Weekly Article #4 – A report of the results from prospecting for rock carvings above Andorra la Vella.

Together with Regirarocs the project spent a happy morning this week scrambling up scree slopes on the south-facing mountainside above Andorra la Vella. The majority of the scree is made up of schist, with a distinct brownish orange colouring, and often shears off with large flat surfaces, ideal for carving. Locating these carvings in an extensive scree slope can be akin to looking for a needle in a haystack, thankfully Regirarocs’ local knowledge came to the fore and we managed to located several carvings, some of which had missed on previous expeditions. The current estimates are that these carvings are by and large broadly Medieval in date, however their location (nestling in break in the slope) are puzzling, as they are difficult to access and the environment does not seem to lend itself to casual exploration. In the photographs one can find the carvings themselves, and a (highly amateur!) schematic drawing that aims at clarifying some of the images (not to scale – the eagle-eyed might spot the nascent Perennial Pyrenees logo sketched in the top left).

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(Figure 1)

Some carvings are easier to interpret than others. For example, the crescent moon shapes with two lines emerging to finish with a box (Fig. 1) are highly reminiscent of a crossbow style weapon, and are in fact very similar to carvings of crossbows found in the Côa Valley National Park in Portugal (viewable in the fourth thumbnail here: http://arte-coa.pt/index.php?Language=en&Page=Gravuras&SubPage=ArteRupestre&Menu2=Motivos&Sitio=226).

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(Figure 2)

The figure wearing some form of robe/clothing (Fig. 2) clutching a long object (a club or staff?) can be easily made out, what is intriguing is the effort made to display his clothes – is it hair or some manner of hat perched atop his head? I would make a tentative suggestion that this might be a representation of an ecclesiastical figure (clerical robes, potentially some manner of staff in hand); the flaring of the clothing and the attempted representation of pattern is highly suggestive of vestments, with the ‘hat’ being a possible attempt at carving a mitre.

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(Figure 3)

However, others trickier. The carving which appears to resemble a bird (Fig. 3) might also represent a solar symbol, with the wings, breast and tail all forming three arms of the symbol revolving anti-clockwise. More convincing though is the idea that it is a form of Solomon’s knot, with the wing, tail and breast forming three of the knot interlaces. It may be that the fourth interlace was not quite so successful, and so it was turned into a bird at the last minute!

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(Figure 4)

The geometric pattern (Fig. 4) could possibly have functioned as a gaming board, yet the location of the carving on a rock halfway down a scree slope is puzzling, even if one takes into account it slipping down the slope as the years/centuries passed by. Or is it simply an attempt at geometric art? Similar carvings have been found at La Borda del Cadena and Les Comes (see Casamajor i Esteban, 2009, 95 – 96)

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(Figure 5)

The carving featuring what might be a human (Fig. 5) or anthropomorphic figure (square head, triangular shoulders/breast, horizontal arms) has an odd patterned addition in what may be its right hand. Other carvings at the Roc de Bruixes near Canillo (Andorra) and at the cave of Casa Vella (Montanissell, Catalunya) show similar patterns which scholars have interpreted as crosses or possibly grills irons (see Casamajor I Esteban, 2009, 103, and Mas, 1977, 21).

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(Figure 6)

Most baffling is the curious flowing cursive pattern (Fig. 6), difficult to make out in the photograph due to the light, however as far as possible it has been clarified in the drawing. To call this a script would be optimistic to say the least, however it is without doubt man made and not the result of natural weathering/tumbling rocks. Regirarocs has found similar examples in other locations both in Andorra and the Pyrenees, which only deepens the mystery of what the intention behind such a carving might be. Campmajo & Crabol (2009) present similar styles of inscriptions in their paper on engravings in Cerdanya, and suggest that these may be attempts at religious Christian inscriptions in Catalan. Whilst this might appear a broad leap of faith at the outset, the similarities between those presented in their paper and those found in this expedition are indeed striking (pdf available upon request).

ROck art scan

(Figure 7 – Attempt to represent carvings, amateur indeed!)

Overall these represent a quite fascinating collection of engravings which seem to encompass a diverse range of motifs and intentions and share iconographic similarities with other nearby sites both in Andorra and the Catalan Pyrenees, as well as most surprisingly in Portugal. The diversity of iconography may be surprising, but what is astonishing is the location – a scree slope which is difficult to access, whose rocks may slide but which rest near the base in a break of the slope. That is to say, these rocks may not have moved in a long time, and even had they been carved when they rested at the top of the slope (the carvings are in remarkably good form if so, managing to survive their journey), this would place them in an even higher and more treacherous environment to access than their current location. Thus. the motivation is hard to fathom, are the area does not seem to lie within the purview of any shepherd/goatherd trails, although it is possible that the rocks potentially original location (up the mountain) may have lain on upper mountain paths, however, the carvings show little evidence of the rough and tumble that would likely have marred the images during a journey down the scree slope over a number of years. So, it is likely that these images were carved more or less in their current location. It is just possible that this area was used by hunters stalking mouflon and chamois (bears and wolves were also hunted in Andorra historically, however this location does not seem ideal in supporting these animals). The motivations remain somewhat of a mystery however. It is possible that the ‘gaming board’ (Fig. 4) might have been a one-use affair (the effort required for such a carving is minimal). If the cursive carving (Fig. 6) is indeed a script similar to those found in Cerdanya, then the effort required may indicate (based on Campmajo & Crabol’s suggestions) a devotional or pleading text, potentially associated with the what I have interpreted as the liturgical figure (Fig. 2) nearby on the same rock (Fig. 3 and Fig. 5 are also found on this rock).

These carvings are but a tithe of those that have been discovered in Andorra, and who knows how many lurk on remote slopes, in gullies, caves and forests around the country, let alone in the broader Pyrenees. What is sure however is that the Perennial Pyrenees project in conjunction with Regirarocs will bring more of these to light over the coming years, discussing, presenting and analysing them to dig behind the motives of those that walked these valleys and mountains before us.

References:

Campmajo, P & Crabol, D. 2009. Les gravures rupestres de Cerdagne (Pyrenees Catalanes). Quelques elements pour la chronologies et une approche smbolique. Archeo, Vol. 66, no. 24, 61 – 78.

Casamajor i Esteban, J. 2009. ‘Noves aportacions als gravats rupestres d’Andorra I de l’Alt Urgell’ in Els correus a Andorra, una historia anacabada, 94 – 106.

Available here: http://publicacions.iec.cat/repository/pdf/00000111/00000091.pdf

Mas, D. 1977. ‘El Roc de les Bruixes: Noves aportacions als gravats rupestres andorrans’ in

Quaderns d’ Estudis Andorrans. No. 2, 5-31

 

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