 27 October 2016.
  • Pettitt, Paul; et al. (2014). "New views on old hands: the context of stencils in El Castillo and La Garma caves (Cantabria, Spain)". Antiquity. 88: 47–63.
  • St. Fleur, Nicholas (Oct 26, 2016). "Prehistoric People Decorated With Cave Lion Pelts". New York Times. Retrieved 27 October 2016.
  • Valladas, H; et al. (2013). "Dating french and spanish prehistoric decorated caves in their archaeological contexts". Radiocarbon. 55 (3–4). doi:10.2458/azu_js_rc.55.16346.
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