FOR many of us here in Andalucia it is not news that we are amongst some of the most spectacular and evocative historical sites in all of Europe, if not the world.
Granada’s Alhambra, Cordoba’s Mezquita and Sevilla’s Cathedral take a back seat to no-one in splendor and architectural heritage.
What is less well known in our backyard however Andalucia’s rich legacy of prehistoric sites.
By prehistory, I am referring to that period of time that begins with the appearance of human beings (about 1.3 million years ago), and concludes with the transition to man’s ability to write, record events and fashion tools.
In the unspoiled corner of varied landscapes of northeastern Granada, in that area known as the Altiplano region, an impressive record of ‘prehistory’ awaits those willing to explore.
Let me explain… It takes an act of will to get to the paleontological sites in and around the pueblo of Orce but the effort is well worth it.
Orce’s setting near the banks of an ancient lake favors the preservation of unique fossil and faunal remains.
It is a rich environment where horse, deer, elk, hippo, elephant, saber-toothed tiger and hyena remains have been found and rival those of East Africa.
These remains are evidence of pre-continental drift and the varied nature of the deposit sites gives Orce the distinction as perhaps the most important paleontological site in all of Europe.
In addition, a fragment of the controversial ‘Orce-Man’ — a hominoid found in 1982 — is hailed by some as the oldest fossilized human remains found in Europe (1.3 million years old!).
The Museum of Prehistory and Paleontology, a classic 16th Century Baroque palace, houses the exhibits.
The Altiplano region of Granada has a rich corpus of prehistoric rock art and cave paintings as well.
Not far from Orce, the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Los Letreros de los Martires (near Huescar), Los Grajos (in near-by Puebla de Don Fadrique) and the cave paintings at Abrigo Cueva de Los Letreros (in Velez-Blanco) provide an exceptional glimpse into the period of human cultural evolution from about 6000 B.C. onwards.
Scenes of hunting and gathering, early agriculture, combat, personal deities, ornamentation and domestic life — all represented from these local sites — go a long way to interpreting early man’s mythology, social organization, economies, gender roles and even their ecological concerns.
Flash forward a mere 2,500 years or so to that cultural transformative period known as the Neolithic or Copper Age (3rd millennium BC).
There is no paucity of Neolithic burial sites in and around the small pueblo of Gorafe, located about half way between Baza and Guadix. In a 20km stretch along the scenic Gor River, a total of 242 dolmens, or megalithic tombs, make this area as one of the most important and extraordinary Copper Age sites in all of Europe.
The privileged position of the Gor River and the tomb construction details suggest trade and communication routes existed between the Altiplano and the far reaches of northern Europe (think Stonehenge) and the many dolmen sites in Scandinavia.
The fantastic badland and mountain scenery, the extensive hiking trail system and the new high-tech information center make the Gorafe site an especially enriching destination.
The Argaric Culture, (approx.1800-1300B.C.) was characterized by its early adoption of bronze which, when worked for weapons and jewelry, allowed for local dominance over surrounding Copper Aged populations.
In a 15km area between Castellon Alto and La Balunca (near Castillejar) there are nine Bronze Age sites with an interpretive center in nearby Galera.
Unlike the Gorafe sites, there appeared to be little communication with northern peoples but interestingly, as their pottery, glass beads, metallurgy and textiles might suggest, there was extensive contact with the Egyptian Empire to the south.
Iberian Culture, from which this peninsula gets its name, is most often been associated with bridging the gap between “prehistory” and the entrance to the domain of written history.
Vestiges of the Carthaginians, Greeks, Phonetians and Celtic influences called the Iberian Peninsula home but in the 4th century B.C., Rome began to rise as a Mediterranean power and the concept of “modern recorded history” began to take form.
There are remnants of (3) large oppidas, or Iberic towns, in the Altiplano region—Molata de Casa Vieja and Tutgi near Galera, and Basti in Baza. From the latter, the iconic Dama de Baza sculpture was discovered in 1971.
Although the symbol of Iberian culture is now housed in Madrid’s National Archeological Museum, the Baza Museum and Interpretation Center features (8) exhibition halls with Iberic artifacts replete with the state of the art audio visual technology for the curious museographers.
All the prehistory sites mentioned above are within a 65 km radius of each other.
To be sure, there may be more developed, better preserved and more extensive prehistory enclaves in other parts of Europe.
However, I submit that those sites in the spectacular setting of Granada’s Altiplano, offers the most concentrated yet comprehensive time-line array of prehistory sites perhaps on the planet.
For those of us who enjoy thinking in different time frames, this lost corner of Andalusia is a profound discovery.
It gives new perspective to the aforementioned Alhambra, Mezquita and Cathedral in that they venture outside the consensus psychology of written history.
Enjoy and travel safe…
Us citizen Jack is spending the first years of his retirement in Almeria. His articles have been published in Spain and the US.