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To be or not to be: reassessing the origins of portable art in the Cantabrian Region (Northern Spain)

To be or not to be: reassessing the origins of portable art in the Cantabrian Region (Northern... The characterization of the first portable artistic depictions in Cantabrian Spain is crucial for comprehension of the symbolic development of Neandertals and Homo sapiens in the context of the passage from the Middle to the Upper Paleolithic. How- ever, despite the importance of these first graphic representations, their study has tended to lack the application of suitable methodologies to be able to discriminate between graphic activity and other kind of alterations (use-wear, taphonomic, or post-depositional). The present study has examined a significant sample of Middle and Upper Paleolithic lithic and osseous objects from Cantabrian Spain that have been cited as evidence of graphic activity in the literature. The contexts in which the objects were found have been considered, and the objects have been analyzed through the microscopic observation of the marks to distinguish between incisions, pecking, and engraving made for a non-functional purpose (graphic activity) and those generated by diverse functional actions or taphonomic processes (cutmarks, trampling, root marks, percussion scars, and use-wear). The results show that some regional Middle Paleolithic osseous objects display incisions that are neither functional nor taphonomic and whose characteristics are similar to graphic evidence attributed to Neandertals in Europe and the Near East. In turn, the first portable art produced by Homo sapiens in the Cantabrian Spain seems to be limited mostly to linear signs, and no figurative representation can be recognized until the Gravettian. This appears to indicate a particular idiosyncrasy of the region in the Early Upper Paleolithic, which, in comparison with other regions such as south-west France and the Swabian Jura, shows a later and less abundant production of portable art. Keywords Portable art · Middle Paleolithic · Early Upper Paleolithic · Taphonomy · Microscopic analysis · Cantabrian Region Introduction Neandertals, the causes of their disappearance, the degree of complexity of Neandertal behavior in comparison with The Middle to Upper Paleolithic passage has been one Homo sapiens, and the role of symbolic behavior in the of the most debated issues in paleoanthropology in success of Homo sapiens in colonizing the Eurasian conti- recent decades. Several debates converge in this time nent (D’Errico and Stringer 2011; D’Errico et al. 1998). In period, namely the cognitive and symbolic capacities of the last few years, more evidence of the symbolic behavior * Olivia Rivero Joseba Rios-Garaizar oliviariver@usal.es jorios76@gmail.com Sergio Salazar Dpto. Prehistoria, Historia Antigua y Arqueología, salazar.laredo@gmail.com Universidad de Salamanca. C/ Cervantes S/N, Ana María Mateo-Pellitero 37002 Salamanca, Salamanca, Spain anamatep00@usal.es Instituto Internacional de Investigaciones Prehistóricas Paula García Bustos de Cantabria (IIIPC), Universidad de Cantabria, pabulola@usal.es 39005 Santander, Cantabria, Spain Diego Garate Bizkaiko Arkeologi Museoa, Calzadas de Mallona 2, diego.garate@unican.es 48006 Bilbao, Bizkaia, Spain Vol.:(0123456789) 1 3 18 Page 2 of 29 Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2022) 14:18 of Neandertals has been added: the first evident burials evidence of complex lithic technology management, bone (Balzeau et al. 2020 and the references therein), the use and wood technology, broad spectrum subsistence strategies, of pigments and feathers for body decoration (Peresani landscape management, etc. (Gutiérrez-Zugasti et al. 2018; et al. 2011; Finlayson et al. 2012; Rodríguez-Hidalgo et al. Gómez-Olivencia et al. 2018; Mozota Holgueras 2014; Rios- 2019; Soressi and D’Errico 2007), the production and use Garaizar 2017;  Rios-Garaizar and García-Moreno 2015; of ornaments (Caron et al. 2011 and the references therein) Rios-Garaizar et al. 2018; Sánchez-Romero et al. 2020). and portable art (Bednarik 2006; Majkić et al. 2017; Sha- Interestingly, graphic phenomena and ornaments have ham et al. 2019), and recently the creation of parietal art played a relevant role in these discussions. For example, the (Rodríguez-vidal et al. 2014). This latter aspect has been portable art objects from El Castillo Level 18 have been said the subject of an intense controversy, basically around the to represent the first symbolic behavior in the Cantabrian reliability of the used dating methods (see Pike et al. 2012; Region (Cabrera et al. 2005), and the symbolic nature of Bednarik 2012; García-Díez et al. 2013a; Pike et al. 2017; some shell fragments located in Lezetxiki has been defended Pons-Branchu et al. 2014; Sauvet et al. 2017; Hoffmann (Arrizabalaga et al. 2011). More recently it has been claimed et al. 2018a, b, c; Hoffmann et al. 2019; Aubert et al. 2018; that the decorated pebble from Axlor possessed a symbolic Pearce and Bonneau 2018; Rodríguez-Vidal et al. 2014; value (García-Díez et  al. 2013b, but see Rios-Garaizar Slimak et  al. 2018; White et  al. 2020). In contrast, the 2017) and a decorated bone from the same site has also discussion about Early Upper Paleolithic art and ornament been presented (Mozota Holgueras 2012). In addition, an production has centered on the existence of regionally dis- age corresponding to the regional Middle Paleolithic has tinguishable artistic and decorative traditions, and also on been attributed to a series of red dots in El Castillo, and a the social role of the artistic explosion witnessed in the ideogram in La Pasiega (Pike et al. 2012; Hoffmann et al. Aurignacian and onwards (Kulturpumpe) (Conard and 2018a), but there has been serious criticism of the reliability Bolus 2003; Garate-Maidagan et al. 2015; Higham et al. of the applied dating method (Pons-Branchu et al. 2014; 2012; White et al. 2012). Sauvet et al. 2017; Aubert et al. 2018; Pearce and Bonneau The Cantabrian Region in the Northern Iberian Pen- 2018; Slimak et al. 2018; White et al. 2020), and the debate insula has been one of the classic areas for the study of about the authorship of this parietal art has not been settled. the MP and UP Paleolithic since the first rock art evi- Regarding the Aurignacian, few rock art sites have been dence was found in Altamira Cave in 1879 (Bahn 2016). attributed to this techno-cultural complex. Only the La This area has also participated in the debates about the Viña and El Conde linear incisions, with a superposition original nature of the Châtelperronian, the possible inter- of archaeological levels, can be attributed unequivocally stratification of the Châtelperronian and the Aurignacian to the Aurignacian. Also, the Tito Bustillo anthropomorph (in which El Pendo was one of the sites used to support gallery and Altxerri B are dated in the Aurignacian by their this—now rejected—hypothesis) (Montes et al. 2005), or archaeological context. However, chronological precision is the existence of particular transitional industries such as still lacking for the first rock art in the Cantabrian Region. the “Aurignacienne de Transition” defined in El Castillo The evidence of portable art and ornaments is also scarce (Cabrera et al. 2001), or the existence of a Mousterian refu- and controversial. Most of the objects are affected by gium (see Higham et al. 2014; Marín-Arroyo et al. 2018; uncertain taphonomic processes and/or the anthropogenic but see also Pinto and Grandal 2019). The data generated nature of the incisions is questionable. In other cases, they in the last few years have influenced these debates some- are subject to vague chronological attributions (see Garate- what. Today there is a quasi-unanimous acceptance that Maidagan et al. 2015). the archaeological sequence in SW France (Mousterian, Finally for the Gravettian, there is an increasing number Châtelperronian, Protoaurignacian, Aurignacian, Gravet- of rock art sites, some secure portable art evidence, and more tian) can be directly applied to the Cantabrian Region. ornaments than in the Aurignacian (but still few if compared Moreover, the new dates obtained from sites like Amalda with neighboring sites such as Gatzarria, Brassempouy, or I, Labeko Koba, Covalejos, and Aitzbitarte III suggest Isturitz). Interestingly, it has recently been proved that one that there was almost no overlap between the Mousterian of the best-preserved examples of ornaments, the necklace and the Châtelperronian, or between the Châtelperronian from El Cuco, was not Gravettian, as originally published and the earliest Aurignacian (Marín-Arroyo et al. 2018). (Gutiérrez-Zugasti et al. 2013), but probably Aurignacian Additionally, the dates obtained from sites like Aitzbitarte (Marín-Arroyo et al. 2018; Rasines et al. 2021). III, La Viña, and Amalda I suggest an early development In this context, the lack of systematic and detailed analy- of the Gravettian in the region (Marín-Arroyo et al. 2018; sis of the putative portable art pieces from the regional Garate et al. 2020). Mousterian, Aurignacian, and Gravettian has hampered a In parallel, different studies demonstrate the complex and correct evaluation of this phenomenon during the Middle historical nature of Neandertal societies in this region, with to Upper Paleolithic passage. Some pieces come from very 1 3 Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2022) 14:18 Page 3 of 29 18 dubious contexts that need to be reconsidered; in others the case of Aitzbitarte III Level Vb engraved slab (Garate and symbolic nature has been incorrectly assessed; also, many Rios-Garaizar 2011), the plaque from Labeko Koba Level pieces lacked a correct technological analysis and graphic VII (García-Díez and Arrizabalaga Valbuena 2000), the presentation; and finally some pieces have been interpreted engraved hind from Antoliñako Koba Level Lmbk sup/smbk erroneously. The portable art record from the Cantabrian (Aguirre Ruiz De Gopegui and González Sainz 2011), and Region attributed to the Middle and Early Upper Paleolithic the marked pebble from Axlor Level VIII (García-Díez et al. can play a relevant role in addressing such questions as the 2013b). nature and meaning of Middle Paleolithic portable art, or The present study therefore includes three Mousterian the regionalization and social role of Early Upper Paleolithic objects, 12 Aurignacian, 16 Gravettian, and two objects portable art, but for this to happen, the available evidence without a precise stratigraphic attribution. They are listed must be systematically and critically revised, to attain a in Table 1. clearer view of this phenomenon. Therefore, in this work, we propose a first-hand review of a very significant set of objects interpreted as decorated and Methods traditionally attributed to the Middle Paleolithic, Aurigna- cian, and Gravettian in the Cantabrian Region. The main The artifacts have been examined with a consolidated metho- objective of the research is to approach, from an objective dology for the study of portable art based on microscopic and critical perspective, the various ambiguities mentioned analysis for the identification of the technical traces that indi- above and which impact on the understanding of the first cate the operational chain of the production of the decorative Cantabrian portable art. motifs (D’Errico 1994; Fritz 1999; Rivero 2010, 2015). For the microscopic inspection we have used a Leica S8APO and MZ 16 binocular microscope, using an added-on Leica Materials IC90E digital camera. This analysis has been completed with a taphonomic study based on the macroscopic and micros- Twenty-eight of the 67 decorated objects that currently make copic observation of the artifacts in order to identify the up the inventory of the first regional portable art have been different alterations that might have affected the surface of examined (see the Supplementary material for an updated the supposedly decorated objects and thereby discriminate inventory of decorated objects belonging to the Middle Pale- between taphonomic traces, use-traces, and non-utilitarian olithic, Aurignacian, and Gravettian in Cantabrian Spain). and intentional modifications of the surfaces (Efremov 1940; This sample is formed by artifacts from the sites of Morín, Behrensmeyer and Kidwell 1985; Lyman 2010). El Pendo, El Castillo, Hornos de la Peña, El Arco B, and The microscopic analysis of the motifs and the tapho- La Garma A (Cantabria) and from Bolinkoba, Antoliñako nomic processes was complemented by the three-dimen- Koba (Biscay), and Aitzbitarte III (Guipúzcoa) (Fig. 1). We sional restitution of the engraved objects. In recent years, have included two pieces of uncertain provenience (objects digital photogrammetry of close objects has developed PE7 and AB1) because, owing to their characteristics and/ considerably grace to the lower costs and greater acces- or context, they can be attributed to the first stages of the sibility of photographic equipment, and the development Upper Paleolithic. of dedicated software based on the SIFT or similar algo- We have chosen not to include ornaments in this study rithms (González-Aguilera et al. 2009; Azéma et al. 2010; because they have been the object of several recent syntheses Feruglio et  al. 2013; Richardson et  al. 2013; Domingo (Álvarez Fernández 2006; Gutiérrez-Zugasti et al. 2013), et al. 2013; Grosman et al. 2014). Thus, close-range pho- and because, while they are elements of symbolic expres- togrammetry can currently be considered the standard sion (Vanhaeren and d’Errico 2005), they cannot be strictly methodology for recording rock art (Rivero et al. 2019), defined as graphic activity. Also, we have not included some while 3D reproduction techniques have enabled analytical bone tools with marks because they can be interpreted as approaches, for example, in the field of traceology (Zot- technological or functional traces, as for example the basal kina and Miklashevich 2016; Plisson and Zotkina 2015) striations of Isturitz-type bone points (Rios-Garaizar and and 3D analysis of cutmarks (Maté González et al. 2015, Garate 2014). Finally, some possible portable art pieces have 2018; Yravedra et al. 2017; Courtenay et al. 2019). not been directly analyzed, because they are not accessible In the present case, micro-photogrammetry has been applied (such as the engraved plaques from Covalejos, Sanguino to the engraved lines, using the images obtained with the Leica González and Montes Barquín 2005), because they are mi- microscope, to generate precise metrical models. The images ssing (as in the case of some pieces from El Pendo and were processed with Agisoft Metashape Professional version El Castillo, see supplementary material Table  S4), or 1.4.0 software. The analysis of the scaled 3D models allows because they have been recently analyzed. This is the not only the visualization of the cross-sections of the engraved 1 3 18 Page 4 of 29 Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2022) 14:18 Fig. 1 Sites with remains attributed to the Middle and Early Upper Paleolithic in Cantabrian Spain. The sites studied here are marked by a star. Map by S. Salazar grooves, but also to obtain basic measurements of the engraved a lithic tool. It can thus differentiate such a line from lines such as the depth, breadth, and length. root marks on bone surfaces, as these possess a U-shaped The potential taphonomic nature of the traces has induced profile and a rounded morphology at the start and end the development of a comparative methodology that can dif- of the line, as well as leaving a reticulated pattern on ferentiate between engravings and other kinds of lines due to the bone (Behrensmeyer 1978; Yravedra 2006; Moreno taphonomic causes. This methodology is based on the mor- García 2013) (Fig. 2). phology of the grooves, analyzed by optical and electronic – The groove morphology differs depending on the type microscopy for the reference sample, and the characteristics of tool, and therefore, this is evidence that can deter- of the profiles (width and depth) obtained from the micro- mine if a burin or a sharp edge was used. In the case photogrammetric models. of an engraving, it is normally wider and deeper at the In this way, the analysis of the groove morphology is able start of the line, and it normally leaves stigmas at the to establish a series of criteria to discriminate engravings start and end of the line (Fritz 1999; Rivero 2010, 2015), from taphonomic alterations, either anthropic or natural: which indicates the use of a burin, whereas if the incision was caused during cutting, the line is usually wider and – The presence of internal striations (also known as bar- deeper in the middle, and it thins towards the ends. This codes; Fritz 1999) indicates that the line was made with morphology indicates the use of a sharp edge (Shipman 1 3 Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2022) 14:18 Page 5 of 29 18 Table 1 Mousterian and Early Upper Paleolithic artifacts from Cantabrian Spain and studied in the present paper Site Code object Media Dimensions (in Level Motif References Figure cm) Antoliñako AN1 Hammerstone/ 5.40 × 5.09 Lmbksup-Smbk Figurative: hind Aguirre Ruiz De S6 abrader level/Gravettian Gopegui and González Sainz 2011: 43–61 Bolinkoba BO1 Rib 8.8 × 1.3 × 0.5 VI or F Series of edge Barandiarán S5 marks Maestu 1972: BO3 Bolinkoba BO2 Rib 7.4 × 1.2 × 0.4 VI or F Series of edge Barandiarán S5 marks Maestu 1972: BO1 Bolinkoba BO3 Rib 4.5 × 1.2 × 0.3 VI or F Series of edge Barandiarán S5 marks Maestu 1972: BO2 Bolinkoba BO4 Rib 3.3 × 2 × 0.3 VI or F Series of edge Barandiarán S5 marks Maestu 1972 Bolinkoba BO5 Rib 3.7 × 1.2 × 0.8 VI or F Series of edge Barandiarán S5 marks Maestu 1972 Bolinkoba BO6 Bone tube 7.9 × 0.8 VI or F Series of edge Barandiarán marks Maestu 1972 Bolinkoba BO7 Isturitz-type point 8.2 × 2.2 × 1 VI or F Series of edge Barandiarán marks Maestu 1972: BO7 El Arco B AB1 Pendant/gypsum? 