Newly-discovered Spanish cave art depicts honey-gathering

Levantine art is found within rock shelters along the Mediterranean side of the Iberian Peninsula, and date between c. 10,000 and 4,000 BC.

A collection of Mesolithic Levantine cave art has been discovered at a rock shelter in Castellote, in the province of Tereul, Spain. The paintings include elaborate and well-preserved depictions of hunting and honey-gathering activities.

Levantine rock art is the largest collection of prehistoric figurative art in Europe. The paintings are found within rock shelters along the Mediterranean side of the Iberian Peninsula, and date between c. 10,000 and 4,000 BC. The art was collectively declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998.

As part of an ongoing project led by Professor Inés Domingo of the University of Barcelona, and in collaboration with the Jaume I University and the Polytechnic University of Madrid, researchers are exploring Levantine art through systematic 3D digital recording, physiochemical pigment analysis, and comparative studies with other prehistoric rock paintings across the globe.

Whilst exploring the Barranco Gómez rock shelter, situated near the Guadalupe river, the researchers came across a series of painted motifs spread across 12.5m of the cave wall, in three separate sections.

Figure of person climbing to collect honey on a looped rope ladder. Image: Martínez, Domingo, Angás Pajas, 2021.

According to their research, published in Trabajos de Prehistoria, the scenes have been dated to around 5500 BC.

In the first section, painted across the wall and ceiling of the cave is a figure of a person climbing up a rope ladder to reach a beehive. The figure has well-defined facial features and anatomical details, such as flexed limbs and muscle volume in their legs, though some features are slightly stylised – their elongated nose, for example.

According to the researchers, this is the most elaborate and well-preserved depiction of honey-gathering documented within Levantine art to date.

The painting reveals this early society had advanced knowledge of ropemaking and climbing techniques. It appears the rope ladder would have been fixed at the top of the cliff near the beehive, secured with a pole, for the honey-collector to climb from below.

The other painted sections include deer hunting scenes where archers await with loaded bows, as well as a silhouette of a doe – the mouth of which has been portrayed by leaving a part of the rock unpainted.

Doe looking backwards as it runs. Image: Martínez, Domingo, Angás Pajas, 2021.

Stylistic and thematic analysis of the figures and motifs suggests they were painted during at least three different decorative phases.

According to the study’s authors, this discovery emphasises ‘the need for reviewing new and old territories’, to ensure a deeper understanding of the technical, stylistic, and geographic relations of Levantine art.

The EU-funded project 'Breaking barriers between Science and Heritage approaches to Levantine Rock Art through Archaeology, Heritage Science and IT' aims to use modern digital technologies to shed new light on the origins of prehistoric narrative art. You can find out more about the research here: