Central Panel of the Painted Cave of Gáldar


The Painted Cave of Gáldar is in northwest Gran Canaria, in the Canary Islands archipelago of Spain. It is part of a complex of pre-Hispanic caves that were rediscovered in 1862. Full archaeological excavations took place in 1987−2005. The caves are carved out of the tufa and arranged around a central space. The first occupation of the settlement dates from the sixth century, but radiocarbon dating suggests that the cave acquired its current appearance in the late 12th century. The cave system was created by the Guanches, the original inhabitants of Gran Canaria, and its functions may have changed over time. Mummies, ceramics, and other artifacts were found there, and the space probably had both domestic uses and served as a center for rituals, such as offerings and ceremonies honoring ancestors in the strongly hierarchical society. Decorating walls was common to the aboriginal cultures of the island, and the polychrome frieze of the Painted Cave is the best and most complex example of its indigenous rock art. The decorative geometric elements of the central panel form a symmetrical composition starting from the central axis. It alternates triangles, squares, overlapping angles, and concentric circles. Making these mural paintings required a mastery of technique. The wall was first prepared to offer a homogenous surface, smoothing the cracks and rendering the rock with a clay mixture. The mineral colors (red ochre for red and whitish fine clays for white) were ground up and then mixed with water to allow their application. The black parts of the panel composition come from the natural darkening of the tufa pigment itself. The exceptional rhythm and symmetry of the design elements suggest that, if this was indeed a ritual area, these may be authentic ideograms. They could be perhaps be a system of measurement and time calculation, or an elaborate lunar and solar calendar, based on the combination of organized series starting on the number 12 and on the alternating red, white, and blank spaces. The Painted Cave is maintained by the Museum and Archaeological Park Cueva Pintada. The photograph was taken by Javier Betancor.

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  1. Jorge Onrubia Pintado, La Isla de los "Guanartemes:" Territorio, Sociedad y Poder en la Gran Canaria Indígena (Siglos XIV–XV) (Las Palmas de Gran Canaria: Cabildo Insular de Gran Canaria, 2003).

Last updated: June 13, 2016