A TOUR OF COVA DOS MOUROS
In July 2017, a number of hikers informed the Spanish Civil Guard’s Nature Protection Service (SEPRONA) and the Galician Autonomous Government’s General Directorate of Cultural Heritage of the existence of what were possibly prehistoric paintings inside a small cave known as the “Cova dos Mouros”, in the municipality of Baleira. Inspection work carried out on the initiative of the Galician Autonomous Government (Xunta de Galicia), confirmed that they were examples of rock art, presumably dating back to the Post-Palaeolithic period, of immense heritage value as at the time, and apart from its megalithic art sites, they were the only example of paintings dating back to this period recorded in Galicia.
Cova dos Mouros is located in the village of Santiago de A Fontaneira (Baleira, Lugo), at an altitude of 870 metres, nestling in the western foothills of the Serra da Lastra mountain range and east of the O Pozo and O Miradoiro mountain ranges. The site consists of a small cave some 21.5 metres deep. The entrance and longitudinal shaft face north-northwest, providing shelter from the blustery southern winds which are particularly strong during the autumn and winter months.
The interior of Cova dos Mouros has a slight funnel shape. It is 6.60 m wide and 3.15 m high at the entrance. As we make our way inside the cave, the walls gradually narrow and the roof becomes lower.
The cave walls and ceilings are made of quartz in tones ranging from light grey to black and even red in those areas where the presence of oxides is greater. The rock is interspersed with numerous quartz seams, which are generally only a few centimetres wide. Slate can also be seen in this site at the bottom of the walls next to the quartz.
The roof and walls are in varying states of conservation. In comparative terms, the walls are in a better condition than the roof. The East wall, where the paintings are situated, is relatively well-conserved, although certain sections are chipped, which may mean that some of the figures have disappeared. The West wall, which is less exposed to sunlight, has suffered the greatest degree of deterioration, and much of its surface is covered with lichen and moss.
The paintings identified to date cover the East wall of the cave and are located between the small sub-vertical panels formed by the complex quartz interface. This distribution appears to be principally exterior and extends upwards, covering much of the wall, from the top to relatively low levels (around 1 m from the current floor, or 1.5 m from the original natural floor).
To date, red is the only colour that has been identified as corresponding to prehistoric paint. The colorimetric analysis reveals a reasonable degree of evenness, and would appear to match pigment compositions that were common in prehistoric paint (haematites). However, different tones can be observed in specific areas that may correspond to paintings created over various periods. The painting technique appears to be a simple application of previously mixed pigment directly onto the stone (probably using fingers, judging by the thickness of the strokes). Certain sections appear to have been painted using a stamp technique and some details even indicate the use of brushes.
A provisional total of eleven panels with prehistoric paint have been identified. They all feature mainly semi-circular symbols (and occasionally angular strokes), which were generally painted horizontally although some also appear to form vertical waves. Some of the images look like anthropomorphic figures or even idols, whilst in other cases it is unfortunately almost impossible to identify any specific themes.
An article providing an in-depth description of the cave and the archaeological excavation work carried out can be found at the following link: