The mountain of time. Exploration of a Palaeolithic camp in La Garma

With the discovery in 1995 of the archaeological complex of La Garma, the Lower Gallery, a unique site in the world, together with one of the widest and most complete cultural sequences in Europe, was discovered. It also includes a large collection of cave art, which has deserved to be included in the UNESCO World Heritage List, and one of the most relevant collections of mobile art in the world. But what is really exceptional about La Garma is that it allows us to enter a terrain normally off-limits to archaeological research: the extraordinary conservation of soils and structures from the Upper Palaeolithic in the Lower Gallery offers unprecedented possibilities for the study of the dwellings and ritual spaces of the hunters of the last ice age.


The Garma houses one of the most complete sequences of world prehistory, with testimonies from all periods, from the Lower Palaeolithic to the Iron Age, and even from the Middle Ages. However, the Middle Magdalenian occupations (16,500 years), a unique set of occupation lands and constructions in the world, stand out.


International Institute of Prehistoric Research of Cantabria (IIIPC) (Universidad de Cantabria-Government of Cantabria-Santander)

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Pablo Arias Cabal

Pablo Arias Cabal (Oviedo, 1961) studied at the Universdad de Oviedo and Universidad de Cantabria. In the latter, he obtained his degree in Philosophy in 1984, with an Extraordinary Prize, and in 1989 he obtained his PhD with a thesis on the Neolithization of the north of the Iberian Peninsula. He is currently Professor of Prehistory at the Universidad de Cantabria, where he has also held various academic posts, including director of the International Institute of Prehistoric Research of Cantabria (2005-2009), member of the Social Council (1986-1990) and Vice-Dean of the Faculty of Philosophy (1993-1996).

His research activity has focused on the study of advanced hunter-gatherer societies and their transition to early peasant societies, particularly on the European Atlantic coast and in South America. He has directed numerous archaeological research programs, including the excavations of the Mesolithic sites of Los Canes, Arangas and El Alloru, in Asturias, the shelly pits of Poças de São Bento, Cabeço das Amoreiras, Arapouco, Cabeço do Pez and Barrosinha, in Portugal, the Mesolithic cemetery of Hoëdic, in France, and the shelters of Arroyo Corral I and Arroyo Corral II, in the Argentinean Patagonia. However, his most relevant contribution has been the direction, since its beginning in 1996, of the great interdisciplinary research project carried out in the Archaeological Zone of La Garma (Cantabria).

As director of the La Garma project, he received the “Outstanding of the Year” award in 1996, and in 1998 the “Cantabria Nuestra” prize, awarded by the association of the same name in recognition of his work in research and dissemination of heritage.

Roberto Ontañón Peredo

Roberto Ontañón Peredo (Santander, 1965). PhD in Philosophy and Arts from the University of Cantabria (UC) (2000). Between 1989 and 1991 he worked as a researcher at the Museo Nacional de Arqueología Subacuática / Centro Nacional de Investigaciones Arqueológicas Subacuáticas. He did postdoctoral studies in Paris (Universités Paris Ouest – Panthéon-Sorbonne – CNRS) (2001-2003) thanks to a grant from the MECD/Fullbright programme. He rejoined the Spanish science system as a contract researcher at the University of Cantabria as part of the Ramón y Cajal Programme (2003-2005). He is a staff member and has been deputy director of the International Institute of Prehistoric Research of Cantabria (UC – Government of Cantabria – Santander). Since 2005 he has held various technical positions in the regional administration of Cantabria: between 2006 and 2013, head of the Archaeology Section, since 2010, director of Prehistoric Caves and since 2013, director of the Museum of Prehistory and Archaeology of Cantabria. He collaborates with the French Ministry of Culture in bodies such as the Comission nationale du patrimoine et de l’architecture or the Scientific Council of the Lascaux Cave. He is also an advisor to UNESCO on rock art. His research interests focus on prehistoric archaeology and Palaeolithic and post-Palaeolithic rock art. Since 1995 he has co-directed the research project at the archaeological site of La Garma. He is the author and editor of more than 250 scientific and popular works. He has also curated several exhibitions, including the exhibition “Iberian Picasso”, organised by the Botín Centre in collaboration with the Musée National Picasso-Paris.

Translated with (free version)


The most outstanding result of the project is obviously the initial finding and documentation of the Magdalenian soils of the Lower Gallery, one of the great discoveries of the Paleolithic in the second half of the 20th century.

The identification of nine Magdalenian huts (figs. 2 and 3), something unusual in a subway environment. They were built from a base of stones and stalagmite blocks that held a structure of light materials (sticks and skins) that was also fixed to the ceiling of the cave. Recently it has been demonstrated that one of them (IV-B) included a lion’s skin of the caves.

It is also very relevant to note that, in addition to a camp, there were areas dedicated to the ritual. This is the case of Zones III and IV, located inside the karst, without natural lighting, where small cabins were built in places with very low ceilings.

The cataloguing of the rock art includes more than 500 graphic units. Patterns of distribution have been observed that contradict the traditional hypothesis of a separation between cave art and habitat sites, since the existence of paintings and engravings in the camp area has been 
We have identified a Palaeolithic path that leads to a room with paintings. 
For its mobile 
art alone, La Garma would already be an exceptional site in the European Palaeolithic concert. To date, 14 objects made of horn or bone and 46 platelets with engravings have been documented, to which we must add the existence of precise data on their origin and manufacture.

Also noteworthy is the location in La Garma A of the oldest signs of human presence in the Cantabrian region, with an age of nearly 400,000 years.
The works in La Garma are also a milestone in the field of Paleontology. The discovery of a complete skeleton of a cave lion (Panthera spelaea), dated in 10685 BC, the most recent specimen known in the world, is still unpublished.

Also very relevant is the Mesolithic burial of El Truchiro (5900 B.C.), whose study has confirmed that the corpse (a young woman) had been deposited on an oak bark, a practice of which only one analogous case is known in the entire European continent.