The Barranc del Migdia Cave, Javea Details -Video
The Cova de Barranc del Migdia, referred to in English as the Cave of the Barranc del Migida, is unusual in that it was accidently discovered. Today the cave is under careful investigation and the site of archaeological excavations, but it wasn’t known until April of 1989 when a group from the Gata Caving Club stumbled into its opening. The group happened to come across the opening and knew they had found something special when they discovered a series of paintings on the ceilings and walls of the cave. Their find prompted three different excavations, the latest of which is still underway as anthropologists and archaeologists attempt to find out the secrets of the Cave of the Barranc del Migida, which are over 5,000 years old.
The Cave is about 375 metres in elevation and is located on Montgo’s sunny side close to the ravine which it takes its name from. It is notable because of a series of schematic rock paintings that were found at the cave’s central hall. The paintings date back to the copper age, also known as the Calcolithic age. Those who are local often refer to the Javea side of the Montgo Mountain as an elephant’s head. Following this analogy, the cave is situated right behind one of the elephant’s ears.
In order to get into the site climbers must travel 40 metres up a steep rock face or they can use a lower entrance if they have an accessible ladder. There is one tinier opening into the cave but the opening is smaller than needed to be a viable entrance. The actual layout of the cave is a set of narrow tunnels that come together to join two larger chamber areas.
The random cavers who discovered the cave walked into what is now referred to by scientists as the Chamber of Paintings. Inside of this chamber are over 100 wall paintings that have been dated back to during the Neolithic period between the years of 3000 and 2000 BC. The cave walls are covered with three different types of paintings making the area even more interesting to study.
The first set of paintings are black and look as if they were created with a brush and some type of thick pigment. They are rudimentary and simple and depict things such as triangles and stars and some common motifs that are not known to those outside of the original painters. It appears there are some animals with four legs in the paintings that may have been dogs or domestic goats.
The second set of paintings are made with a crudely fashioned brush but are painted in red instead of black. The paintings are simple and feature three diamonds that are joined together over and over. It is unknown what this may have symbolised to the ancient natives.
The final set of paintings are just red streaks that appear to have been made by fingers instead of by a brush. Across one rock is a zig-zag that was also drawn with a finger. It is important that the details of these paintings are recorded and preserved as they were entered into a database that tracks other similar rock paintings across the world. The paintings images will be carefully preserved for decades to come due to an excavation that utilised a high tech digital camera and a 3D laser scanner.
The cave also has a second chamber that is referred to by archaeologists as the Central Chamber. This chamber is where human remains have been found leading archaeologists to believe that this was a burial site. Alongside the bodies were a collection of flint and pottery items, as well as bones.
It appears that the cave was used as a funeral chamber for eight individuals. They may be from a family as women, men, and children have been found following three separate excavation campaigns. Each set of remains was found in a bundle grouped together as if buried in a packet which indicates that this is their second burial. The way the bones was deposited suggests that the skeletons were transferred from another location into the cave and then buried again.
The effort was not callous however, as those who transferred the bones took great care to provide their ancestors with the tools they thought they would need in order to pass into their new life without trouble. Objects such as flint arrow heads, polished stone, handmade ceramic vessels, and a copper awl were found with the skeletons. The bones were dated back to Neolithic times, which is over 4,500 years ago.
Interestingly enough, although excavations have found human remains, none of the remains are enough to build a complete skeleton. As mentioned, they have all been found in bundles along with artefacts that were carefully placed under the stones. Some of the bundles have mixed bones from different people with as many as two or three people mixed together although not all of the bones were in the bundles. Arms and legs may have been in separate bundles but belonged to one person according to DNA results, making the picture of the cave burial site a bit more confusing. Also complicating the issue was the fact that the teeth and bone fragments were poorly preserved over the passage of time.
There were four bundles recovered from the Cave of the Barranc del Migdia. The first package had the remains of a man who is estimated to have been in his late thirties at the time of death. Also in the bundle were three arrowheads made out of flint. The second package had the bones of a thirty year old woman along with the bones of a child who was around the age of three to four. Also contained in the bundle was a stone hoe near the child and a flint blade, cooper awl, and arrowhead close to the woman.
In the third bundle were the remains of a man and a woman out of which the age was unknown along with a child that was guessed to be around a year of age. Also close to the bundle was a flint arrowhead. In the fourth and final package were the bones of a man in his late twenties, a woman close to twenty, and a child aged about four years. Buried close to the remains was a piece of painted ceramic and the foot bone of a sheep or goat.
The fact that they were secondary burials explains why the sets of bones were not full, and why some of the bones were mixed up between the different bags. Originally the bones were probably stored in what was thought to be a safe place from animals but not buried in the ground. It was almost certainly a humid area given the decomposition of the bones but they were not touched by animals as they were not marked by carnivore tooth marks
It was quite a few years after the original burial, once the corpses degraded, and all that was left was skeletons, when the bones were gathered together into bundles. The bundles were then packaged with burial artefacts and placed under the ground in the graves. While some decomposition had taken place before the skeletons were placed into the bundles, the arrangement of the small bones in the feet and the hands suggests that they were placed into bundles while the ligaments were still intact. Therefore, the corpses were kept for a reasonable amount of time but not more than a few years.
