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JOSEBA RIOS-GARAIZAR, DIEGO GARATE, RAPHALLE BOURRILLON,

ASIER GMEZ-OLIVENCIA AND THEODOROS KARAMPAGLIDIS

THE VENUSES BLOCK FROM ARLANPE CAVE (NORTHERN


IBERIAN PENINSULA): IMPLICATIONS FOR THE ORIGINS
AND DISPERSION OF GNNERSDORF-LALINDE STYLE
DEPICTIONS THROUGHOUT THE EUROPEAN MAGDALENIAN

Summary. In 2011, an engraved limestone block was found in the cave of


Arlanpe (Lemoa, northern Iberian Peninsula). One of the figures represented
on it was identified as a schematic feminine representation similar to those of
the Gnnersdorf-Lalinde style. The stratigraphical position of the block is not
totally clear owing to severe disturbance in the Upper Pleistocene deposits
located near the entrance sector of the cave. Nevertheless, the most probable
stratigraphical correlation is with Level I, which has been dated to the
beginning of the Middle Magdalenian. This finding extends the distribution
range of this kind of representation to the northern Iberian Peninsula, where,
up to now, only two other, less clear, Gnnersdorf-Lalinde style representations
have been found. It also extends its chronological range, pushing it back to
the beginning of the Middle Magdalenian. In this paper, we present the
archaeological context of the engraved block, followed by a detailed
description of technological and stylistic features. These data will be used to
discuss the implication of this discovery for an understanding of the origins,
expansion and diffusion of this kind of feminine representation across Europe.

INTRODUCTION

The representation of feminine figures in both parietal and portable art began during the
Early Upper Palaeolithic (Conard 2009; White et al. 2012), and is one of the most common
themes in European Upper Palaeolithic artistic expression. These representations are widespread
across Europe, with a certain degree of variability in means of expression, style, context and
significance. Such differences are more evident when comparing Initial and Middle Upper
Palaeolithic female figurines (Willendorf style) with Late Upper Palaeolithic ones (GnnersdorfLalinde style) (Gaudzinski and Jris 2015).
The Gnnersdorf-Lalinde style figurines are characterized by several traits, such as the
representation of profile silhouettes, with exaggerated buttocks, occasionally showing breasts,
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and, when present, very schematic arms and heads. These figurines usually appear forming
compositions of at least two figurines and are present in both parietal and portable art (Bourrillon
2009; Bourrillon et al. 2012; Bosinski et al. 2001; Delluc and Delluc 1995). This style of
feminine representation is commonly associated with the Late Magdalenian, and is present
basically only in France and Germany. After a period, during the Middle Magdalenian, when a
sort of stylistic unity was observed in the Franco-Cantabrian region, the scarcity of this kind of
representation in the Cantabrian region, and by extension in all of the Iberian Peninsula, has been
interpreted as part of a process of cultural differentiation between the Magdalenian on either side
of the Pyrenees (Fritz et al. 2007).
The particular spatial distribution of Gnnersdorf-Lalinde representations has long been
related to the definitive recolonization process that started in France and extended towards the
northern plains, already free from the influence of ice sheets (Jochim et al. 1999; Terberger and
Street 2002; Demars 2008). The dispersion and persistence of these symbols have been related
to the need by pioneering populations to maintain social networks with the original territories
(Gaudzinski and Jris 2015).
In this paper, new evidence for these types of engravings is presented from Arlanpe Cave
(eastern Cantabrian region). A limestone block with one clear feminine engraving and two other
probable feminine representations, and its association with Middle Magdalenian occupations in
the cave, introduce new elements of discussion about the chronology and geographical origins of
these types of representations. It also serves as a basis for discussion about the dynamics of
cultural exchanges and contacts between south-west France and the Cantabrian region during the
Middle and Upper Magdalenian. The sites function, combining the information from lithic and
faunal assemblages with the information derived from the engraved block, will also be assessed.
This will be set in relation to the existence of ritualized spaces in the Cantabrian Magdalenian
(Arias 2009) in order to give some insights into the function and symbolic meaning of these types
of feminine representations in this particular context.