1.31 × 4.46 × 1.2 On the surface Series of edge González Sainz S8 marks(2 series) et al. 2003 El Castillo CS1 Pebble/quartzite 5.25 × 4.15 × 2.4 20/Mousterian 4 dots Cabrera et al. 5 2005: 505–526, Fig. 4 El Castillo CS3 Bone/metapodial 2 × 10.11 × 2.2 18c/transitional Incised marks Cabrera et al. S3 Aurignacian 2005: 505–526, Fig. 5b El Castillo CS7 Quartzite pressure 13.14 × 7 × 1 12/ Gravettian Figurative: feline Barandiarán 15 tool Maestu 1972: 106, lám. 35.2, CS. 1 El Castillo CS2 Bone fragment/ 3.83 × 3.14 18c/transitional Figurative: head? Cabrera et al. 10 scapula Aurignacian 2005: 505–526, Fig. 5c El Castillo CS4 Splintered bone 1.83 × 2.40 18c/transitional Incised marks/ Cabrera et al. 9 Aurignacian series? 2005: 505–526, Fig. 5a El Castillo CS5 Sandstone pebble/ 5.08 × 5.91 18b/transitional Incised marks Cabrera et al. 8 polisher? Aurignacian 2005: 505–526, Fig. 6b El Castillo CS6 Hyoid bone 2.61 × 2.25 18b/transitional Figurative: limb Cabrera et al. 11 Aurignacian and belly? 2005: 505–526, Fig. 6a El Pendo PE1 Pendant/talc 2.29 × 3.52 × 1.67 VII/Aurignacian Simulated atro- Barandiarán S4 phied tooth Maestu 1980:152, Fig. 75:10 El Pendo PE3 Sagaie or awl 6.1 × 2.3 × 2.2 IV/Gravettian Longitudinal Barandiarán Maestu groove 1980: Fig. 78: 66 El Pendo PE7 Pebble/pressure 5.62 × 7.72 × 7.21 Sector 3/disturbed Figurative: Unpublished/ 17 tool -hammer- indeterminate Located in the stone quadruped MUPAC 1 3 18 Page 6 of 29 Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2022) 14:18 Table 1 (continued) Site Code object Media Dimensions (in Level Motif References Figure cm) El Pendo PE4 Shaped rib 0.85 × 5 × 0.7 VI/Aurignacian Series of marks Barandiarán S1 Maestu 1980: Fig. 76:50 Hornos de la Peña HP1 Frontal bone 7.51 × 8.96 D/Aurignacian? Figurative: horse Barandiarán 13 Maestu 1973 La Garma A GA1 Bird bone/pen- 0.43 × 1.02 C/Aurignacian Series of marks Arias Cabal and S2 dant? Ontañón Peredo La Garma A GA2 Pierced metacar- 3.28 × 12 × 2.21 F/Gravettian Series of marks(4 Arias Cabal and S7 pal/pressure series) Ontañón Peredo tool? 2004: 218 Morin MO1 Bone/rib 1.91 × 4.4 20/Mousterian Incised marks González Echega- 3 ray and Freeman Morín MO3 Bone/splinter 1.45 × 2.41 5 Inf./Aurignacian Incised marks Barandiarán 6 Maestu 1973 Morín MO5 Indet.bone/awl? 0.62 × 2 × 76 IV/Gravettian Chevron marks (4) González Echega- 13 ray et al. 1971: Fig. 122, nº. 51 Morín MO6 Pressure tool 3.33 × 12.96 IV/Gravettian Figurative: anthro- González Echega- 15 pomorph? ray et al. 1971: Fig. 123 Morín MO2 Bone 2.91 × 10.13 17/Mousterian Incised marks González Echega- 4 ray and Freeman and Rose 1983; Bello et al. 2009; De Juana et al. 2010; the case of cutmarks, the depths are variable owing to the Maté González et al. 2015, 2018) (Fig. 3: a, b). existence of flesh on the bone surface (Costamagno et al. – The presence of the shoulder effect or barb effect (the 2019). latter at the end of the line) indicates cutmarks on bone as – Additionally, other clearly recognizable taphonomic pro- these are generally related to the use of retouched flakes cesses should be taken into account, such as trampling, (Domínguez-Rodrigo et al. 2009; De Juana et al. 2010; which produces abrasion caused by friction between Galán and Domínguez-Rodrigo 2013) (Fig. 3: c, d). In sediment and the object, either lithic or osseous (Fig. 4), contrast, intentional engravings do not generally leave weathering, and physical–chemical alterations that can striations adjacent to the main incision. also affect bone surfaces (Chaix and Méniel 2005; Yrave- – The number of repetitions of the groove (Fritz 1999; dra 2006; Domínguez-Rodrigo et al. 2009; Abril López Rivero 2015) is able to differentiate the intentionality 2012; Fernández Jalvo et al. 2013; Moreno García 2013; of an engraving compared with other types of traces, Pineda et al. 2014; Mateo Pellitero 2015). such as cutmarks, as a groove deliberately deepened by successive incisions indicates intentionality rather than butchery marks. This criterion is directly related to the depth of the line and can lead to errors if comparing the marks left by cutting tendons which can be very Results deep after the bone has been defleshed. In this case, the criterion to differentiate the lines is the position, The microscopic analysis of the artifacts presented below which will be on metapodials and phalanges in the case has resulted in interpretations that diverge from the data of removing tendons (Soulier and Costamagno 2017; published previously (the total assemblage of analyzed arti- Costamagno et al. 2019). facts is presented in the Supplementary Information). These – Depth is another argument to differentiate between an divergences may refer to the interpretation of the engrav- engraving and cutmarks on bones or accidental lines on ings as symbolic motifs, the interpretation of the nature of a lithic object. In a sequence of lines engraved with a single incision, they will tend to be of similar depth. In 1 3 Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2022) 14:18 Page 7 of 29 18 Fig. 2 Alterations to a bone surface caused by roots, showing the absence of barcodes, the U-shaped cross-section of the grooves, and their reticulated pattern. Photos: a by A. Mateo; b by O. Rivero the decorated object (MO5), and the interpretation of the Microscopic observation shows that the dots are all very representation (CS7). similar and were made by successive impacts in the same place, creating a small depression. They display differing numbers of blows: there is one with three impacts, two with Mousterian two impacts, and another two with only one blow (Fig. 5). The object is marked by other slighter impacts on the rest Three artifacts have been studied, from El Castillo (1) and of the cortical surface. The four “aligned” impacts are very Cueva Morín (2). near to a point of impact that has produced one of the nega- CS1: quartzite pebble, El Castillo Level 20. Described tives on the flaking surface, so it is very likely that these as a grey quartzite pebble with four aligned pecked dots marks should be associated with the process of reducing the at regular spaces and another pecked dot above them. quartzite pebble by bipolar on-anvil percussion. These were interpreted as non-utilitarian intentional marks MO1: rib fragment, Cueva Morín. This object was found (Cabrera et al. 2005). A re-analysis of the object has revealed in Level 22 in the deep test pit excavated in Squares Vc technological features that allow to interpret a fragment of and Vd in 1968. This level is beneath the thick calcite layer a bipolar on-anvil core. It displays a cortical surface, with (Level 21) which suggests that it is an old level, possibly the pecked marks and two fracture planes with opposed before MIS5. The artifact was not mentioned in either the negatives (with a counter-bulb), sinuous ridges, and reflected first or second monograph on the excavation and is first fractures typical of pebbles worked by bipolar on-anvil described in 1978 (González Echegaray 1988) as a “bone percussion. with a series of engraved lines in the style of the so-called 1 3 18 Page 8 of 29 Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2022) 14:18 Fig. 3 Criteria for the identi- fication of engraved lines and/ or cutmarks. (a) Tear-shaped incision that is wider and deeper at the start of the line than at the end. (b) Cutmarks that are wider in the central part of the groove (after Shipman and Rose 1983). (c) and (d) Shoulder effect and barb effect produced by cutmarks. Image (c) cor- responds to object CS4 studied below. Image (d) after De Juana et al. 2010. Photos: a and c by O. Rivero; b and d by A. Mateo hunting marks and, as it is so exotic to the Mousterian world, “hook” (González Echegaray 1988) and which, according to we have never dared to assign it for certain to this level” this researcher “display a regularity that differentiates them (González Echegaray and Freeman 1978: 79). from other marks caused unintentionally, and result from It is a rib fragment about 4.5  cm long whose surface some intentional prehistoric human activity with decorative is affected by different taphonomic processes, especially intent.” weathering. Two groups of two parallel incisions appear on The observation of the bone shows that it is affected by one of its faces. They are both of identical morphology, sug- numerous cutmarks all over its surface as well as remains gesting they were made with the same tool with the same of ochre. It is also affected by weathering and trampling, kind of action. The fracture was possibly caused by another taphonomic processes that cause respectively exfoliation incision, which was enlarged by weathering, which caused and cracks, and striations and scratches (Behrensmeyer cracks and exfoliation. According to Mozota Holgueras 1978; Andrews and Whybrow 2005; Blasco et  al. 2008; (2012) and Alcántara et al. (2006), fractures in dry bones are Domínguez-Rodrigo et al. 2009). Some of these stigmas straight or stepped, with rough and irregular edges, and with may therefore be confused with cutmarks. the face of the fracture at right angles to the bone surface. Microscopic observation of the series of incisions The fracture of this bone corresponds to that description, regarded as graphic evidence has shown that these were and we can therefore conclude that it broke when it was dry, produced by two different actions. The operational chain probably because of trampling or weathering. indicates that all the long incisions were made first, and then The morphology of the marks suggests a main incision the cuts, all made from top to bottom and with a similarly and a parasite striation, caused by a single action. Unfortu- shaped tool (V-shaped cross-section, with the widest and nately, because of the deterioration of the bone surface, it is deepest part of the incision in its central part). This sequence hard to determine if the incisions were caused by a cutting suggests that a series of cuts were made and these were later activity or were a decorative motif (Fig. 6). However, the partially gone over again with a second series. Their parallel regular width, depth, and direction of the marks suggest that orientation may correspond to skinning (normally identified the second option is the more plausible one. by deep parallel incisions) or filleting (Abril 2012; Egeland MO2: bone fragment, Cueva Morín Level 17. This arti- et al. 2014). A similar but shallower second series can be fact has been described as a portable art object owing to observed, made from bottom to top (with the bone in the the presence of five parallel incisions that end in a kind of same position as in the photograph) (Fig. 7). 1 3 Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2022) 14:18 Page 9 of 29 18 Fig. 4 Examples of alteration by trampling. (a) Macrophoto and (b) by trampling, characterized by a shallow depth and parallel grooves. photomicrograph of marks on a bone surface caused by trampling. Photos: a by A. M. Mateo and b, c, and d by O. Rivero (c) SEM image of the same marks and (d) profile of the traces left that supposedly marks the vulvar cleft was deepened by Transitional Aurignacian a second movement with the tool and is wider than the others. CS5: sandstone pebble, El Castillo Level 18b. This object There are no arguments supporting a decorative intention has been described as a sandstone plaque, shaped and of the incision, but neither is there a functional explanation, engraved in the shape of a vulva (Cabrera et  al. 2005: as they are curved lines that can hardly be produced by a 505–526, Fig. 6b), although other authors express doubts grinding action, as can be seen for example in needle polish- about the symbolic nature of the incisions (Zilhâo and ers (de Beaune 2000, 2017). D’Errico 2003: 325). Regarding its attribution as a portable art object, it can The analysis of the object has determined that it is a be stated that its triangular shape is intentional and there triangular-shaped sandstone fragment with signs of being are no arguments in favor of considering it solely the pro- polished, probably because of a functional use as an duct of a functional activity. In the case of the incisions, abrader, grinder, or smoother (de Beaune 2000, 2017). It it similarly cannot be affirmed that they are the result of a was given its present triangular shape by abrasion on all functional action (Fig. 8). its surface and use-notches in the upper convex part. Sev- CS4: chisel fragment, El Castillo Level 18c. Metapodial eral grooves on one of its faces are difficult to define. In used as a chisel with three series of thin lines that have been the case of the upper incisions, their morphology suggests described as evidence of graphic activity by Tejero and that they were made from right to left. The direction of the Bernaldo de Quirós (2007–2008) owing to their regularity. action cannot be determined in the other cases. The width Nonetheless, the decorative nature of the marks has been and depth of the grooves are also unequal. The incision 1 3 18 Page 10 of 29 Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2022) 14:18 Fig. 5 El Castillo Level 20. Bipolar on-anvil quartzite core with mark, (c) battered surface with multiple incipient percussion cones, percussion marks interpreted by Cabrera et  al. (2005) as intentional (d) battered surface, and (e) battered surface corresponding to contact symbolic marks. (a) Percussion mark with depression, (b) percussion with the hammer or anvil. Photos: O. Rivero questioned by other scholars (Zilhâo and D’Errico 2003: The observation of the object has shown that the inci- 322), who state that these incisions were probably caused sions were caused by a single action and are shallow, with by filleting. lateral parasite striations, accidents, and flaking around the edges of the incision. Their morphology resembles the shape 1 3 Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2022) 14:18 Page 11 of 29 