Prehistoric Rock Art Sites in the Côa Valley: Unesco world heritage

By : August 30th, 2020 Places and Monuments 0 Comments

In the mountains of northeastern Portugal, a region of extensive olive groves, where almond trees bloom in early spring (February and March) and in autumn (September and October) the vineyards are covered with fire-colored leaves, a tributary flowing into the Douro River whose name has become universal. Millennium after millennium, the shale rocks that delimit the Côa have been converted into art panels, with thousands of engravings left by the creative impulse of our ancestors.

Going back to the Upper Paleolithic, these outdoor panels and the identified habitats are testimonies of the vitality and mastery that brought us 25,000 years of art. This extensive art gallery also offers us records of the Neolithic period and the Iron Age, transposing after a single breath two thousand years of history to establish in the Modern Period religious representations, names and dates, in addition to the naive art of the millers in the forties and fifties of the last century.

Long known to the people of the region, especially the shepherds or millers who worked on the banks of the river in the Canada do Inferno area, the engravings of the Vale do Côa, were identified for the first time in 1991, by the archeologist Nelson Rebanda, who accompanied the construction of the Côa dam. Made public in 1994, the discovery sparked much debate as the construction of the dam would cause the area to be submerged.

Taking into account the opinion of experts about the artistic and scientific importance of Côa engravings, the Portuguese government decides to abandon the construction of the dam in 1996. The Archaeological Park of Vale do Côa was then created in order to protect and disseminate the artistic wealth and archaeological site.

In 1998, UNESCO classified the nuclei of rock engravings as World Heritage, making known to the World this treasure of Humanity, in Portuguese territory. The rock engravings of Côa changed the paradigm of the oldest artistic expression of Humanity, which, until then, was thought to be restricted to underground caves. After its identification, in the middle of the last decade of the 20th century, it was hypothesized that rock art in the open air was more common. However, due to the various natural erosive agents and human activity over the millennia, its traces will have been erased. Hence the preservation of the archaeological sites in the Côa Valley is so important.

Although there are more than 80 sites with rock art, spread over an extension of about 30 km on the bank of the Côa River and about 15 km along the Douro River, only three engraving cores are open to the public: Canada do Inferno (the first place to be identified), Penascosa and Ribeira de Priscos. The vast majority of rupestrian motifs are located in schist rocks, but we can also find engravings and paintings on granite. The techniques used for engraving were common at the time, similar to techniques identified in engravings found in Spain and France, such as the filiform incision, perforation, abrasion and scraping. As for the themes represented, animals are the most common figures – horses, cows, goats and deer – represented alone or in groups. 


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