SITE LOCATION AND DESCRIPTION

The cave site of Arlanpe (UTM coordinates: 30T 519254, 4782262, 204 m.s.l.) is
located on the north-west slopes of the Aramotz massif, 15 km from Bilbao, the capital
city of the Basque region of Bizkaia, in the north of the Iberian Peninsula (Fig. 1).
The landscape around the cave is very mountainous, except on the valley floors of the Arratia
and the Ibaizabal rivers. The natural routes created by these valleys connect the current coast
with the mountain passes that lead to the Alavese Plateau and the Upper Ebro Valley. Thus,
Arlanpe is located in the centre of one of the major Palaeolithic communication routes in the
eastern Cantabrian region. This area itself acted, with varying intensity throughout the
Palaeolithic, as a crossroad between Continental Europe and the Iberian Peninsula
(Arrizabalaga 2007).
The cave itself opens in the Albian limestone; it is elongated in plan with three wider
spaces (Fig. 2) (maximum dimension 25 x 6 m). The site was discovered in 1963 but systematic
excavation and research only started in 2006. The archaeological work has revealed a complex
stratigraphy containing evidence of Late Roman (Gutirrez Cuenca et al. 2012), Bronze Age,
Middle Magdalenian, Late Upper Solutrean (Rios-Garaizar et al. 2013), Gravettian and Early
Middle Palaeolithic (Rios-Garaizar et al. 2011) levels.
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Figure 1
Map of location of Arlanpe Cave in the eastern Cantabrian region together with other sites mentioned in the text (J.
Rios-Garaizar).

DESCRIPTION OF THE ENGRAVED BLOCK

The block was initially analysed using the classic system of describing engravings (Fritz
and Tosello 2007). High quality photos and copies were made using image processing software.
Then a high resolution 3D scan was made to obtain a precise digital model of the figure using a
NextEngine 3D laser scanner housed at the CENIEH laboratory. The parameters of the scanning
were: 400 points/IN2 per second, error: 0.005; visual field 3 x 5. Each block face was scanned
at least ten times to avoid gaps. NextEngine software was used to align the different scans
without any simplification or interpolation. The resulting mesh was combined with a RGB photo
to create a model. This was analysed with 3D Resharper software to obtain transverse and
longitudinal sections. The model was also used to obtain a three-dimensional perspective of the
block for a better understanding of its position and the relationship between the engravings.
MeshLab software was used to visualize the model and create ortho-photographs (Fig. 3).
The engraved block is a parallelepipedic fragment of limestone with two wide and long
parallel sides, two narrow and long laterals, and two narrow and short extremities. The larger
sides present quite regular and flat surfaces, as does one of the long laterals. The rest of the
laterals are irregular. On the limestone surface, rudist fossils, parallel cracks and thin calcite
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THE VENUSES BLOCK FROM ARLANPE CAVE

Figure 2
Plan of Arlanpe Cave, with the position where the engraved block was recovered marked with a star (BURNIA
espeleologi taldea, modified by J. Rios-Garaizar).

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Figure 3
Different 3D views of the block (scale 30 cm) (T. Karanpaglidis and J. Rios-Garaizar).