18 Fig. 6 Rib fragment from Cueva Morín in which the incisions of incisions (4 and 5) display an identical shape, suggesting a short inci- identical morphology and lateral parallel striations can be observed, sion sequence. Photos: O. Rivero as well as the deterioration of the bone surface. The profiles of the of marks caused by butchery activity. In this respect, it is identified on the edges of other bones like this one, which similar to the bone fragment from Morín attributed to the supports the hypothesis that they are cutmarks (Fig. 9). In Aurignacian (MO3): the cutmarks resemble engraved lines general terms, the object resembles a chisel found in Level with V-shaped profiles and which are narrow at each end. N at Axlor, which displays similar marks, possibly caused The irregularities in the edge of the cutting tool and the by cutting tendons (Mozota Holgueras 2012, p. 170). The action cause striations parallel to the marks. The fact that object also displays signs of surface scraping and polishing, they are so close to one another might indicate the cutting of probably connected with its use. tendons or filleting, as has been previously suggested (Zilhâo CS2: scapula fragment, El Castillo Level 18c. This is and D’Errico 2003). The cutmarks are in a similar direction, a scapula fragment with the depiction of an animal’s head towards the right and oblique, which is associated with a (Cabrera et al. 2005: 505–526, Fig. 5c). This front of the right-handed person (Abril 2012). The unequal depth of the animal was drawn with graphite according to the first infor - incisions indicates that the object probably held remains of mation that was published, although it was later said to be flesh when they were made. Similar marks have also been 1 3 18 Page 12 of 29 Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2022) 14:18 Fig. 7 Bone fragment from Cueva Morín. The marks of identical depth (0.013 cm). These may be explained as cutmarks made with a morphology were produced by two actions with the tool in two dif- blade, which are widest in the central part of the line. Photos: O. Riv- ferent sequences (1, 2). Their V-shaped incisions are of identical ero a pigment whose composition is still unknown (Tejero and Pellitero 2015). Trampling is hardly perceptible on the upper Bernaldo de Quirós 2007–2008). face, whereas on the other side, it has left small grooves and Despite its small size, the object displays numerous fine shallow striations caused by friction with particles in the taphonomic alterations: root damage, weathering and sediment, which can also favor fragmentation (Blasco et al. trampling, and recent fractures. It is also affected by physi- 2008; Domínguez-Rodrigo et al. 2009). The stains caused cal–chemical processes, namely precipitation of manganese. by precipitation of manganese are found on all surfaces of Weathering has affected mainly the upper face, flaking the the object in the form of disperse dark marks. The pres- bone surface and favoring fractures. This type of alteration ence of manganese oxide is associated with bacteria, which is caused by exposure to atmospheric agents and can cause feed on the bone, and humid conditions (Fernández Jalvo from flaking to the decomposition of the bone, leading to its et al. 2013). According to López-González et al. (2006), the fragmentation or disappearance (Behrensmeyer 1978; Mateo appearance of this mineral on the bone surface is not regular, 1 3 Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2022) 14:18 Page 13 of 29 18 Fig. 8 Sandstone pebble from El Castillo (CS5). The photomicrographs show both the smoothing that affects both sides of the object (1, 3, and 4), and marks of its shaping (3, notches in the concave upper edge, and 4, thinning of the reverse side of the object) and a detail of the grooves (2). Photos: O. Rivero and the intensity of the color depends on the degree to which of the incisions, which they consider to be root marks, after it is affected. In this case, this object closely resembles other the observation of photographs (Zilhâo and D’Errico 2003: bone remains affected by manganese oxide. Microscopic 324–325). observations show that the supposed figure of an animal’s The object displays numerous signs of taphonomic pro- head corresponds to stains which are probably also of man- cesses (root marks, precipitated manganese, etc.). It is also ganese that has become fixed particularly intensely in those affected by trampling, which has left shallow striations places where the bone surface is most altered, creating a over the whole surface. They are similar to the trampling false impression of a figurative depiction (Fig.  10). marks identified by Cáceres et al. (2012), with similar cur - CS6: hyoid bone fragment, El Castillo Level 18b. A limb vature and width, as well as internal striations in the lines and belly line of an indeterminate animal has been described (Fig.  11). Similar marks are found on the bone surface, on this hyoid fragment (Cabrera et  al. 2005: 505–526, although they are less visible because they are shallower. Fig. 6a). According to those researchers, it was drawn with The partial infilling of the marks with manganese has cre- a manganese “pencil” that created an engraving and fixed ated the false impression of a drawn line. It should also be the pigment. Other scholars question the anthropic nature borne in mind that if they were painted lines, the brush or 1 3 18 Page 14 of 29 Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2022) 14:18 Fig. 9 Metapodial fragment used as a chisel from El Castillo. (1) the bone surface. (6) Profile of the incision. The morphology of the Splintering of the distal part indicating its use as a chisel. (2) Series lines can be explained as the barb effect caused by filleting. Photos: of incisions. (3 and 5) Details of the traces, which display a similar O. Rivero shape to cutmarks 5, after Costamagno et  al. 2019. (4) Scraping of tool used would have been about 0.5 mm wide. The use of Observation of the bone shows that it is partially burnt. brushes or twiglets in Paleolithic art is very rare (Rivero The clear difference in coloring may be because the bone 2017), and they are never so thin. The same is true of was cooked without removing the flesh (Buikstra and Swe- drawings using a manganese pencil, as this pigment usu- gle 1989; Cain 2005; Yravedra 2006), although this cannot ally needs to be broken up and dissolved (Chalmin 2003). be demonstrated owing to the small size of the fragment. It was equally unlikely to have been drawn with a manga- The blackened part would have been in direct contact with nese pencil, as remains of similar pigment are seen outside the fire, whereas the rest of the fragment remained intact the groove caused by trampling. because it was covered by meat. The morphology of the The bone surface is also badly affected by roots, whose incisions is very similar, with lateral parasite striations. marks are characterized by variable length, width, and Their similarity to cutmarks on other objects is a determin- depth and are rounded with a U-shaped cross-section ing factor; the marks display the same morphology, with (Behrensmeyer 1978; Cáceres et al. 2012). greater depth in the central part of the incision. The posi- tion of the marks is also very similar, as well as the end of Aurignacian the line and its internal surface, which became narrower as the lithic tool advanced (Fig. 12). MO3: bone splinter with marks, Cueva Morín Level 5 inf. HP1: decorated horse frontal bone, Hornos de la This small piece of burnt bone displays a series of very Peña. This frontal bone from a horse is decorated with fine marks with a V-shaped profile. It has been described an engraving of the hind-quarters of the same animal. It by such researchers as S. Corchón (1986: 254) as a bone includes the limb, rump, and tail of the animal, as well as fragment with unsystematic incisions. some lines forming a reticulated shape superimposed on the 1 3 Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2022) 14:18 Page 15 of 29 18 Second, the analysis of the object from the technical and formal points of view shows that the object displays very deep incisions to draw the outline of the animal, and lines made with a single tool action, with a flat profile, for the internal fill of the figure. The formal analysis provides more data, as discontinuous marks were drawn for the internal line of the tail and a series of marks represent the hair at the end of the tail. These characteristics resemble motifs dated in the Middle Magdalenian, such as the bison engraved on a sperm whale tooth from Cueva de las Caldas (Rivero 2015) and a very similar representation engraved on a horse frontal bone from Isturitz (see Supplementary Information Figure S19). Gravettian A total of 26 portable art objects are known, of which 16 have been studied, including decorated bone tools. MO5: fish bone, Cueva Morín Level IV . This object, catalogued as a decorated bone awl by Barandiarán Maestu (1972: 148) and by S. Corchón (1986: 254), is in reality a bone from a large fish, possibly a sturgeon. This object has not been worked but is the natural shape of the bone, which was probably used because of its pointed end. Its stratigraphic provenience is uncertain, although both the excavators (González Echegaray and Freeman 1971) and I. Barandiarán (1972) and S. Corchón (1986) in their respec- tive catalogues of portable art attribute it to the Gravettian and Final Perigordian. The decoration consists of four angles Fig. 10 Scapula fragment from El Castillo. As can be seen in the and two convergent lines, located on the opposite end to the micrographs, the surface is badly affected by post-depositional pro- cesses (1, 2, and 3), and the manganese has fixed to the alteration point. They are technically similar, formed by marks made of the bone (4), creating the false impression of a depiction. (5) by two cuts with the tool to deepen the groove and create Evidence of the impregnation of manganese on bone remains (after a V- or U-shaped profile. However, the way of making the Marín-Arroyo et al. 2014). (6) Impregnation of manganese on a bone angles differs. In the one nearest the proximal end, the line (after Mateo Pellitero 2015). Photos: O. Rivero on the right was made before the one on the left, whereas in the other three, the line on the right was made second. figure of the horse (Fig.  13). This is a controversial object as Finally, the two longer lines start at the proximal end and it is the oldest object with figurative art known in Cantabrian converge to form a larger angle than the other ones (Fig. 14). Spain (and therefore in the whole Iberian Peninsula). The regularity of the incisions and the construction of the Problems in defining its chronological setting persisted angles suggest that these are not lines that respond to a func- until H. Obermaier’s excavation notes were found, as he tionality of the object. indicates the provenience of the object in a drawing of the CS7: pressure tool with figurative decoration, El Cas- stratigraphic section (Tejero et al. 2008: 120). Nonetheless, tillo Level 12. This pressure-flaking tool displays evidence new research in the section carried out by two of the present of impacts and numerous lines on both faces. It was also authors (OR and JRG) and the new study of the object have engraved with a figurative motif that has usually been con- raised doubts about its cultural attribution. First, it has been sidered the depiction of a feline (Barandiarán Maestu 1972; determined that the definition of the sequence proposed Corchón 1986) although other authors have suggested that by the early excavators was not fully correct as there are it is a bison (García-Díez and Ochoa 2012). more archaeological levels than they thought and, based on Despite the deficient conservation of the lines, as they the dates that have been obtained, the level considered by were retraced with a pencil after it was excavated, it can be Obermaier as Aurignacian-Solutrean formed over a very observed that the incisions were drawn with a single action long period and includes Gravettian levels that had not been with the tool, which has resulted in them being shallow and documented until now (Rios-Garaizar et al. 2020). hard to see. The representation consists of a short, wide 1 3 18 Page 16 of 29 Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2022) 14:18 Fig. 11 Hyoid fragment from El Castillo. The bone surface is altered by roots (2) and trampling (1 and 2). (3) Profile of the grooves, which consist of shallow parallel lines. (4) Evidence of trampling (after Cáceres et al. 2012). The manganese has become fixed inside the grooves caused by trampling, giving the false impression of representing a painted motif (1). Remains on the whole bone surface and the nature of the grooves means that the possibility that this is a case of an engraved and painted motif can be discarded. (5) Evidence of trampling. (6) Profile of the groove, which displays the same characteristics as those on Object CS6. Photos: O. Rivero head, a cervical-dorsal line that emphasizes the withers and has traditionally been thought to display the representa- the lumbar depression, the belly line, and two lines that seem tion of an anthropomorph on one of its faces (Corchón to represent a forelimb extended forwards. The shape of the 1986: 254). Microscopic analysis of the object reveals figure, together with such details as the high withers and the abundance of lines of different kinds, some of which proportion between the belly line and cervical-dorsal line, may amount to a human figure. However, the nature of the means that it can undoubtedly be considered a feline and lines, made by a single action with the engraving tool and the interpretation as a bison can be discarded. Numerous which do not join up to make a complete picture of the engraved lines can be observed on the other face without figure, together with their shallowness and fineness, sug- forming an apparent motif (Fig. 15). gest that the figure should be taken with precaution since MO6: compressor with figurative decoration, Cueva it might be the fortuitous result of a series on involuntary Morín Level IV. Shale compressor with evidence of use on incisions produced during the use of the object (Fig. 16). both faces, in the form of impacts and numerous marks. It 1 3 Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2022) 14:18 Page 17 of 29 18 Fig. 12 Partially burnt bone splinter from Cueva Morín. The inci- Pellitero 2015). (7) Profile of the incision, showing the shallow depth sions were made with a single cutting action, display lateral stria- and V-shaped morphology, with lateral striations. (8) Profile of an tions, and are narrower at the ends of the line (1, 2, and 3); a mor- incision with the same characteristics. Photos: O. Rivero phology that can be equated with cutmarks (4, 5, and 6, after Mateo pebble used as a core and as a percussion tool, with six Objects without an archaeological context decorated faces, where the cortex was not removed by the extractions (Fig.  17). There are numerous lines in those PE7: engraved pebble with uncertain archaeological prove- areas, and some of them were probably caused by striking nience, Cueva de El Pendo. Research in the MUPAC located the pebble. Others are undoubtedly intentional, and parts an object from a disturbed level in Profile 3 in Cueva de El of figurative representations can be appreciated. It can be Pendo, found in J. Carballo’s excavations. This is a lutite 1 3 18 Page 18 of 29 Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2022) 14:18 represent the limbs and the rectangular connection between them. This convention is seen in similar Gravettian repre- sentations at Isturitz and Gargas (Rivero and Garate 2014; Garate et al. 2020). These are also normally drawn on peb- bles (see Supplementary Information Figure S10). The pres- ence of this convention suggests an attribution based on for- mal