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Prehistory

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Megaliths (This link will open a new window) Human beings have formed part of the landscape in Gorbeia for thousands of years. If, in Prehistory, they were but one more of the living beings making up the ecosystems in the region, the development of their technological abilities through evolution, learning and cultural exchange, permitted them, with the passage of time, to dispose of and administer resources to their advantage, leaving a patent mark behind on the landscape. This ability to transform made the Basque-Cantabrian Mountains a humanised territory.

The oldest remains evidencing human presence in the valleys and mountains separating the Cantabrian Sea from the Ebro Basin date back to the Lower Palaeolithic (between 200,000 and 100,000 B.C.). The remains consist of a series of roughly hewn utensils along the lines of what prehistorians and archaeologists refer to as “advanced Achelense type”, typically belonging to a class of hominids of which no bone remains have ever been discovered. The tools discovered in Urrúnaga date from this period, thus evidencing the presence of human beings to the south of Gorbeia during the same period.

The first human bone remains in the area, dating back to the Middle Palaeolithic (from 100,000 to 35,000 years B.C.), were discovered to the lee of the rocks of Axlor (Dima). They consist of five dental pieces belonging to a Neanderthal youth (Homo sapiens fossilis). What exactly happened to the Neanderthals in the past is a mystery that has yet to be solved. However, what is certain is that a few cave settlements in the Cantabrian mountains, such as the one at Lezetxiki (Mondragón), some 20 km distant from Gorbeia as the crow flies, were used continuously by human beings for thousands of years until well into the Upper Palaeolithic (between 35,000 to 8,000 years B.C.), an Era in which the inhabitants of the region were Cro-Magnons (Homo sapiens sapiens).

Mamut (This link will open a new window) Until recently, no settlement had been discovered in Gorbeia to indicate human habitation during the Late Palaeolithic Era. The majority of finds discovered belonging to this period was found lower than 300 metres above sea level. It is thought that the absence of remains of Cro-Magnon man above this altitude in these mountains is probably due to the harsh, almost glacial weather conditions. Excavations carried out in the interior of the cave of Arrillor has thrown evidence to light about intermittent human occupation during certain periods of the Late Palaeolithic, as evidenced by the appearance of indications of Magdalenian type activities together with bone remains of fauna.

One of the most characteristic facets of the Magdalenian culture is the appearance of carvings, drawings and paintings on walls and objects. The inhabitants of the Bolinkoba cave (Dima) left a wide selection of carvings, paintings of figures and geometric designs behind them on pieces of stone, horn and bone.

In the Urratxa III cave settlement near the meadows of Arraba (Orozco), several different utensils hued from silex were discovered, in addition to carved bones and a decorated sandstone slab belonging to the Azilien culture that developed some 10,000 years during the Mesolithic Period, a transition period between the Palaeolithic and the Neolithic. Remains of bones and silex, probably dating from the same period as those objects discovered in the Urratxa X settlement, were also discovered. All of which leads us to think that human beings might well have inhabited the area of Gorbeia once the rigours of the weather had become more bearable.

Associated with the afore-mentioned period of cave dwelling in Gorbeia, traces have been found of caves also being used as burial places. Necropolises with bone remains have appeared in the very Urratxa III cave itself and in Urratxa I, II, V and VIII, in addition to Astepekatu, the cliff walls of Itxina and in Urkumatxa VIII.

The incidence of these historic inhabitants on the landscape of Gorbeia must have been extremely slight. They used fire for cooking and also lead their prey into traps, but the number of these groups appears to have been quite low.

Megaliths , pop-prehistoria-foto3.jpg, (This link will open a new window) The progressive warming of the weather after the last Ice Age, which came to an end approximately 10,000 years ago, produced important changes in the vegetation and fauna in the Basque environment. With ice receding to the tops of the Pyrenees, the communities of living beings occupying the valleys could advance and were replaced by others more typical of warmer climates. Some of them sought shelter in high mountain dominions, whilst others occupied regions to the centre and north of Europe.

The first palpable footprint of human beings on the landscape happened with the arrival of Neolithic culture. Farming and cattle raising, which had been apparently practiced some 8,000 years previously in a spot somewhere in the Middle East, took several thousands of years to make their appearance in Cantabrian mountains and valleys..

Towards the end of this period, funeral rites were still being carried out in the interior of large sized, stone monuments: the megaliths. Instead of burying bodies in caves, the dead were now buried in dolmens and tumulus.

Gorbeia conserves an important number and variety of megalithic remains. There are more than a dozen dolmens. Many of them were built on tumulus and trinkets and bones have been discovered in their chambers. What is surprising is the location of the same in relationship to the areas currently used for grazing. The shepherds of Gorbeia have not only inherited grazing grounds, but also those enclosures that were constructed somewhere between three and five thousand years ago by the people who might well have been the Basque Country’s first shepherds and grazers.

The arrival of metalworking, which appeared in the Basque Country some 5,000 years ago, permitted the definitive intervention of human beings in the landscape. Cave or open-air settlements examined in the area show the use of metal in new extraction and smelting techniques of the period. Most of this evidence comes from the Period known as the Eneolithic, or Bronze Age.

 
 

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