Galician Petroglyphs in the valley of the river Lérez, Pontevedra

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Deers, daggers and tracks

TRACCE no. 3 – by Antonio Alvarez Nuñez

During the Prehistoric Stage the cultural heritage of Galicia was enriched with artistic demonstrations that are extremely striking, due to their strength of personality, art that is exposed to the open air: petroglyphs.

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Deers and concentric circles from Cogoludo

The highest concentration is found in the province of Pontevedra, in the valley of the river Lerez, where the present day boroughs of Cotobade and Campolameiro coincide.

The carvings are found on granite rocks, all in the southern slope of the “outeiros” (small granite hills) with a dominant, clear view of its surroundings. Another characteristic is their proximity to water, streams, springs and preferably “brañas”, areas of land where rainwater has accumulated, forming small pools that do not dry up completely until well into summer, which become good pasture land where it is not uncommon even today to see animals openly grazing. A new aspect of these rocks is that they have sunlight without receiving shade from surrounding terrain. Also, it must be pointed out that they they do not stand out and they are not visible from a distance. Because of erosion, the transverse profiles of the etchings are like a large letter “U”, very open, whose bottom and edges are worn and smooth to the touch.

The greatest concentration of petroglyphs is found between 200 and 400m above sea level.

The thematic variety falls within a schematic style that ranges from the completely abstract to semi-schematism, although a few figures may be considered figurative or naturalist.

Petroglyphs contain motifs that are circular and extremely varied, sometimes producing combinations of various circles with great formal complexity, cup marks, weapons, labyrinths, deers, horses, swastikas, metalworking hammers, snakes, anthropomorphs, crosses, sketches of animal hooves, idols; all with an endless variety of shapes and sizes. Some depict scenes of day to day life-hunting, horse-riding, sheep farming, while others show animal behaviour, mating, fighting etc. However, in other scenes, the representations are so abstract that their meaning is completely incomprehensible, like groups of concentric circles joined together with lines that spread out from the cup-marks.

In some occasions there are only one or two figures carved in the rock, while in the other occasion all of the surface is covered. The circular figures are found in the centre while the deer & human figures have been carved around the borders, coinciding with the edge of the rock. All of the groups of concentric circles stand out from the rest of the figures as they are etched more deeply and on protuberances of the rocks, thus being illuminated by the sun before.

With reference to the associations it does not appear that there is any established criteria; in some rocks there are only carvings with a single theme while in others we may find the complete thematic range.

We have determined the chronology by means of some of the themes represented that give us relative dating. All them (cylindrical idols, with or without facial tattoos, daggers, & short swords) represents models that are found in the archaeological record between the final decades of the III millennium and the first two or three centuries of the II millennium Before Christ. The rest of the figures associated with these and forming scenes with the others cannot have a different chronology.

Deers, daggers and tracks

With regard to their meaning, it appears logical to look for a magical/religious explanation, fulfilling special conditions concerning solar illumination and the non-use of adjacent rocks that do not fulfil these conditions, like proximity to water.
Representations of animal behaviour, such as mating or the singular emphasis on the sexual attributes of the male in a disproportionate size, would indicate a rite that is magical – religious, in which ideas of magic, solar cults, hunting and fertility come into play.

On the other hand, the representation of the human figure in riding scenes, hunting, wielding metallic weapons and even the representation of the weapons alone, seems to indicate the existence of an elite in a society with a clear tendency towards hierarchy that reaffirms its power through the representation of activities of social prestige. Hierachisation and social stratification that also appears in the archaeological record from the same period.

All of this would appear to be telling us about a society with an agrarian based economy in a phase of settlement, in which gathering and fishing continue to have an important position and in which can be seen the beginnings of social stratification and hierarchy.


Av. Jose Antonio, 84,2 – 27330 – Pobra de Brollón – LUGO – España


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