criteria in the Gravettian. Discussion The Middle and Upper Paleolithic were key periods for the development of symbolic behavior among extant and extinct species (Homo sapiens, Neandertals, and Denisovans). The Fig. 13 Engraved frontal bone from Hornos de la Peña. Photo and tracing: O. Rivero earliest documented evidence of such behavior is repre- sented by portable art (decorated objects) and ornaments. Therefore, portable art is very important to understand the deduced that the pebble was fully engraved and then used, origin and function of the graphic expression of symbolic which destroyed part of the decoration. thought (d’Errico et al. 2001; Conard 2003; Zilhâo 2012; From the technical point of view, the incisions were made Henshilwood et al. 2018). The Cantabrian Region is one of with a single tool movement, which created fine, shallow the key places to investigate cultural developments in the lines. One of the representations, while only a partial figure, Middle and Upper Paleolithic thanks to its important record is characterized by a conventionalism observed in Gravet- of Neandertal and Homo sapiens sites (Mousterian, Châtelp- tian depictions in the South of France. It is the lower half erronian, Aurignacian, and Gravettian), but intriguingly the of an indeterminate animal, of which only the chest line, portable art from these sites had never been studied in detail. forelimbs, and belly line are preserved (Fig. 18). The par- As a result, there was a corpus of information that lacked a ticularity of the figure lies in the frontal perspective used to systematic analysis and description using updated methods. Fig. 14 Awl made from a fish bone decorated with chevrons found in Cueva Morín. The natural point of the object can be appreciated (4) and the end where it can be observed that this is a fish bone (5). Photos: O. Rivero. Tracing: S. Salazar 1 3 Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2022) 14:18 Page 19 of 29 18 In this paper, we have tried to reassess some of the least and displays traces that cannot be interpreted as diagenetic well-known pieces and some of the more problematic and/ or functional, and consequently this is probably another or controversial putative portable art objects from Middle example of symbolic graphic expression. Considering all Paleolithic, Aurignacian, and Gravettian sites in the Canta- this, the evidence from the Cantabrian Region reinforces brian Region. the idea that the Neandertals displayed a restricted graphic Most of the pieces attributed to Neandertals, namely symbolic expression, consisting of non-figurative series of those corresponding to the Middle Paleolithic and Tran- engravings, as seen in other regions (Pesturina Cave, Majkić sitional Aurignacian (probably a particular variety of the et al. 2017 or Quneitra, Shaham et al. 2019, among others), Mousterian; Rios-Garaizar 2012), have been discarded as and which can be equated with the few parietal engravings portable art after the re-analysis. This is the case of CS1, attributed to the Mousterian (Gorham’s Cave, for example, CS2, CS4, CS6, and MO2. In all these cases, diagenetic Rodríguez-Vidal et al. 2014). alterations, butchery marks, or technical traces have been Regarding the Aurignacian, we have discarded as porta- misinterpreted by the original authors as intentional sym- ble art the piece from Cueva Morín Level 5 (MO3), and we bolic marks. This may also be the case of the marks on the also harbor serious doubts about the attribution to the Aurig- pebble from Axlor Level VIII (García-Díez et al. 2013b), nacian of the piece from Hornos de la Peña. Firstly, the way which probably have a functional explanation (see Rios- it is made and the graphic conventions used suggest that Garaizar 2017). However, there is one artifact analyzed it could be [Middle] Magdalenian, and secondly the new here (MO1), and one piece from Axlor Level N (Mozota excavations in the cave suggest that the level of provenience, Holgueras 2012), that could be interpreted as a decorated Level II, comprises a complex sequence including several bone. The piece from Cueva Morín (MO1) was recovered in layers of difficult attribution, some of them dated to the the deepest level of the sequence (Level 22) below several Gravettian (Rios-Garaizar et al. 2020). Also, Unit 5, which barren layers (18–21), which included a thick speleothem appeared to be in the position of upper Level II, has been (Level 21). The level has never been dated, and the recovered dated in the Middle Magdalenian and displays clear evi- material was too scarce to characterize it, but given its strati- dence of disturbance and admixture, creating some doubts graphic position and the fact that it was sealed by a speleo- about the context of the engraved piece. In consequence, the them (usually formed during interglacial periods: MIS5 or remaining evidence of Aurignacian portable art in the Can- MIS7), it is quite likely that this level can be attributed to the tabrian Region can be reduced to the engraved slabs from regional Early Middle Paleolithic. The engraved bone was Covalejos (Sanguino González and Montes Barquín 2005), not identified or described in the first monographs (González and the more dubious examples from Labeko Koba Level Echegaray et al. 1971), but it was mentioned shortly after VII (García-Díez and Arrizabalaga Valbuena 2000) and the (González Echegaray and Freeman 1976). The authors engraved slab from Aitzbitarte III Level Vb Central (Garate described the marks as “hunting marks” but doubted that and Rios-Garaizar 2011). they were produced during the Middle Paleolithic, so they Series of lines and compositions of incisions and notches professed that they never dared to undoubtedly attribute this are found in Aurignacian portable art in Europe (for exam- bone to Level 22. For this reason, the artifact was curated ple, at Isturitz, Normand 2007; Gargas, San Juan et al. 2007; in the MUPAC under the label of “unknown stratigraphic and Trou Magrite, Lejeune 2007) also including the coloring provenance.” This naturally creates some doubts about the of the objects (Abri Pataud, Chiotti et al. 2007). However, stratigraphic attribution of the remain, but after carefully abundant figurative portable art objects and geometric signs reading the published monographs, we do not find any argu- (Dutkiewicz 2021, Dutkiewicz et al. 2018, 2020) have been ment against considering this object as coming from Level documented at a number of Central European sites from 22 and therefore attribute it to Neandertals. In fact there are the first moments of the period (Conard 2003; Broglio et al. some similarities with the engraved bone from Axlor Level 2006). In contrast, in parietal art, fewer cases are known N, which was described by Mozota Holgueras (2012). It can and are particularly concentrated in the Dordogne (White also be compared with other osseous artifacts with organized et al. 2012), Ardèche (Chauvet, Quiles et al. 2016; Aldène, marks that have been interpreted as graphic representations Ambert et  al. 2005; and Baume-Latrone, Azéma et  al. (d’Errico and Vanhaeren 1999; Zilhâo and D’Errico 2003), 2012), and Italy (Grotta di Fumane, Broglio and Dalmeri such as the bones engraved with parallel marks found at 2005, Broglio et al. 2007). Nonetheless, the low resolution La Ferrassie (France) (Capitan and Peyrony 1921), Oldis- of direct and indirect dating methods and the methodologi- leben (Germany) (Bednarik 2006), Temnata (Bulgaria) cal issues for both U/Th and 14C AMS systems and their (Crémades et al. 1995), Bacho-Kiro (Kozlowski 1992), and limited application to motifs potentially attributable to this Nesher Ramla (Israel) (Prévost et al. in press). In the same period are factors that may be causing an underestima- sense, object CS5 recovered in El Castillo Level 18b shows tion of the parietal phenomenon. In the case of Cantabrian evidence of intentional shaping to create a triangular form Spain, several indicators (archaeological contexts, parietal 1 3 18 Page 20 of 29 Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2022) 14:18 1 3 Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2022) 14:18 Page 21 of 29 18 ◂Fig. 15 Pressure-flaking tool with figurative decoration from El Cas- are some examples as we have mentioned above. In dif- tillo. (1) Detail of the belly line. (2) Detail of the lumbar depression. ferent works, it has been noted the existence of, at least, (3) Profile of the belly line incision. (4) Profile of the lumbar depres- four very distinct traditions in the European Aurignacian sion incision. The shallowness of the line and its V-shaped profile can art (Jura Swabia, Dordogne, SE France, and in northern be appreciated in both cases. Photos and tracing: O. Rivero Italy) (Ortega et al. 2015) and major differences in orna- ment production (White 2007); this suggests that there is stratigraphies, 14C AMS and U/Th dates, and stylistic com- not a unique symbolic expression during the Aurignacian, parison), when considered as a whole, support an Aurigna- despite the similarities in other cultural products such as cian phase for both figurative (at Tito Bustillo, Altxerri B, lithic or bone technology. Maybe, the absence of clear La Garma and Pondra) and non-figurative decoration (at La graphic manifestations in the Cantabrian Aurignacian is Viña and El Conde). Their importance would thus be signifi- an expression of a particular symbolic behavior which left cantly greater than the examples of portable art. almost no traces in the archaeological record. However, It is difficult to explain the absence of portable art some new findings, such as the recently published slabs in the Aurignacian sites from the Cantabrian Region. from the Aurignacian levels of Covalejos cave (Montes Despite numerous sites have yielded Aurignacian assem- Barquín and Sanguino González 2021), could change this blages (Garate-Maidagan et al. 2015, Marín-Arroyo et al. interpretation in the future. 2018), very few pieces of indisputable portable art have In the Gravettian, the situation is similar as regards utili- been identified there. It is true also that there are few tarian objects made from antler and bone, which are usua- evidences of other symbolic expressions, such as orna- lly decorated with series of parallel incisions and notches, ments, in those sites, and regarding the parietal art, there probably connected with the functionality of the artifacts. Fig. 16 Compressor from Cueva Morín. The object displays numer- ure. However, the profiles of the incisions (3 and 4) reveal their vary - ous lines, many of them parasites. Other shallow incisions made by a ing cross-sections and depth. Photos and tracing: O. Rivero single cutting action (1 and 2) appear to form an anthropomorph fig- 1 3 18 Page 22 of 29 Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2022) 14:18 Fig. 17 Pebble from a disturbed level in Cueva de El Pendo, engraved and used as a core and hammerstone. It displays engravings on six faces, some of which are undoubtedly figurative. Photos and tracings: O. Rivero In contrast, the first figurative representations appear on mine- figurative parietal art in the region. For the object from El ral objects, particularly the objects from Antoliñako Koba Castillo, we can cite the felines at Altxerri B (González (Aguirre Ruiz De Gopegui and González Sainz 2011) and Sainz et al. 2013) and Tito Bustillo (Balbín-Behrmann et al. El Castillo (Barandiarán Maestu 1972), to which the peb- 2017). For the hind at Antoliñako Koba, resemblances with ble from El Pendo presented here may be added. These are the dotted hind depictions have been noted (Aguirre Ruiz utilitarian lithic objects with simple decoration, made with De Gopegui and González Sainz 2011). In the case of the incisions involving a single tracing with the tool in most pebble from El Pendo, as well as the portable parallelisms cases, which indicates that portable art in this period did not mentioned above, parietal examples are known at Aitzbi- involve complex technical notions, as would occur in later tarte III (Garate et al. 2020), Alkerdi 2 (Garate et al. 2017), periods (Rivero 2017). The subject matter of these depic- Cussac (Aujoulat et al. 2002), Gargas (Barrière 1976), and tions concurs with the first evidence of pre-Magdalenian Cosquer (Clottes et al. 2005). 1 3 Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2022) 14:18 Page 23 of 29 18 determination of graphic analogies can be observed in the type of incisions, in their numbers, or in the type of objects. For the Upper Paleolithic, this study has shown that the production of true decorated objects did not begin in the Cantabrian region until the Gravettian, when we find repre- sentations unconnected with functional processes on both osseous and lithic objects, and also the r fi st g fi urative motifs that show significant parallelisms with parietal representa- tions. The Aurignacian evidence is doubtful in general, espe- cially the engravings on osseous objects, as in most cases these are taphonomic marks or found on remains with seri- ous issues as regards their stratigraphic attribution. Only a few cases of groups of lines and non-figurative marks can Fig. 18 One of the decorated faces of the pebble showing how it was be definitely assigned to this period. used as a hammerstone (1) and a detail of a representation of an inde- This seems to support other forms of evidence, such as terminate quadruped, characterized by the frontal depiction of the parietal art and the archaeological record. The scarce and forelimbs with a linear connection (2). Photos: O. Rivero heterogeneous Aurignacian artistic production is unevenly distributed in the region, and while the record increases in Figurative portable art became fully consolidated during the Gravettian, it remains limited. the Gravettian, with a large concentration of sites in Cen- Supplementary Information The online version contains supplemen- tral Europe (Svoboda 1997) and with a wide distribution tary material available at https://doi. or g/10. 1007/ s12520- 021- 01488-w . of particular types of representations, such as the so-called Venus figurines, from Siberia to the Pyrenees (Gaudzinski- Acknowledgements The authors would like to thank the responsible Windheuer and Jöris 2015). The same phenomenon has been and curators of the Museo de Prehistoria y Arqueología de Canta- documented in parietal art in the whole of Western Europe, bria (MUPAC) for their help in locating the pieces involved in the study. The authors thank M. Cueto for identifying the Morín piece from Italy to Portugal (Petrognani and Robert 2019). Indeed, (MO5) as a fish bone. Cantabrian Spain participates fully in this abundant parietal artistic production and shares graphic resources at an inter- Funding Open Access funding provided thanks to the CRUE-CSIC regional level (Garate et al. 2020). In contrast, figurative agreement with Springer Nature. The study presented in this paper was portable art is much scarcer and, for example, Venus figu- funded by the research project of the Spanish Science Ministry “Learn- ing and developing artistic skills in anatomically modern humans: a rines are unknown in the Cantabrian region. Figurative art multidisciplinary approach” HAR2017-87739-P, led by Olivia Rivero. on portable objects would not develop significantly until the Lower Magdalenian (Corchón 2004), and in fact, it did not Data availability Not applicable. reach the importance of proximate regions, like the Pyrenees or Dordogne, at any time in the Upper Paleolithic. Code availability Not applicable. Declarations Conclusions Ethics approval Not applicable. The results of the present study, obtained by the microscopic analysis of the objects, support a reappraisal of the emer- Conflict of interest The authors declare no competing interests. gence of portable graphic activity in Cantabrian Spain. 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To be or not to be: reassessing the origins of portable art in the Cantabrian Region (Northern Spain)