crusts can be observed. The maximum dimensions of the block are 78 x 35 x 19 cm, with a
weight around 6070 kg. The engravings are located on one of the wide sides (Side A) and on
the regular long and narrow side (Side B) (Fig. 4).
Side A
Side A has a regular surface about 70 cm long and 38 cm wide. Several parallel cracks
run across the surface. A figure formed by several engraved lines can be observed (A1). It
occupies a surface of 34.5 x 20 cm. Two of the lines are curved with a sub-parallel disposition,
creating a fusiform figure, wider in the middle part, and with the concavity on the right side. The
curved line on the right is crossed perpendicularly, in the lower part, by a shorter, sinuous, line.
Two similar traces, in this case curved, are situated parallel in the upper part, one of them
intersecting the main tracing on the left. This combination of engravings forms a single
representation, probably figurative. Beside this composition two more sub-parallel lines (A2), of
smaller size, have been traced on the upper part of Side A.
Side B
Side B is regular in surface, about 70 cm long and 19 cm wide. Three different
representations can be individualized. The most interesting one is situated on the upper part
adjacent to the right side (B1). The figure, 24.5 cm long, is the result of two curved lines forming
a fusiform figure (Fig. 5). The line at the back is continuous and forms an ample curve which
represents a feminine buttock. The line located at the front intersects the previous one in the
upper part and has two straight sections which join in an open angle, more or less in the middle,
representing the waist and the contact between the leg and the torso (Fig. 5: A). Right in the
intersection between these two lines, another, shorter, one (4.6 cm) was engraved, and below this
line, in parallel, a faint tracing was engraved (Fig. 5: D). These two lines represent the arms. In
the upper part of the figure, two small traces, partially erased by an ancient fracture, represent a
schematic head (Fig. 5: B). The legs are represented by two small traces which emerge
minimally on Side A of the block (Fig. 5: C).
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Figure 4
Sides A and B (photo and copy) (D. Garate).

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Figure 5
Macrophotographic details of figure B1 (D. Garate).

The second figure (B2) is located beside the first one, along its left side. The tracings are
shallow and almost imperceptible. It is composed of several irregular lines, almost straight in
delineation. Three of them seem to create a discontinuous line. Another two have a similar
direction and form a slight curved line; the shorter one can be traced perpendicularly towards the
other figure.
The last figure (B3) was made near the bottom of Side B. It is composed of a 15.5 cm
long, curved continuous line (concavity on the right), opposed to a sub-parallel line formed by
two tracings. The position of these lines creates a fusiform figure.
Interpretation of the figures
The different figures traced on the limestone block from Arlanpe Cave share some
common characteristics. They are composed of pairs of sub-parallel curved lines, most of them
(except B2) created by deep tracings, and some of them (A1, B1, B2) with transverse traces
(simple B2, or double A1, B1). Three of them (A1, B1, B3) also create fusiform figures.
Among these figures, the most complete and detailed one is B1. In this case, the conventions
(fusiform silhouette, V-marked waist joint, reduced breast, pronounced buttocks) fit the graphic
characteristics of the Schematic Feminine Figures (FFS, Figures Fminines Schmatiques;
Delluc and Delluc 1995) which are typical in the western European Magdalenian. The same
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Figure 6
Examples of Schematic Feminine Figures (FFS). a. Les Combarelles (C. Archambeau); b. Lalinde (A. Roussot); c.
Magdeleine-la-Plaine (E. Ladier); d. Fronsac (B. and G. Delluc); e. and f. Gnnersdorf (G. Bosinski); g. Andernach
(G. Bosinski); h. Hohlenstein-Brenhole (G. Bosinski).

conventions can be observed at various sites including those of Lalinde (France) and
Gnnersdorf (Germany) (Bourrillon 2009; Bourrillon et al. 2012; Bosinski et al. 2001; Delluc
and Delluc 1995) (Fig. 6). The representation of parallel arms, with no clear perspective, and the
schematic head are less common, though present, in these kinds of engravings.
The other figures, especially A1 and B3, can be assimilated within the same ideographic
concept, but they are of a lower definition and have a lesser degree of detail, which hinders an
outright interpretation. However, the association in the same block of a clear FFS and of less
clear fusiform figures, close to the FFS concept, suggests that we can probably interpret the
engravings on the Arlanpe block as a composition of anthropomorphic depictions, some of which
are feminine.

ARCHAEOLOGICAL CONTEXT

Stratigraphy of the entrance sector


Arlanpe Cave has been excavated in three different sectors (Fig. 2). The entrance sector,
where the block was found, is near the actual entrance of the cave and presents a complex
stratigraphical sequence (Fig. 7). It is characterized by a sedimentary hiatus, erosion, animal
burrowing and human activity. Seven main episodes can be distinguished:
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Figure 7
Western section of the entrance sector (J. Rios-Garaizar).