It is believed that the humans that buried their loved one in the Cave of the Barranc del Migdia were part of communities that lived down in the valley. They likely lived in small groups in hamlets and relied on livestock and agriculture farming to survive. Hunting was also likely a means of survival for them.
They probably chose to use the cave to bury their loved ones because they could see it from the Xabia valley making it a landmark and easily seen location for them to see their ancestors rest. It was likely an honour to be buried in the cave and relatives possibly looked up upon their memory frequently. The paintings found within the caves depict their religious believes and way of life while the paintings in the burial chamber show their beliefs about what happens after death.
Excavating the Cave (English Subtitles)
Given the fact that only a few bodies were found in the Cave of the Barranc del Migdia it is likely that the dead were considered important members of the ancient society for one reason or another. Something made them privileged enough to receive a special burial in the cave. It is also possible that they were all linked to each other explaining why they were placed in bundles together so that their identity and links to each other would continue in the afterlife. The artefacts found with them fit into what we know as ‘grave goods,’ or items that were buried with dead ones to help them transition into the afterlife.
The Cave of the Barranc del Migdia also was used thousands of years later by the Romans and then during the Moorish period as a hiding place. Archaeologists discovered Almohadian coins hidden in the cage out of which ten coins are currently on display and carefully conserved at the Javea Soler Archaeological Museum.
The Cave likely sat untouched for over 2,700 years following the burial, but then during the Roman Empire it was visited at sporadic intervals. There are fragments of pottery found scattered throughout the cave that suggest that the Romans at some point found shelter in the cave. After these visits it once again was empty for almost a thousand years before the Andalusian people used it.
The Andalusian people left behind pieces of a jug dated to that period along with a turquoise jar and a large amount of Moorish coins that are dated to be from the 12th and 13th centuries. Given the large presence of coins, it is possible that the Moor’s used the cave to bury their treasure and keep it safe before the Christian Feudal conquest took place in 1244 in the Xabia Valley.
There is no way to know for sure, but the timeline is accurate and the goat herders of the time would likely have known about the presence of the cave, which in the area has been called the Cova de les Cabretes which translates into Cave of the Goats, so we can only assume it was used to shelter herding animals at one time.
The Cave is still considered an active investigation site as the research so far has helped scientists explore the lives of the ancient communities that lived near Montgo. Archaeologists and anthropologists have performed many methods of investigation over the past three years as the site has been the centre of three separate excavations .Some of the methods of investigation include C14 radiocarbon dating, physical anthropology, vegetation environment, DNA, and investigations into the stone-age diet.
Barranc del Migdia Cave Paintings
The current investigation is led by the Cirne Foundation and has helped bring Montgo and Xabia into the modern age of scientific methods. DNA studies are currently underway to determine if the burial type was of families or leaders of the community of the time. There is also exploration of a new sediment filled gallery that runs away from the burial chamber. It is suspected that there are more discoveries in this gallery and excavation is underway to see what additional treasures the Cave of the Barranc del Migdia may hold.
Regardless of what the future excavations unearth, Cave of the Barranc del Migdia will be viewed for years by scientists due to the use of cutting edge technology to create 2D and 3D digital models. This allows researchers and archaeologists to take virtual reality tours through the cave and see the cave for themselves first-hand even though they have not actually stepped foot in it. The digital models have also been utilized to crate solid dioramas for museum exhibitions and for virtual reality tours that the public can take to see the history of the Montgo Mountain first-hand for themselves.
One impressive exhibition that allows the public to see the Cave of the Barranc del Migdia for themselves is found at the Javea Town Hall. The exhibition is titled ‘Art and Death in the Montgo, the cave in the Migdia ravine,’ and takes a close look at all of the excavation work that has taken place at the burial site.
3D Barranc del Migdia Cave Imaging
The exhibition opened in 2012 and features 12 display panels that each offer information about the Cave of the Barranc del Migdia. The panels contain information about the cave’s historical content, the characteristics of the cave, the type of remains that have been found so far, and how the cataloguing and excavation of the cave has been conducted. Also included in the exhibition are display cases that hold some of the findings and representations of the paintings so that visitors can see what is painted on the walls of the cave for themselves.
In addition, there is a workshop at the exhibition that allows students to enhance their education about the ancient people of Xabia. The workshop is geared towards schools so that students can see the remains that were left in the cave and then can learn for themselves how to make pottery the same way that people did thousands of years ago before technology advanced.
The exhibition of the Cave of the Barranc del Migdia was made possible via a Ministry of Culture grant valued at over 69,000 Euros. Once it is finished at the Javea Town Hall the exhibition will be moved to the Archaeological Museum and it will be placed in a small room there that will be carefully moulded to create a representation of the actual cave and its space.
Javea is also creating a documentary that will outline the thirty year excavation process of the cave and its ongoing focus. Many experts are taking part in the documentary and many archaeologists such as Juan de Dios Boronat and Marco Aurelio Esquembre. Also involved in the project is Daniel Tejerina an IT researcher from the Valencia Polytechnic University who created all of the 3D digital scans of the cave. He is working on an audiovisual presentation that will supplement the documentary and offer a virtual tour of the cave with graphics similar to a video game. There is no word on how long it will take the documentary to be completed and available for viewing.