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Abstract

The characterization of the first portable artistic depictions in Cantabrian Spain is crucial for comprehension of the symbolic development of Neandertals and Homo sapiens in the context of the passage from the Middle to the Upper Paleolithic. How- ever, despite the importance of these first graphic representations, their study has tended to lack the application of suitable methodologies to be able to discriminate between graphic activity and other kind of alterations (use-wear, taphonomic, or post-depositional). The present study has examined a significant sample of Middle and Upper Paleolithic lithic and osseous objects from Cantabrian Spain that have been cited as evidence of graphic activity in the literature. The contexts in which the objects were found have been considered, and the objects have been analyzed through the microscopic observation of the marks to distinguish between incisions, pecking, and engraving made for a non-functional purpose (graphic activity) and those generated by diverse functional actions or taphonomic processes (cutmarks, trampling, root marks, percussion scars, and use-wear). The results show that some regional Middle Paleolithic osseous objects display incisions that are neither functional nor taphonomic and whose characteristics are similar to graphic evidence attributed to Neandertals in Europe and the Near East. In turn, the first portable art produced by Homo sapiens in the Cantabrian Spain seems to be limited mostly to linear signs, and no figurative representation can be recognized until the Gravettian. This appears to indicate a particular idiosyncrasy of the region in the Early Upper Paleolithic, which, in comparison with other regions such as south-west France and the Swabian Jura, shows a later and less abundant production of portable art. Keywords Portable art · Middle Paleolithic · Early Upper Paleolithic · Taphonomy · Microscopic analysis · Cantabrian Region Introduction Neandertals, the causes of their disappearance, the degree of complexity of Neandertal behavior in comparison with The Middle to Upper Paleolithic passage has been one Homo sapiens, and the role of symbolic behavior in the of the most debated issues in paleoanthropology in success of Homo sapiens in colonizing the Eurasian conti- recent decades. Several debates converge in this time nent (D’Errico and Stringer 2011; D’Errico et al. 1998). In period, namely the cognitive and symbolic capacities of the last few years, more evidence of the symbolic behavior * Olivia Rivero Joseba Rios-Garaizar oliviariver@usal.es jorios76@gmail.com Sergio Salazar Dpto. Prehistoria, Historia Antigua y Arqueología, salazar.laredo@gmail.com Universidad de Salamanca. C/ Cervantes S/N, Ana María Mateo-Pellitero 37002 Salamanca, Salamanca, Spain anamatep00@usal.es Instituto Internacional de Investigaciones Prehistóricas Paula García Bustos de Cantabria (IIIPC), Universidad de Cantabria, pabulola@usal.es 39005 Santander, Cantabria, Spain Diego Garate Bizkaiko Arkeologi Museoa, Calzadas de Mallona 2, diego.garate@unican.es 48006 Bilbao, Bizkaia, Spain Vol.:(0123456789) 1 3 18 Page 2 of 29 Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2022) 14:18 of Neandertals has been added: the first evident burials evidence of complex lithic technology management, bone (Balzeau et al. 2020 and the references therein), the use and wood technology, broad spectrum subsistence strategies, of pigments and feathers for body decoration (Peresani landscape management, etc. (Gutiérrez-Zugasti et al. 2018; et al. 2011; Finlayson et al. 2012; Rodríguez-Hidalgo et al. Gómez-Olivencia et al. 2018; Mozota Holgueras 2014; Rios- 2019; Soressi and D’Errico 2007), the production and use Garaizar 2017;  Rios-Garaizar and García-Moreno 2015; of ornaments (Caron et al. 2011 and the references therein) Rios-Garaizar et al. 2018; Sánchez-Romero et al. 2020). and portable art (Bednarik 2006; Majkić et al. 2017; Sha- Interestingly, graphic phenomena and ornaments have ham et al. 2019), and recently the creation of parietal art played a relevant role in these discussions. For example, the (Rodríguez-vidal et al. 2014). This latter aspect has been portable art objects from El Castillo Level 18 have been said the subject of an intense controversy, basically around the to represent the first symbolic behavior in the Cantabrian reliability of the used dating methods (see Pike et al. 2012; Region (Cabrera et al. 2005), and the symbolic nature of Bednarik 2012; García-Díez et al. 2013a; Pike et al. 2017; some shell fragments located in Lezetxiki has been defended Pons-Branchu et al. 2014; Sauvet et al. 2017; Hoffmann (Arrizabalaga et al. 2011). More recently it has been claimed et al. 2018a, b, c; Hoffmann et al. 2019; Aubert et al. 2018; that the decorated pebble from Axlor possessed a symbolic Pearce and Bonneau 2018; Rodríguez-Vidal et al. 2014; value (García-Díez et  al. 2013b, but see Rios-Garaizar Slimak et  al. 2018; White et  al. 2020). In contrast, the 2017) and a decorated bone from the same site has also discussion about Early Upper Paleolithic art and ornament been presented (Mozota Holgueras 2012). In addition, an production has centered on the existence of regionally dis- age corresponding to the regional Middle Paleolithic has tinguishable artistic and decorative traditions, and also on been attributed to a series of red dots in El Castillo, and a the social role of the artistic explosion witnessed in the ideogram in La Pasiega (Pike et al. 2012; Hoffmann et al. Aurignacian and onwards (Kulturpumpe) (Conard and 2018a), but there has been serious criticism of the reliability Bolus 2003; Garate-Maidagan et al. 2015; Higham et al. of the applied dating method (Pons-Branchu et al. 2014; 2012; White et al. 2012). Sauvet et al. 2017; Aubert et al. 2018; Pearce and Bonneau The Cantabrian Region in the Northern Iberian Pen- 2018; Slimak et al. 2018; White et al. 2020), and the debate insula has been one of the classic areas for the study of about the authorship of this parietal art has not been settled. the MP and UP Paleolithic since the first rock art evi- Regarding the Aurignacian, few rock art sites have been dence was found in Altamira Cave in 1879 (Bahn 2016). attributed to this techno-cultural complex. Only the La This area has also participated in the debates about the Viña and El Conde linear incisions, with a superposition original nature of the Châtelperronian, the possible inter- of archaeological levels, can be attributed unequivocally stratification of the Châtelperronian and the Aurignacian to the Aurignacian. Also, the Tito Bustillo anthropomorph (in which El Pendo was one of the sites used to support gallery and Altxerri B are dated in the Aurignacian by their this—now rejected—hypothesis) (Montes et al. 2005), or archaeological context. However, chronological precision is the existence of particular transitional industries such as still lacking for the first rock art in the Cantabrian Region. the “Aurignacienne de Transition” defined in El Castillo The evidence of portable art and ornaments is also scarce (Cabrera et al. 2001), or the existence of a Mousterian refu- and controversial. Most of the objects are affected by gium (see Higham et al. 2014; Marín-Arroyo et al. 2018; uncertain taphonomic processes and/or the anthropogenic but see also Pinto and Grandal 2019). The data generated nature of the incisions is questionable. In other cases, they in the last few years have influenced these debates some- are subject to vague chronological attributions (see Garate- what. Today there is a quasi-unanimous acceptance that Maidagan et al. 2015). the archaeological sequence in SW France (Mousterian, Finally for the Gravettian, there is an increasing number Châtelperronian, Protoaurignacian, Aurignacian, Gravet- of rock art sites, some secure portable art evidence, and more tian) can be directly applied to the Cantabrian Region. ornaments than in the Aurignacian (but still few if compared Moreover, the new dates obtained from sites like Amalda with neighboring sites such as Gatzarria, Brassempouy, or I, Labeko Koba, Covalejos, and Aitzbitarte III suggest Isturitz). Interestingly, it has recently been proved that one that there was almost no overlap between the Mousterian of the best-preserved examples of ornaments, the necklace and the Châtelperronian, or between the Châtelperronian from El Cuco, was not Gravettian, as originally published and the earliest Aurignacian (Marín-Arroyo et al. 2018). (Gutiérrez-Zugasti et al. 2013), but probably Aurignacian Additionally, the dates obtained from sites like Aitzbitarte (Marín-Arroyo et al. 2018; Rasines et al. 2021). III, La Viña, and Amalda I suggest an early development In this context, the lack of systematic and detailed analy- of the Gravettian in the region (Marín-Arroyo et al. 2018; sis of the putative portable art pieces from the regional Garate et al. 2020). Mousterian, Aurignacian, and Gravettian has hampered a In parallel, different studies demonstrate the complex and correct evaluation of this phenomenon during the Middle historical nature of Neandertal societies in this region, with to Upper Paleolithic passage. Some pieces come from very 1 3 Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2022) 14:18 Page 3 of 29 18 dubious contexts that need to be reconsidered; in others the case of Aitzbitarte III Level Vb engraved slab (Garate and symbolic nature has been incorrectly assessed; also, many Rios-Garaizar 2011), the plaque from Labeko Koba Level pieces lacked a correct technological analysis and graphic VII (García-Díez and Arrizabalaga Valbuena 2000), the presentation; and finally some pieces have been interpreted engraved hind from Antoliñako Koba Level Lmbk sup/smbk erroneously. The portable art record from the Cantabrian (Aguirre Ruiz De Gopegui and González Sainz 2011), and Region attributed to the Middle and Early Upper Paleolithic the marked pebble from Axlor Level VIII (García-Díez et al. can play a relevant role in addressing such questions as the 2013b). nature and meaning of Middle Paleolithic portable art, or The present study therefore includes three Mousterian the regionalization and social role of Early Upper Paleolithic objects, 12 Aurignacian, 16 Gravettian, and two objects portable art, but for this to happen, the available evidence without a precise stratigraphic attribution. They are listed must be systematically and critically revised, to attain a in Table 1. clearer view of this phenomenon. Therefore, in this work, we propose a first-hand review of a very significant set of objects interpreted as decorated and Methods traditionally attributed to the Middle Paleolithic, Aurigna- cian, and Gravettian in the Cantabrian Region. The main The artifacts have been examined with a consolidated metho- objective of the research is to approach, from an objective dology for the study of portable art based on microscopic and critical perspective, the various ambiguities mentioned analysis for the identification of the technical traces that indi- above and which impact on the understanding of the first cate the operational chain of the production of the decorative Cantabrian portable art. motifs (D’Errico 1994; Fritz 1999; Rivero 2010, 2015). For the microscopic inspection we have used a Leica S8APO and MZ 16 binocular microscope, using an added-on Leica Materials IC90E digital camera. This analysis has been completed with a taphonomic study based on the macroscopic and micros- Twenty-eight of the 67 decorated objects that currently make copic observation of the artifacts in order to identify the up the inventory of the first regional portable art have been different alterations that might have affected the surface of examined (see the Supplementary material for an updated the supposedly decorated objects and thereby discriminate inventory of decorated objects belonging to the Middle Pale- between taphonomic traces, use-traces, and non-utilitarian olithic, Aurignacian, and Gravettian in Cantabrian Spain). and intentional modifications of the surfaces (Efremov 1940; This sample is formed by artifacts from the sites of Morín, Behrensmeyer and Kidwell 1985; Lyman 2010). El Pendo, El Castillo, Hornos de la Peña, El Arco B, and The microscopic analysis of the motifs and the tapho- La Garma A (Cantabria) and from Bolinkoba, Antoliñako nomic processes was complemented by the three-dimen- Koba (Biscay), and Aitzbitarte III (Guipúzcoa) (Fig. 1). We sional restitution of the engraved objects. In recent years, have included two pieces of uncertain provenience (objects digital photogrammetry of close objects has developed PE7 and AB1) because, owing to their characteristics and/ considerably grace to the lower costs and greater acces- or context, they can be attributed to the first stages of the sibility of photographic equipment, and the development Upper Paleolithic. of dedicated software based on the SIFT or similar algo- We have chosen not to include ornaments in this study rithms (González-Aguilera et al. 2009; Azéma et al. 2010; because they have been the object of several recent syntheses Feruglio et  al. 2013; Richardson et  al. 2013; Domingo (Álvarez Fernández 2006; Gutiérrez-Zugasti et al. 2013), et al. 2013; Grosman et al. 2014). Thus, close-range pho- and because, while they are elements of symbolic expres- togrammetry can currently be considered the standard sion (Vanhaeren and d’Errico 2005), they cannot be strictly methodology for recording rock art (Rivero et al. 2019), defined as graphic activity. Also, we have not included some while 3D reproduction techniques have enabled analytical bone tools with marks because they can be interpreted as approaches, for example, in the field of traceology (Zot- technological or functional traces, as for example the basal kina and Miklashevich 2016; Plisson and Zotkina 2015) striations of Isturitz-type bone points (Rios-Garaizar and and 3D analysis of cutmarks (Maté González et al. 2015, Garate 2014). Finally, some possible portable art pieces have 2018; Yravedra et al. 2017; Courtenay et al. 2019). not been directly analyzed, because they are not accessible In the present case, micro-photogrammetry has been applied (such as the engraved plaques from Covalejos, Sanguino to the engraved lines, using the images obtained with the Leica González and Montes Barquín 2005), because they are mi- microscope, to generate precise metrical models. The images ssing (as in the case of some pieces from El Pendo and were processed with Agisoft Metashape Professional version El Castillo, see supplementary material Table  S4), or 1.4.0 software. The analysis of the scaled 3D models allows because they have been recently analyzed. This is the not only the visualization of the cross-sections of the engraved 1 3 18 Page 4 of 29 Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2022) 14:18 Fig. 1 Sites with remains attributed to the Middle and Early Upper Paleolithic in Cantabrian Spain. The sites studied here are marked by a star. Map by S. Salazar grooves, but also to obtain basic measurements of the engraved a lithic tool. It can thus differentiate such a line from lines such as the depth, breadth, and length. root marks on bone surfaces, as these possess a U-shaped The potential taphonomic nature of the traces has induced profile and a rounded morphology at the start and end the development of a comparative methodology that can dif- of the line, as well as leaving a reticulated pattern on ferentiate between engravings and other kinds of lines due to the bone (Behrensmeyer 1978; Yravedra 2006; Moreno taphonomic causes. This methodology is based on the mor- García 2013) (Fig. 2). phology of the grooves, analyzed by optical and electronic – The groove morphology differs depending on the type microscopy for the reference sample, and the characteristics of tool, and therefore, this is evidence that can deter- of the profiles (width and depth) obtained from the micro- mine if a burin or a sharp edge was used. In the case photogrammetric models. of an engraving, it is normally wider and deeper at the In this way, the analysis of the groove morphology is able start of the line, and it normally leaves stigmas at the to establish a series of criteria to discriminate engravings start and end of the line (Fritz 1999; Rivero 2010, 2015), from taphonomic alterations, either anthropic or natural: which indicates the use of a burin, whereas if the incision was caused during cutting, the line is usually wider and – The presence of internal striations (also known as bar- deeper in the middle, and it thins towards the ends. This codes; Fritz 1999) indicates that the line was made with morphology indicates the use of a sharp edge (Shipman 1 3 Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2022) 14:18 Page 5 of 29 18 Table 1 Mousterian and Early Upper Paleolithic artifacts from Cantabrian Spain and studied in the present paper Site Code object Media Dimensions (in Level Motif References Figure cm) Antoliñako AN1 Hammerstone/ 5.40 × 5.09 Lmbksup-Smbk Figurative: hind Aguirre Ruiz De S6 abrader level/Gravettian Gopegui and González Sainz 2011: 43–61 Bolinkoba BO1 Rib 8.8 × 1.3 × 0.5 VI or F Series of edge Barandiarán S5 marks Maestu 1972: BO3 Bolinkoba BO2 Rib 7.4 × 1.2 × 0.4 VI or F Series of edge Barandiarán S5 marks Maestu 1972: BO1 Bolinkoba BO3 Rib 4.5 × 1.2 × 0.3 VI or F Series of edge Barandiarán S5 marks Maestu 1972: BO2 Bolinkoba BO4 Rib 3.3 × 2 × 0.3 VI or F Series of edge Barandiarán S5 marks Maestu 1972 Bolinkoba BO5 Rib 3.7 × 1.2 × 0.8 VI or F Series of edge Barandiarán S5 marks Maestu 1972 Bolinkoba BO6 Bone tube 7.9 × 0.8 VI or F Series of edge Barandiarán marks Maestu 1972 Bolinkoba BO7 Isturitz-type point 8.2 × 2.2 × 1 VI or F Series of edge Barandiarán marks Maestu 1972: BO7 El Arco B AB1 Pendant/gypsum? 