A Brief History of Spain (1)

Recently I was invited to speak on the topic of the three cultures to a group to which my wife belongs. The latest festival had just finished and members were interested to know what it was all about. As I researched the topic, I found more and more of interest and dug further and further back into history. It struck me that other people might also be interested in the story of the Iberian peninsula and so over the next few postings that is what I am going to write about. We start a long, long way back; near the village of Orce, in Granada Province, is an archeological site which has yielded the earliest know human artifacts in Europe. The stone tools which have been discovered were made by our human ancestors, the Neanderthals, some 1.4 million years ago, dating which demonstrates that early humans were colonising western Europe almost half a million years earlier than previously believed. Their presence covered an enormous timeframe, stretching right up to around 40,000 years ago by which time the Mediterranean coast from Tangier to Alicante represented the last outmost of Neanderthal Man, as Homo Sapiens arrived from France via the Bay of Biscay coastline, and progressively spread south. Close by Frigiliana we have the town of Nerja, and on the outskirts of the town are the famous Nerja Caves, a major tourist attraction. Only a relatively small part of the caves are open to the public, though it will still take you two or three hours to look round them; the caves then penetrate deep into the mountain for several kilometres. In the upper galleries, archeologists have discovered a series of cave paintings, thought to dat back to the Stone Age. Recently, however, organic material found in the area which has the paintings has been dated to an estimated 42,000 years ago. Investigators from France have now visited the paintings with sophisticated electronic equipment which has allowed them to take samples of the calcium deposits overlying the paintings, without damaging the paintings themselves. These deposits have now been taken away for dating in the laboratory; it will take some months but the results are awaited with great excitement. If the age is confirmed as 42,000 years, then a major reassessment will be needed. Either Homo Sapiens arrived in this area much earlier than was thought, or Neanderthal Man also produced cave art. This latter conclusion would call into question the universally accepted view that the ability to create representational paintings is a unique characteristic of modern man, Homo Sapiens. All this of course, is long before the “three cultures”, but serves to demonstrate the importance of this area way back at the dawn of human time.

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