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TRACCE no. 13 – by Past Signs and present Memories project

The recent discovery of an important prehistoric art complex in the Iberian Peninsula, in the Guadiana valley, imposes itself as a reason for joy, but also for concern, from the archaeologists and European citizens.

13 – April 2001 special issue devoted to the Guadiana Rock Art



The recent discovery of an important prehistoric art complex in the Iberian Peninsula, in the Guadiana valley, imposes itself as a reason for joy, but also for concern, from the archaeologists and European citizens.

This discovery is of a major relevance for Europe, and it must be studied and protected. This last few years, in Europe, our vision of prehistoric art has experienced unexpected discoveries. This was the case of the Chauvet and Cosquer caves in France, that led us to rethink themes, styles and chronologies. It was, namely, the case of the archaeological complex of Foz Coa in Portugal, that generated a new perspective of Palaeolithic art, revealing that the upper Palaeolithic men decided to humanise the whole landscape, and that art was a human expression as strong in the open air than it was in caves. A reality confirmed now in other areas, like further south, near the Tagus river (the Ocreza valley, where an archaeological park is being organised).

It is the case, now, of the archaeological complex of Guadiana, in Spain and Portugal, which is still poorly known, but benefits from a very detailed contextualisation, product of several years of intensive research over many sites, from the Palaeolithic to the Bronze age.

The carvings of Guadiana enable us to better understand the relation of prehistoric art with its wider cultural context. It is also the opportunity to review the artistic cycles of the great rivers of western Iberia, of which the major Tagus complex remains under an artificial lake for the last 27 years. The Guadiana may be related to the Tagus complex, at the level of the art, but also of the middle Holocene sites, thus casting new light on the issues related to the origins of agro-pastoralism in the Iberian Peninsula.

The systematic study of this reality has an importance that goes beyond the national frontiers, and imposes itself as essential for the understanding of how, in this zone of Europe, and through a long and diversified sequence of periods, has been produced the artistic expression of people that lived there, while the major prehistoric sacred areas of our continent were carved, as the Mont Bego in France, Valcamonica in Italy, the Boyne valley in Ireland or Bohuslaan in Sweden.

To better understand this reality and to present it to the wider public is a responsibility of prehistorians, namely in the context of building the European Union of cultures and citizens. The project “Past Signs and Present memories”, that integrates the undersigned institutions, addresses this responsibility, through building a network of data-bases on European Prehistoric Art and its dissemination, with the support of the European Commission (Programme Culture 2000).

The partners in the project, meeting in Ravello (Italy), take the decision to contact the responsibles for the Guadiana valley research, offering the projects’ resources and their collaboration for the various stages of work. In particular, we may integrate the results of the research in the European data-base on -line, thus contributing for its fast dissemination.

Being aware that the complex will be submerged by an artificial lake, we consider that the European prehistoric art researchers should collaborate with their Portuguese and Spanish colleagues in the intensive study and possible rescue of the threatened complex, reinforcing the national teams already in place. We consider this not to be a task for small teams or for a too short period of time.

We estimate that the Portuguese government, who is responsible for building the dam, and has to its credit having saved the complex of Foz Coa, will understand that the Guadiana, from an European perspective, has a similar dimension and importance. Even if the dam is, apparently, irreversible, it’s fundamental that the art be studied by multidisciplinary and international teams, for the matters of recording and comparing the complex in its European framework, before it may be submerged.

We also consider that the company building the dam (EDIA) should enable the rock art studies to be pursued with time and resources to the level of this discovery, namely by reinforcing the budget available.

This is our duty as Europeans, since memory remains the major basis for European identity, and its preservation is not to be dissociated from the building of the European Union.

Agreed and signed in Ravello, May the 5th, 2001

  • Luiz Oosterbeek (Instituto Politecnico de Tomar – PT)
  • Hipolito Collado Giraldo (Asociación Cultural Colectivo Barbaón – ES)
  • Juan Manuel Vicent Garcia (Departamento de Prehistoria, Instituto de Historia del C.S.I.C. – ES)
  • Andrea Arcà – Angelo Fossati (Cooperativa Archeologica le Orme dell’Uomo – IT)
  • Dario Seglie (Centro Studi e Museo Arte Preistorica di Pinerolo – IT)
  • Laurence Remacle (Université de Liège – BE)
  • Göran Burenhult (Gotland University – SW)
  • Eugenia Apicella (Centro Universitario Europeo per i Beni Culturali)

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