1.31 × 4.46 × 1.2 On the surface Series of edge González Sainz S8 marks(2 series) et al. 2003 El Castillo CS1 Pebble/quartzite 5.25 × 4.15 × 2.4 20/Mousterian 4 dots Cabrera et al. 5 2005: 505–526, Fig. 4 El Castillo CS3 Bone/metapodial 2 × 10.11 × 2.2 18c/transitional Incised marks Cabrera et al. S3 Aurignacian 2005: 505–526, Fig. 5b El Castillo CS7 Quartzite pressure 13.14 × 7 × 1 12/ Gravettian Figurative: feline Barandiarán 15 tool Maestu 1972: 106, lám. 35.2, CS. 1 El Castillo CS2 Bone fragment/ 3.83 × 3.14 18c/transitional Figurative: head? Cabrera et al. 10 scapula Aurignacian 2005: 505–526, Fig. 5c El Castillo CS4 Splintered bone 1.83 × 2.40 18c/transitional Incised marks/ Cabrera et al. 9 Aurignacian series? 2005: 505–526, Fig. 5a El Castillo CS5 Sandstone pebble/ 5.08 × 5.91 18b/transitional Incised marks Cabrera et al. 8 polisher? Aurignacian 2005: 505–526, Fig. 6b El Castillo CS6 Hyoid bone 2.61 × 2.25 18b/transitional Figurative: limb Cabrera et al. 11 Aurignacian and belly? 2005: 505–526, Fig. 6a El Pendo PE1 Pendant/talc 2.29 × 3.52 × 1.67 VII/Aurignacian Simulated atro- Barandiarán S4 phied tooth Maestu 1980:152, Fig. 75:10 El Pendo PE3 Sagaie or awl 6.1 × 2.3 × 2.2 IV/Gravettian Longitudinal Barandiarán Maestu groove 1980: Fig. 78: 66 El Pendo PE7 Pebble/pressure 5.62 × 7.72 × 7.21 Sector 3/disturbed Figurative: Unpublished/ 17 tool -hammer- indeterminate Located in the stone quadruped MUPAC 1 3 18 Page 6 of 29 Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2022) 14:18 Table 1 (continued) Site Code object Media Dimensions (in Level Motif References Figure cm) El Pendo PE4 Shaped rib 0.85 × 5 × 0.7 VI/Aurignacian Series of marks Barandiarán S1 Maestu 1980: Fig. 76:50 Hornos de la Peña HP1 Frontal bone 7.51 × 8.96 D/Aurignacian? Figurative: horse Barandiarán 13 Maestu 1973 La Garma A GA1 Bird bone/pen- 0.43 × 1.02 C/Aurignacian Series of marks Arias Cabal and S2 dant? Ontañón Peredo La Garma A GA2 Pierced metacar- 3.28 × 12 × 2.21 F/Gravettian Series of marks(4 Arias Cabal and S7 pal/pressure series) Ontañón Peredo tool? 2004: 218 Morin MO1 Bone/rib 1.91 × 4.4 20/Mousterian Incised marks González Echega- 3 ray and Freeman Morín MO3 Bone/splinter 1.45 × 2.41 5 Inf./Aurignacian Incised marks Barandiarán 6 Maestu 1973 Morín MO5 Indet.bone/awl? 0.62 × 2 × 76 IV/Gravettian Chevron marks (4) González Echega- 13 ray et al. 1971: Fig. 122, nº. 51 Morín MO6 Pressure tool 3.33 × 12.96 IV/Gravettian Figurative: anthro- González Echega- 15 pomorph? ray et al. 1971: Fig. 123 Morín MO2 Bone 2.91 × 10.13 17/Mousterian Incised marks González Echega- 4 ray and Freeman and Rose 1983; Bello et al. 2009; De Juana et al. 2010; the case of cutmarks, the depths are variable owing to the Maté González et al. 2015, 2018) (Fig. 3: a, b). existence of flesh on the bone surface (Costamagno et al. – The presence of the shoulder effect or barb effect (the 2019). latter at the end of the line) indicates cutmarks on bone as – Additionally, other clearly recognizable taphonomic pro- these are generally related to the use of retouched flakes cesses should be taken into account, such as trampling, (Domínguez-Rodrigo et al. 2009; De Juana et al. 2010; which produces abrasion caused by friction between Galán and Domínguez-Rodrigo 2013) (Fig. 3: c, d). In sediment and the object, either lithic or osseous (Fig. 4), contrast, intentional engravings do not generally leave weathering, and physical–chemical alterations that can striations adjacent to the main incision. also affect bone surfaces (Chaix and Méniel 2005; Yrave- – The number of repetitions of the groove (Fritz 1999; dra 2006; Domínguez-Rodrigo et al. 2009; Abril López Rivero 2015) is able to differentiate the intentionality 2012; Fernández Jalvo et al. 2013; Moreno García 2013; of an engraving compared with other types of traces, Pineda et al. 2014; Mateo Pellitero 2015). such as cutmarks, as a groove deliberately deepened by successive incisions indicates intentionality rather than butchery marks. This criterion is directly related to the depth of the line and can lead to errors if comparing the marks left by cutting tendons which can be very Results deep after the bone has been defleshed. In this case, the criterion to differentiate the lines is the position, The microscopic analysis of the artifacts presented below which will be on metapodials and phalanges in the case has resulted in interpretations that diverge from the data of removing tendons (Soulier and Costamagno 2017; published previously (the total assemblage of analyzed arti- Costamagno et al. 2019). facts is presented in the Supplementary Information). These – Depth is another argument to differentiate between an divergences may refer to the interpretation of the engrav- engraving and cutmarks on bones or accidental lines on ings as symbolic motifs, the interpretation of the nature of a lithic object. In a sequence of lines engraved with a single incision, they will tend to be of similar depth. In 1 3 Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2022) 14:18 Page 7 of 29 18 Fig. 2 Alterations to a bone surface caused by roots, showing the absence of barcodes, the U-shaped cross-section of the grooves, and their reticulated pattern. Photos: a by A. Mateo; b by O. Rivero the decorated object (MO5), and the interpretation of the Microscopic observation shows that the dots are all very representation (CS7). similar and were made by successive impacts in the same place, creating a small depression. They display differing numbers of blows: there is one with three impacts, two with Mousterian two impacts, and another two with only one blow (Fig. 5). The object is marked by other slighter impacts on the rest Three artifacts have been studied, from El Castillo (1) and of the cortical surface. The four “aligned” impacts are very Cueva Morín (2). near to a point of impact that has produced one of the nega- CS1: quartzite pebble, El Castillo Level 20. Described tives on the flaking surface, so it is very likely that these as a grey quartzite pebble with four aligned pecked dots marks should be associated with the process of reducing the at regular spaces and another pecked dot above them. quartzite pebble by bipolar on-anvil percussion. These were interpreted as non-utilitarian intentional marks MO1: rib fragment, Cueva Morín. This object was found (Cabrera et al. 2005). A re-analysis of the object has revealed in Level 22 in the deep test pit excavated in Squares Vc technological features that allow to interpret a fragment of and Vd in 1968. This level is beneath the thick calcite layer a bipolar on-anvil core. It displays a cortical surface, with (Level 21) which suggests that it is an old level, possibly the pecked marks and two fracture planes with opposed before MIS5. The artifact was not mentioned in either the negatives (with a counter-bulb), sinuous ridges, and reflected first or second monograph on the excavation and is first fractures typical of pebbles worked by bipolar on-anvil described in 1978 (González Echegaray 1988) as a “bone percussion. with a series of engraved lines in the style of the so-called 1 3 18 Page 8 of 29 Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2022) 14:18 Fig. 3 Criteria for the identi- fication of engraved lines and/ or cutmarks. (a) Tear-shaped incision that is wider and deeper at the start of the line than at the end. (b) Cutmarks that are wider in the central part of the groove (after Shipman and Rose 1983). (c) and (d) Shoulder effect and barb effect produced by cutmarks. Image (c) cor- responds to object CS4 studied below. Image (d) after De Juana et al. 2010. Photos: a and c by O. Rivero; b and d by A. Mateo hunting marks and, as it is so exotic to the Mousterian world, “hook” (González Echegaray 1988) and which, according to we have never dared to assign it for certain to this level” this researcher “display a regularity that differentiates them (González Echegaray and Freeman 1978: 79). from other marks caused unintentionally, and result from It is a rib fragment about 4.5  cm long whose surface some intentional prehistoric human activity with decorative is affected by different taphonomic processes, especially intent.” weathering. Two groups of two parallel incisions appear on The observation of the bone shows that it is affected by one of its faces. They are both of identical morphology, sug- numerous cutmarks all over its surface as well as remains gesting they were made with the same tool with the same of ochre. It is also affected by weathering and trampling, kind of action. The fracture was possibly caused by another taphonomic processes that cause respectively exfoliation incision, which was enlarged by weathering, which caused and cracks, and striations and scratches (Behrensmeyer cracks and exfoliation. According to Mozota Holgueras 1978; Andrews and Whybrow 2005; Blasco et  al. 2008; (2012) and Alcántara et al. (2006), fractures in dry bones are Domínguez-Rodrigo et al. 2009). Some of these stigmas straight or stepped, with rough and irregular edges, and with may therefore be confused with cutmarks. the face of the fracture at right angles to the bone surface. Microscopic observation of the series of incisions The fracture of this bone corresponds to that description, regarded as graphic evidence has shown that these were and we can therefore conclude that it broke when it was dry, produced by two different actions. The operational chain probably because of trampling or weathering. indicates that all the long incisions were made first, and then The morphology of the marks suggests a main incision the cuts, all made from top to bottom and with a similarly and a parasite striation, caused by a single action. Unfortu- shaped tool (V-shaped cross-section, with the widest and nately, because of the deterioration of the bone surface, it is deepest part of the incision in its central part). This sequence hard to determine if the incisions were caused by a cutting suggests that a series of cuts were made and these were later activity or were a decorative motif (Fig. 6). However, the partially gone over again with a second series. Their parallel regular width, depth, and direction of the marks suggest that orientation may correspond to skinning (normally identified the second option is the more plausible one. by deep parallel incisions) or filleting (Abril 2012; Egeland MO2: bone fragment, Cueva Morín Level 17. This arti- et al. 2014). A similar but shallower second series can be fact has been described as a portable art object owing to observed, made from bottom to top (with the bone in the the presence of five parallel incisions that end in a kind of same position as in the photograph) (Fig. 7). 1 3 Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2022) 14:18 Page 9 of 29 18 Fig. 4 Examples of alteration by trampling. (a) Macrophoto and (b) by trampling, characterized by a shallow depth and parallel grooves. photomicrograph of marks on a bone surface caused by trampling. Photos: a by A. M. Mateo and b, c, and d by O. Rivero (c) SEM image of the same marks and (d) profile of the traces left that supposedly marks the vulvar cleft was deepened by Transitional Aurignacian a second movement with the tool and is wider than the others. CS5: sandstone pebble, El Castillo Level 18b. This object There are no arguments supporting a decorative intention has been described as a sandstone plaque, shaped and of the incision, but neither is there a functional explanation, engraved in the shape of a vulva (Cabrera et  al. 2005: as they are curved lines that can hardly be produced by a 505–526, Fig. 6b), although other authors express doubts grinding action, as can be seen for example in needle polish- about the symbolic nature of the incisions (Zilhâo and ers (de Beaune 2000, 2017). D’Errico 2003: 325). Regarding its attribution as a portable art object, it can The analysis of the object has determined that it is a be stated that its triangular shape is intentional and there triangular-shaped sandstone fragment with signs of being are no arguments in favor of considering it solely the pro- polished, probably because of a functional use as an duct of a functional activity. In the case of the incisions, abrader, grinder, or smoother (de Beaune 2000, 2017). It it similarly cannot be affirmed that they are the result of a was given its present triangular shape by abrasion on all functional action (Fig. 8). its surface and use-notches in the upper convex part. Sev- CS4: chisel fragment, El Castillo Level 18c. Metapodial eral grooves on one of its faces are difficult to define. In used as a chisel with three series of thin lines that have been the case of the upper incisions, their morphology suggests described as evidence of graphic activity by Tejero and that they were made from right to left. The direction of the Bernaldo de Quirós (2007–2008) owing to their regularity. action cannot be determined in the other cases. The width Nonetheless, the decorative nature of the marks has been and depth of the grooves are also unequal. The incision 1 3 18 Page 10 of 29 Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2022) 14:18 Fig. 5 El Castillo Level 20. Bipolar on-anvil quartzite core with mark, (c) battered surface with multiple incipient percussion cones, percussion marks interpreted by Cabrera et  al. (2005) as intentional (d) battered surface, and (e) battered surface corresponding to contact symbolic marks. (a) Percussion mark with depression, (b) percussion with the hammer or anvil. Photos: O. Rivero questioned by other scholars (Zilhâo and D’Errico 2003: The observation of the object has shown that the inci- 322), who state that these incisions were probably caused sions were caused by a single action and are shallow, with by filleting. lateral parasite striations, accidents, and flaking around the edges of the incision. Their morphology resembles the shape 1 3 Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2022) 14:18 Page 11 of 29 18 Fig. 6 Rib fragment from Cueva Morín in which the incisions of incisions (4 and 5) display an identical shape, suggesting a short inci- identical morphology