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Bertan > Bertan 15 Los orígenes del arte en Gipuzkoa > Ingeles bertsioa: Life in the caves. Subsistence

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Life in the caves. Subsistence

22. Caves at Aitzbitarte (Rentería), occupied during the Upper Palaeolithic.© Jesús Altuna
22. Caves at Aitzbitarte (Rentería), occupied during the Upper Palaeolithic.© Jesús Altuna
23. Present-day deer.© Xabi Otero
23. Present-day deer.© Xabi Otero
24. Present-day stag and doe in a wood.
24. Present-day stag and doe in a wood.

In such conditions, caves – especially those with south or east-facing entrances – provided magnificent shelters for the groups of people living in the region. There were probably also open-air dwellings, but the perishable nature of such huts, coupled with the thick vegetation in the region make them much more difficult to detect.

Many caves in Gipuzkoa were inhabited by these early hunters and gatherers during the period. They include Aitzbitarte in Errenteria, Altxerri in Aia, Erralla in Zestoa, Ekain, Urtiaga and Ermittia in Deba, and Iruroin and Langatxo in Mutriku.

26. Rocky escarpments in Izarraitz, where Ekain man went to hunt ibexes.© Xabi Otero
26. Rocky escarpments in Izarraitz, where Ekain man went to hunt ibexes.© Xabi Otero

As to the means of subsistence of the cave dwellers, because of the fragility of the remains we can tell little of their vegetable foodstuffs, although methods of searching and collecting are now beginning to be applied that will gradually fill this gap in our knowledge. We have more information on food of animal origin, since the bones of many of the animals they ate have been preserved in good condition and form the greater part of the remains of food unearthed in the digs. These remains came mainly from the hoofed mammals that roamed the area around the dwelling place, as well as some birds.

27. Present day ibex.© Xabi Otero - Iñaki Zorrakin
27. Present day ibex.© Xabi Otero - Iñaki Zorrakin

There was an abundance of deer and ibexes. These two species formed the main animal foodstuff of the Magdalenian inhabitants of Gipuzkoa. While the animal remains from the Middle Palaeolithic show that the people practised opportunistic and occasional hunting, exploiting all the hoofed animals in their ecosystem, later we see more specialised hunting, and this becomes even more accentuated in the Magdalenian era.

In coastal sites and sites located near areas of gentle relief this specialisation consisted of deer-hunting. On occasions there was “super-specialisation”, as is the case of the Lower Magdalenian in the Ekain cave, which was inhabited during the warmer months of the year as a hide for hunting does which had recently given birth and their fawns.

Evidence gleaned from sites located near rocky outcrops suggests a specialisation in ibexes. Naturally, there are sites where, because of the location, the two specialisations coexisted. Thus, whereas during the Lower Magdalenian at Ekain the people exploited the areas near the site and the land adjoining Urola, downstream, where the deer were abundant, during the Upper Magdalenian they went to the rocky escarpments of Agido and the spurs of Izarraitz to hunt ibexes.

Fishing formed another source of food for the Magdalenian people – as evidenced by the fish bones discovered in the digs – though to a much more limited extent than hunting. There are also cave paintings of some of the river and sea fish that lived in the estuaries, such as those found in Ekain and Altxerri.

Shellfish still played a relatively unimportant part in their diet: as we have said, the coast was a long way from the sites which have been excavated so far. It was only when the coast came closer as a result of thawing of the continental ice-cap and the consequent arrival of immense amounts of water to the sea, that these cave dwellers began to gather shellfish in significant quantities. Evidence of this can be seen in the shell hoards which appear in the post-Palaeolithic levels of our digs.

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