and lateral parallel striations can be observed, sion sequence. Photos: O. Rivero as well as the deterioration of the bone surface. The profiles of the of marks caused by butchery activity. In this respect, it is identified on the edges of other bones like this one, which similar to the bone fragment from Morín attributed to the supports the hypothesis that they are cutmarks (Fig. 9). In Aurignacian (MO3): the cutmarks resemble engraved lines general terms, the object resembles a chisel found in Level with V-shaped profiles and which are narrow at each end. N at Axlor, which displays similar marks, possibly caused The irregularities in the edge of the cutting tool and the by cutting tendons (Mozota Holgueras 2012, p. 170). The action cause striations parallel to the marks. The fact that object also displays signs of surface scraping and polishing, they are so close to one another might indicate the cutting of probably connected with its use. tendons or filleting, as has been previously suggested (Zilhâo CS2: scapula fragment, El Castillo Level 18c. This is and D’Errico 2003). The cutmarks are in a similar direction, a scapula fragment with the depiction of an animal’s head towards the right and oblique, which is associated with a (Cabrera et al. 2005: 505–526, Fig. 5c). This front of the right-handed person (Abril 2012). The unequal depth of the animal was drawn with graphite according to the first infor - incisions indicates that the object probably held remains of mation that was published, although it was later said to be flesh when they were made. Similar marks have also been 1 3 18 Page 12 of 29 Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2022) 14:18 Fig. 7 Bone fragment from Cueva Morín. The marks of identical depth (0.013 cm). These may be explained as cutmarks made with a morphology were produced by two actions with the tool in two dif- blade, which are widest in the central part of the line. Photos: O. Riv- ferent sequences (1, 2). Their V-shaped incisions are of identical ero a pigment whose composition is still unknown (Tejero and Pellitero 2015). Trampling is hardly perceptible on the upper Bernaldo de Quirós 2007–2008). face, whereas on the other side, it has left small grooves and Despite its small size, the object displays numerous fine shallow striations caused by friction with particles in the taphonomic alterations: root damage, weathering and sediment, which can also favor fragmentation (Blasco et al. trampling, and recent fractures. It is also affected by physi- 2008; Domínguez-Rodrigo et al. 2009). The stains caused cal–chemical processes, namely precipitation of manganese. by precipitation of manganese are found on all surfaces of Weathering has affected mainly the upper face, flaking the the object in the form of disperse dark marks. The pres- bone surface and favoring fractures. This type of alteration ence of manganese oxide is associated with bacteria, which is caused by exposure to atmospheric agents and can cause feed on the bone, and humid conditions (Fernández Jalvo from flaking to the decomposition of the bone, leading to its et al. 2013). According to López-González et al. (2006), the fragmentation or disappearance (Behrensmeyer 1978; Mateo appearance of this mineral on the bone surface is not regular, 1 3 Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2022) 14:18 Page 13 of 29 18 Fig. 8 Sandstone pebble from El Castillo (CS5). The photomicrographs show both the smoothing that affects both sides of the object (1, 3, and 4), and marks of its shaping (3, notches in the concave upper edge, and 4, thinning of the reverse side of the object) and a detail of the grooves (2). Photos: O. Rivero and the intensity of the color depends on the degree to which of the incisions, which they consider to be root marks, after it is affected. In this case, this object closely resembles other the observation of photographs (Zilhâo and D’Errico 2003: bone remains affected by manganese oxide. Microscopic 324–325). observations show that the supposed figure of an animal’s The object displays numerous signs of taphonomic pro- head corresponds to stains which are probably also of man- cesses (root marks, precipitated manganese, etc.). It is also ganese that has become fixed particularly intensely in those affected by trampling, which has left shallow striations places where the bone surface is most altered, creating a over the whole surface. They are similar to the trampling false impression of a figurative depiction (Fig.  10). marks identified by Cáceres et al. (2012), with similar cur - CS6: hyoid bone fragment, El Castillo Level 18b. A limb vature and width, as well as internal striations in the lines and belly line of an indeterminate animal has been described (Fig.  11). Similar marks are found on the bone surface, on this hyoid fragment (Cabrera et  al. 2005: 505–526, although they are less visible because they are shallower. Fig. 6a). According to those researchers, it was drawn with The partial infilling of the marks with manganese has cre- a manganese “pencil” that created an engraving and fixed ated the false impression of a drawn line. It should also be the pigment. Other scholars question the anthropic nature borne in mind that if they were painted lines, the brush or 1 3 18 Page 14 of 29 Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2022) 14:18 Fig. 9 Metapodial fragment used as a chisel from El Castillo. (1) the bone surface. (6) Profile of the incision. The morphology of the Splintering of the distal part indicating its use as a chisel. (2) Series lines can be explained as the barb effect caused by filleting. Photos: of incisions. (3 and 5) Details of the traces, which display a similar O. Rivero shape to cutmarks 5, after Costamagno et  al. 2019. (4) Scraping of tool used would have been about 0.5 mm wide. The use of Observation of the bone shows that it is partially burnt. brushes or twiglets in Paleolithic art is very rare (Rivero The clear difference in coloring may be because the bone 2017), and they are never so thin. The same is true of was cooked without removing the flesh (Buikstra and Swe- drawings using a manganese pencil, as this pigment usu- gle 1989; Cain 2005; Yravedra 2006), although this cannot ally needs to be broken up and dissolved (Chalmin 2003). be demonstrated owing to the small size of the fragment. It was equally unlikely to have been drawn with a manga- The blackened part would have been in direct contact with nese pencil, as remains of similar pigment are seen outside the fire, whereas the rest of the fragment remained intact the groove caused by trampling. because it was covered by meat. The morphology of the The bone surface is also badly affected by roots, whose incisions is very similar, with lateral parasite striations. marks are characterized by variable length, width, and Their similarity to cutmarks on other objects is a determin- depth and are rounded with a U-shaped cross-section ing factor; the marks display the same morphology, with (Behrensmeyer 1978; Cáceres et al. 2012). greater depth in the central part of the incision. The posi- tion of the marks is also very similar, as well as the end of Aurignacian the line and its internal surface, which became narrower as the lithic tool advanced (Fig. 12). MO3: bone splinter with marks, Cueva Morín Level 5 inf. HP1: decorated horse frontal bone, Hornos de la This small piece of burnt bone displays a series of very Peña. This frontal bone from a horse is decorated with fine marks with a V-shaped profile. It has been described an engraving of the hind-quarters of the same animal. It by such researchers as S. Corchón (1986: 254) as a bone includes the limb, rump, and tail of the animal, as well as fragment with unsystematic incisions. some lines forming a reticulated shape superimposed on the 1 3 Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2022) 14:18 Page 15 of 29 18 Second, the analysis of the object from the technical and formal points of view shows that the object displays very deep incisions to draw the outline of the animal, and lines made with a single tool action, with a flat profile, for the internal fill of the figure. The formal analysis provides more data, as discontinuous marks were drawn for the internal line of the tail and a series of marks represent the hair at the end of the tail. These characteristics resemble motifs dated in the Middle Magdalenian, such as the bison engraved on a sperm whale tooth from Cueva de las Caldas (Rivero 2015) and a very similar representation engraved on a horse frontal bone from Isturitz (see Supplementary Information Figure S19). Gravettian A total of 26 portable art objects are known, of which 16 have been studied, including decorated bone tools. MO5: fish bone, Cueva Morín Level IV . This object, catalogued as a decorated bone awl by Barandiarán Maestu (1972: 148) and by S. Corchón (1986: 254), is in reality a bone from a large fish, possibly a sturgeon. This object has not been worked but is the natural shape of the bone, which was probably used because of its pointed end. Its stratigraphic provenience is uncertain, although both the excavators (González Echegaray and Freeman 1971) and I. Barandiarán (1972) and S. Corchón (1986) in their respec- tive catalogues of portable art attribute it to the Gravettian and Final Perigordian. The decoration consists of four angles Fig. 10 Scapula fragment from El Castillo. As can be seen in the and two convergent lines, located on the opposite end to the micrographs, the surface is badly affected by post-depositional pro- cesses (1, 2, and 3), and the manganese has fixed to the alteration point. They are technically similar, formed by marks made of the bone (4), creating the false impression of a depiction. (5) by two cuts with the tool to deepen the groove and create Evidence of the impregnation of manganese on bone remains (after a V- or U-shaped profile. However, the way of making the Marín-Arroyo et al. 2014). (6) Impregnation of manganese on a bone angles differs. In the one nearest the proximal end, the line (after Mateo Pellitero 2015). Photos: O. Rivero on the right was made before the one on the left, whereas in the other three, the line on the right was made second. figure of the horse (Fig.  13). This is a controversial object as Finally, the two longer lines start at the proximal end and it is the oldest object with figurative art known in Cantabrian converge to form a larger angle than the other ones (Fig. 14). Spain (and therefore in the whole Iberian Peninsula). The regularity of the incisions and the construction of the Problems in defining its chronological setting persisted angles suggest that these are not lines that respond to a func- until H. Obermaier’s excavation notes were found, as he tionality of the object. indicates the provenience of the object in a drawing of the CS7: pressure tool with figurative decoration, El Cas- stratigraphic section (Tejero et al. 2008: 120). Nonetheless, tillo Level 12. This pressure-flaking tool displays evidence new research in the section carried out by two of the present of impacts and numerous lines on both faces. It was also authors (OR and JRG) and the new study of the object have engraved with a figurative motif that has usually been con- raised doubts about its cultural attribution. First, it has been sidered the depiction of a feline (Barandiarán Maestu 1972; determined that the definition of the sequence proposed Corchón 1986) although other authors have suggested that by the early excavators was not fully correct as there are it is a bison (García-Díez and Ochoa 2012). more archaeological levels than they thought and, based on Despite the deficient conservation of the lines, as they the dates that have been obtained, the level considered by were retraced with a pencil after it was excavated, it can be Obermaier as Aurignacian-Solutrean formed over a very observed that the incisions were drawn with a single action long period and includes Gravettian levels that had not been with the tool, which has resulted in them being shallow and documented until now (Rios-Garaizar et al. 2020). hard to see. The representation consists of a short, wide 1 3 18 Page 16 of 29 Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2022) 14:18 Fig. 11 Hyoid fragment from El Castillo. The bone surface is altered by roots (2) and trampling (1 and 2). (3) Profile of the grooves, which consist of shallow parallel lines. (4) Evidence of trampling (after Cáceres et al. 2012). The manganese has become fixed inside the grooves caused by trampling, giving the false impression of representing a painted motif (1). Remains on the whole bone surface and the nature of the grooves means that the possibility that this is a case of an engraved and painted motif can be discarded. (5) Evidence of trampling. (6) Profile of the groove, which displays the same characteristics as those on Object CS6. Photos: O. Rivero head, a cervical-dorsal line that emphasizes the withers and has traditionally been thought to display the representa- the lumbar depression, the belly line, and two lines that seem tion of an anthropomorph on one of its faces (Corchón to represent a forelimb extended forwards. The shape of the 1986: 254). Microscopic analysis of the object reveals figure, together with such details as the high withers and the abundance of lines of different kinds, some of which proportion between the belly line and cervical-dorsal line, may amount to a human figure. However, the nature of the means that it can undoubtedly be considered a feline and lines, made by a single action with the engraving tool and the interpretation as a bison can be discarded. Numerous which do not join up to make a complete picture of the engraved lines can be observed on the other face without figure, together with their shallowness and fineness, sug- forming an apparent motif (Fig. 15). gest that the figure should be taken with precaution since MO6: compressor with figurative decoration, Cueva it might be the fortuitous result of a series on involuntary Morín Level IV. Shale compressor with evidence of use on incisions produced during the use of the object (Fig. 16). both faces, in the form of impacts and numerous marks. It 1 3 Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2022) 14:18 Page 17 of 29 18 Fig. 12 Partially burnt bone splinter from Cueva Morín. The inci- Pellitero 2015). (7) Profile of the incision, showing the shallow depth sions were made with a single cutting action, display lateral stria- and V-shaped morphology, with lateral striations. (8) Profile of an tions, and are narrower at the ends of the line (1, 2, and 3); a mor- incision with the same characteristics. Photos: O. Rivero phology that can be equated with cutmarks (4, 5, and 6, after Mateo pebble used as a core and as a percussion tool, with six Objects without an archaeological context decorated faces, where the cortex was not removed by the extractions (Fig.  17). There are numerous lines in those PE7: engraved pebble with uncertain archaeological prove- areas, and some of them were probably caused by striking nience, Cueva de El Pendo. Research in the MUPAC located the pebble. Others are undoubtedly intentional, and parts an object from a disturbed level in Profile 3 in Cueva de El of figurative representations can be appreciated. It can be Pendo, found in J. Carballo’s excavations. This is a lutite 1 3 18 Page 18 of 29 Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2022) 14:18 represent the limbs and the rectangular connection between them. This convention is seen in similar Gravettian repre- sentations at Isturitz and Gargas (Rivero and Garate 2014; Garate et al. 2020). These are also normally drawn on peb- bles (see Supplementary Information Figure S10). The pres- ence of this convention suggests an attribution based on for- mal criteria in the Gravettian. Discussion The Middle and Upper Paleolithic were key periods for the development of symbolic behavior among extant and extinct species (Homo sapiens, Neandertals, and Denisovans). The Fig. 13 Engraved frontal bone from Hornos de la Peña. Photo and tracing: O. Rivero earliest documented evidence of such behavior is repre- sented by portable art (decorated objects) and ornaments. Therefore, portable art is very important to understand the deduced that the pebble was fully engraved and then used, origin and function of the graphic expression of symbolic which destroyed part of the decoration. thought (d’Errico et al. 2001; Conard 2003; Zilhâo 2012; From the technical point of view, the incisions were made Henshilwood et al. 2018). The Cantabrian Region is one of with a single tool movement, which created fine, shallow the key places to investigate cultural developments in the lines. One of the representations, while only a partial figure, Middle and Upper Paleolithic thanks to its important record is characterized by a conventionalism observed in Gravet- of Neandertal and Homo sapiens sites (Mousterian, Châtelp- tian depictions in the South of France. It is the lower half erronian, Aurignacian, and Gravettian), but intriguingly the of an indeterminate animal, of which only the chest line, portable art from these sites had never been studied in detail. forelimbs, and belly line are preserved (Fig. 18). The par- As a result, there was a corpus of information that lacked a ticularity of the figure lies in the frontal perspective used to systematic analysis and description using updated methods. Fig. 14 Awl made from a fish bone decorated with chevrons found in Cueva Morín. The natural point of the object can be appreciated (4) and the end where it can be observed that this is a fish bone (5). Photos: O. Rivero. Tracing: S. Salazar 1 3 Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2022) 14:18 Page 19 of 29 18 In this paper, we have tried to reassess some of the least and displays traces that cannot be interpreted as diagenetic well-known pieces and some of the more problematic and/ or functional, and consequently this is probably another or controversial putative portable art objects from Middle example of symbolic graphic expression. Considering all Paleolithic, Aurignacian, and Gravettian sites in the Canta- this, the evidence from the Cantabrian Region reinforces brian Region. the idea that the Neandertals displayed a restricted graphic Most of the pieces attributed to Neandertals, namely symbolic expression, consisting of non-figurative series of those corresponding to the Middle Paleolithic and Tran- engravings, as seen in other regions (Pesturina Cave, Majkić sitional Aurignacian (probably a particular variety of the et al. 2017 or Quneitra, Shaham et al. 2019, among others), Mousterian; Rios-Garaizar 2012), have been discarded as and which can be equated with the few parietal engravings portable art after the re-analysis. This is the case of CS1, attributed to the Mousterian (Gorham’s Cave, for example, CS2, CS4, CS6, and MO2. In all these cases, diagenetic Rodríguez-Vidal et al. 2014). alterations, butchery marks, or technical traces have been Regarding the Aurignacian, we have discarded as porta- misinterpreted by the original authors as intentional sym- ble art the piece from Cueva Morín Level 5 (MO3), and we bolic marks. This may also be the case of the marks on the also harbor serious doubts about the attribution to the Aurig- pebble from Axlor Level VIII (García-Díez et al. 2013b), nacian of the piece from Hornos de la Peña. Firstly, the way which probably have a functional explanation (see Rios- it is made and the graphic conventions used suggest that Garaizar 2017). However, there is one artifact analyzed it could be [Middle] Magdalenian, and secondly the new here (MO1), and one piece from Axlor Level N (Mozota excavations in the cave suggest that the level of provenience, Holgueras 2012), that could be interpreted as a decorated Level II, comprises a complex sequence including several bone. The piece from Cueva Morín (MO1) was recovered in layers of difficult attribution, some of them dated to the the deepest level of the sequence (Level 22) below several Gravettian (Rios-Garaizar et al. 2020). Also, Unit 5, which barren layers (18–21), which included a thick speleothem appeared to be in the position of upper Level II, has been (Level 21). The level has never been dated, and the recovered dated in the Middle Magdalenian and displays clear evi- material was too scarce to characterize it, but given its strati- dence of disturbance and admixture, creating some doubts graphic position and the fact that it was sealed by a speleo- about the context of the engraved piece. In consequence, the them (usually formed during interglacial periods: MIS5 or remaining evidence of Aurignacian portable art in the Can- MIS7), it is quite likely that this level can be attributed to the tabrian Region can be reduced to the engraved slabs from regional Early Middle Paleolithic. The engraved bone was Covalejos (Sanguino González and Montes Barquín 2005), not identified or described in the first monographs (González and the more dubious examples from Labeko Koba Level Echegaray et al. 1971), but it was mentioned shortly after VII (García-Díez and Arrizabalaga Valbuena 2000) and the (González Echegaray and Freeman 1976). The authors engraved slab from Aitzbitarte III Level Vb Central (Garate described the marks as “hunting marks” but doubted that and Rios-Garaizar 2011). they were produced during the Middle Paleolithic, so they Series of lines and compositions of incisions and notches professed that they never dared to undoubtedly attribute this are found in Aurignacian portable art in Europe (for exam- bone to Level 22. For this reason, the artifact was curated ple, at Isturitz, Normand 2007; Gargas, San Juan et al. 2007; in the MUPAC under the label of “unknown stratigraphic and Trou Magrite, Lejeune 2007) also including the coloring provenance.” This naturally creates some doubts about the of the objects (Abri Pataud, Chiotti et al. 2007). However, stratigraphic attribution of the remain, but after carefully abundant figurative portable art objects and geometric signs reading the published monographs, we do not find any argu- (Dutkiewicz 2021, Dutkiewicz et al. 2018, 2020) have been ment against considering this object as coming from Level documented at a number of Central European sites from 22 and therefore attribute it to Neandertals. In fact there are the first moments of the period (Conard 2003; Broglio et al. some similarities with the engraved bone from Axlor Level 2006). In contrast, in parietal art, fewer cases are known N, which was described by Mozota Holgueras (2012). It can and are particularly concentrated in the Dordogne (White also be compared with other osseous artifacts with organized et al. 2012), Ardèche (Chauvet, Quiles et al. 2016; Aldène, marks that have been interpreted as graphic representations Ambert et  al. 2005; and Baume-Latrone, Azéma et  al. (d’Errico and Vanhaeren 1999; Zilhâo and D’Errico 2003), 2012), and Italy (Grotta di Fumane, Broglio and Dalmeri such as the bones engraved with parallel marks found at 2005, Broglio et al. 2007). Nonetheless, the low resolution La Ferrassie (France) (Capitan and Peyrony 1921), Oldis- of direct and indirect dating methods and the methodologi- leben (Germany) (Bednarik 2006), Temnata (Bulgaria) cal issues for both U/Th and 14C AMS systems and their (Crémades et al. 1995), Bacho-Kiro (Kozlowski 1992), and limited application to motifs potentially attributable to this Nesher Ramla (Israel) (Prévost et al. in press). In the same period are factors that may be causing an underestima- sense, object CS5 recovered in El Castillo Level 18b shows tion of the parietal phenomenon. In the case of Cantabrian evidence of intentional shaping to create a triangular form Spain, several indicators (archaeological contexts, parietal 1 3 18 Page 20 of 29 Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2022) 14:18 1 3 Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2022) 14:18 Page 21 of 29 18 ◂Fig. 15 Pressure-flaking tool with figurative decoration from El Cas- are some examples as we have mentioned above. In dif- tillo. (1) Detail of the belly line. (2) Detail of the lumbar depression. ferent works, it has been noted the existence of, at least, (3) Profile of the belly line incision. (4) Profile of the lumbar depres- four very distinct traditions in the European Aurignacian sion incision. The shallowness of the line and its V-shaped profile can art (Jura Swabia, Dordogne, SE France, and in northern be appreciated in both cases. Photos and tracing: O. Rivero Italy) (Ortega et al. 2015) and major differences in orna- ment production (White 2007); this suggests that there is stratigraphies, 14C AMS and U/Th dates, and stylistic com- not a unique symbolic expression during the Aurignacian, parison), when considered as a whole, support an Aurigna- despite the similarities in other cultural products such as cian phase for both figurative (at Tito Bustillo, Altxerri B, lithic or bone technology. Maybe, the absence of clear La Garma and Pondra) and non-figurative decoration (at La graphic manifestations in the Cantabrian Aurignacian is Viña and El Conde). Their importance would thus be signifi- an expression of a particular symbolic behavior which left cantly greater than the examples of portable art. almost no traces in the archaeological record. However, It is difficult to explain the absence of portable art some new findings, such as the recently published slabs in the Aurignacian sites from the Cantabrian Region. from the Aurignacian levels of Covalejos cave (Montes Despite numerous sites have yielded Aurignacian assem- Barquín and Sanguino González 2021), could change this blages (Garate-Maidagan et al. 2015, Marín-Arroyo et al. interpretation in the future. 2018), very few pieces of indisputable portable art have In the Gravettian, the situation is similar as regards utili- been identified there. It is true also that there are few tarian objects made from antler and bone, which are usua- evidences of other symbolic expressions, such as orna- lly decorated with series of parallel incisions and notches, ments, in those sites, and regarding the parietal art, there probably connected with the functionality of the artifacts. Fig. 16 Compressor from Cueva Morín. The object displays numer- ure. However, the profiles of the incisions (3 and 4) reveal their vary - ous lines, many of them parasites. Other shallow incisions made by a ing cross-sections and depth. Photos and tracing: O. Rivero single cutting action (1 and 2) appear to form an anthropomorph fig- 1 3 18 Page 22 of 29 Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2022) 14:18 Fig. 17 Pebble from a disturbed level in Cueva de El Pendo, engraved and used as a core and hammerstone. It displays engravings on six faces, some of which are undoubtedly figurative. Photos and tracings: O. Rivero In contrast, the first figurative representations appear on mine- figurative parietal art in the region. For the object from El ral objects, particularly the objects from Antoliñako Koba Castillo, we can cite the felines at Altxerri B (González (Aguirre Ruiz De Gopegui and González Sainz 2011) and Sainz et al. 2013) and Tito Bustillo (Balbín-Behrmann et al. El Castillo (Barandiarán Maestu 1972), to which the peb- 2017). For the hind at Antoliñako Koba, resemblances with ble from El Pendo presented here may be added. These are the dotted hind depictions have been noted (Aguirre Ruiz utilitarian lithic objects with simple decoration, made with De Gopegui and González Sainz 2011). In the case of the incisions involving a single tracing with the tool in most pebble from El Pendo, as well as the portable parallelisms cases, which indicates that portable art in this period did not mentioned above, parietal examples are known at Aitzbi- involve complex technical notions, as would occur in later tarte III (Garate et al. 2020), Alkerdi 2 (Garate et al. 2017), periods (Rivero 2017). The subject matter of these depic- Cussac (Aujoulat et al. 2002), Gargas (Barrière 1976), and tions concurs with the first evidence of pre-Magdalenian Cosquer (Clottes et al. 2005). 1 3 Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2022) 14:18 Page 23 of 29 18 determination of graphic analogies can be observed in the type of incisions, in their numbers, or in the type of objects. For the Upper Paleolithic, this study has shown that the production of true decorated objects did not begin in the Cantabrian region until the Gravettian, when we find repre- sentations unconnected with functional processes on both osseous and lithic objects, and also the r fi st g fi urative motifs that show significant parallelisms with parietal representa- tions. The Aurignacian evidence is doubtful in general, espe- cially the engravings on osseous objects, as in most cases these are taphonomic marks or found on remains with seri- ous issues as regards their stratigraphic attribution. Only a few cases of groups of lines and non-figurative marks can Fig. 18 One of the decorated faces of the pebble showing how it was be definitely assigned to this period. used as a hammerstone (1) and a detail of a representation of an inde- This seems to support other forms of evidence, such as terminate quadruped, characterized by the frontal depiction of the parietal art and the archaeological record. The scarce and forelimbs with a linear connection (2). Photos: O. Rivero heterogeneous Aurignacian artistic production is unevenly distributed in the region, and while the record increases in Figurative portable art became fully consolidated during the Gravettian, it remains limited. the Gravettian, with a large concentration of sites in Cen- Supplementary Information The online version contains supplemen- tral Europe (Svoboda 1997) and with a wide distribution tary material available at https://doi. or g/10. 1007/ s12520- 021- 01488-w . of particular types of representations, such as the so-called Venus figurines, from Siberia to the Pyrenees (Gaudzinski- Acknowledgements The authors would like to thank the responsible Windheuer and Jöris 2015). The same phenomenon has been and curators of the Museo de Prehistoria y Arqueología de Canta- documented in parietal art in the whole of Western Europe, bria (MUPAC) for their help in locating the pieces involved in the study. The authors thank M. Cueto for identifying the Morín piece from Italy to Portugal (Petrognani and Robert 2019). Indeed, (MO5) as a fish bone. Cantabrian Spain participates fully in this abundant parietal artistic production and shares graphic resources at an inter- Funding Open Access funding provided thanks to the CRUE-CSIC regional level (Garate et al. 2020). In contrast, figurative agreement with Springer Nature. The study presented in this paper was portable art is much scarcer and, for example, Venus figu- funded by the research project of the Spanish Science Ministry “Learn- ing and developing artistic skills in anatomically modern humans: a rines are unknown in the Cantabrian region. Figurative art multidisciplinary approach” HAR2017-87739-P, led by Olivia Rivero. on portable objects would not develop significantly until the Lower Magdalenian (Corchón 2004), and in fact, it did not Data availability Not applicable. reach the importance of proximate regions, like the Pyrenees or Dordogne, at any time in the Upper Paleolithic. Code availability Not applicable. Declarations Conclusions Ethics approval Not applicable. The results of the present study, obtained by the microscopic analysis of the objects, support a reappraisal of the emer- Conflict of interest The authors declare no competing interests. gence of portable graphic activity in Cantabrian Spain. 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Journal

Archaeological and Anthropological SciencesSpringer Journals

Published: Jan 1, 2022

Keywords: Portable art; Middle Paleolithic; Early Upper Paleolithic; Taphonomy; Microscopic analysis; Cantabrian Region

References