1.

Cave infilling with yellow-orange sandy endokarstic sediments, totally sterile at the base
(Level VIII) but with some evidence of human activity above it (Level VII). The upper part
of this level is partially encrusted with carbonate calcium. This sequence shows traces of
erosion caused by water.
2. Greenish-brown sediment in which charcoal and land snails are present. It represents the first
intense episode of human occupation of the cave, with many lithic and faunal remains (Level
VI). This level can be attributed to the Early Middle Palaeolithic (EMP).
3. Yellow-orange sandy sediments. Two intact levels have been identified. The lowest one
(Level V) is almost sterile archaeologically and in its upper part stalagmite crust fragments
are very abundant. The upper level (Level IV) has yielded more archaeological material and
can also be attributed to the EMP. Levels IVV have been used by burrowing animals
(probably badgers) to make tunnels, owing to their more compacted nature. These tunnels
have collapsed and were finally filled by an admixture of materials from the upper levels
(Level II Solutrean) together with original material from these levels. The careful
excavation process has allowed the identification and isolation of these tunnels from the rest
of the archaeological material found in situ.
4. Dark grey sediments with many limestone slab fragments. This level shows strong evidence
of anthropogenic activities such as fireplaces, consumed faunal remains and lithic artefacts
(Rios-Garaizar et al. 2008; 2013). It has been dated to the Late Upper Solutrean (US),
c.17,000 BP. The level is partially affected by underlying burrowing, deformation caused by
collapses, and by the excavation of ceremonial pits during Late Roman occupations. Two
levels have been identified in this episode; Level II has been assigned to the intact sediments,
while Level III is composed of sediments displaced by burrowing and burrow collapse.
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5.

6.

7.

The sediments situated above Level II are pale brown in colour and contain fewer limestone
fragments (Level I). The horizontal extension of this level has been heavily affected by the
excavation of a ceremonial pit (see below) and probably by burrowing. Nevertheless, intact
patches of unmodified sediment were excavated. Archaeological remains are less abundant
than in the previous level. The dating and archaeological composition, which will be
discussed later, point to a Middle Magdalenian (MM) attribution.
The exposed Palaeolithic surface was probably used during the Late Bronze Age to deposit
human bodies as part of a funerary ritual. In the central area of the cave, there is evidence
of a small mound that could have a funerary significance. The cave was then used during the
Late Roman period for ritual activity. These rituals comprised the excavation of small
ceremonial pits (Fosa N and Fosa S), where different kinds of goods were offered (Gutirrez
Cuenca et al. 2012).
The uppermost level consists of mixed sediments belonging to cave entrance dismantlement,
burrowing activity and illegal excavations.

Context of the engraved block


The block was first discovered during the 2008 season, in the eastern section of the
entrance sector (within subsquares K21.12 and K21.34). The exposed surface was then almost
completely covered by mixed sediments corresponding to a filled in ceremonial pit dating back
to the Late Roman period (Fig. 8: A). Only the southernmost part of the block was covered by
intact sediments corresponding to Level I. At this time the engraved surfaces were not exposed,
so the importance of this limestone block was not recognized and it was thus left in place. In the
2010 season, the sequence on the eastern profile was cleared and defined. Owing to the proximity
of the cave wall it was quite difficult to identify the different levels but we were able to recognize
Level II sediments (US) and Level I-like sediments above them (Figure 8: BD). In the photos,
the relative position of the block can be easily appreciated, as well as the partial covering of
Level I sediments (Figure 8: B). Between 2010 and 2011, the eastern section partially collapsed
so we decided to open two more subsquares (K21.2 and K21.4), excavating the small volume of
sediment situated between the 2008 excavation and the cave wall. This excavation allowed both
the extraction and the study of the relative position of the block. It was leaning against the cave
wall and was partially covered by Level I and mixed sediments. At the moment of extraction the
main engraved figure (B1) was noticed and was immediately photographically recorded.
The block was resting, almost vertically, on the long and narrow side without
engravings. The wide side with decoration (Side A) was leaning against the cave wall, with the
intervening deposits consisting of mostly mixed sediments. The decorated long and narrow side
(Side B) was positioned on the top, slightly inclined towards the south, with the end with the
complete FFS (B1) positioned higher than the end with the schematic fusiform depiction (B3),
which was partially covered by Level I sediments. The base of the block was embedded in Level
IV, Level II and burrow sediments.
Our interpretation is that the block was found in a modified in situ context. Probably it
was originally in a vertical position, but the excavation of the Roman pit and the deformation
caused by burrow collapses made it lean, also deforming the sediments covering the block. This
fact casts some doubt on the exact stratigraphical position of the block and the engravings.
Nevertheless, given the way it was found, and the stratigraphy of this excavation sector, the most
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Figure 8
Position of the block in 2010 excavation. A) North section, the black arrow marks the position of the block; note
the Fosa Norte filling cutting the original stratigraphy preserved in the left corner. B) Eastern section, the white
arrow marks the position of a small limestone block which was situated in the upper surface of Level II, just in the
interface between Levels I and II. Note the Fosa Norte filling above the engraved block. C) Top of Level II before
excavation. D) Base of Level II (J. Rios-Garaizar).

probable attribution is to Level I. Following this hypothesis, the block was already in place when
Magdalenian people occupied the cave and made engravings on two of its exposed surfaces.
Level I radiocarbon dating
Two herbivore bone samples recovered from Level I were dated by 14C AMS. They
come from the same subsquare and excavation pit, with a difference in depth of 3 cm, Beta316472 being above Beta-287336. Calibrated results (Table 1) show no overlap at 2 sigma
deviation, suggesting a long time formation. Nevertheless, both dates can be attributed to the
local Early Middle Magdalenian. Similar dates have been recently obtained in Santimamie
(Lpez Quintana and Guenaga Lizaso 2011), Linar (Rasines et al. 2009), Ekain (Altuna et al.
2010) and Mirn Caves (Straus et al. 2011).
Archaeological assemblage
The Level I lithic assemblage is composed of 470 pieces. Of these, 246 pieces are
fragments smaller than 10 mm, natural fragments and formless fragments. The remaining 224
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TABLE 1

Radiocarbon dates from Level 1


Level

Lab No.

Material

Uncal
(BP)

13C ()

15N ()

CAL BP (95%,
IntCal 09)

Beta-287336

14,15060

-20.3

3.4

17,54016,930

Beta-316472

Herbivore bone with


anthropic fracture
Herbivore bone

15,10060

-19.6

n.a.

18,58918,025

TABLE 2

Technological classification of Level I


Artefact type

Flint

Mudstone

Sandstone

Flake core
Bladelet core
Cortical flakes and blades
Blade production by-products
Flakes
Blades and bladelets
Burin spalls
Splintered piece fragments
Debris
Natural fragments
Used non-retouched rocks
Total

2
2
14
14
19
131
10
5
192
1

10
2

390

32

1
13
4
5
9

Others

16
20
1
39

2
2
21
14
30
133
10
6
221
25
6
470

comprise blades, flakes, cores and by-products (Table 2). The main raw material used is flint (88
per cent) imported from different locations situated between 30 and 50 km away from the site
(Flysch, Trevio and Loza varieties). Other local raw materials, such as sandstone or mudstone,
were used for specific purposes such as hard hammers, or for obtaining large flakes.
The flint production at the site is characterized by blade technology. Four blade
categories have been identified with regard to blank width. The most abundant are bladelets of
around 4 mm in width. These products correspond to the negatives of bladelet cores recovered at
the site. The proportion of bladelets to bladelet cores suggests that, although some production
occurred at the site, the bulk of bladelets was produced elsewhere. This becomes more evident
when studying the larger blades, which were usually transformed into formal tools, suggesting
that they were introduced into the site as personal gear.
Formally retouched tools (Table 3) consist of backed bladelets, burins, borers (some of
which are microlithic), notches and raclettes. The backed bladelets show simple or double
backing with steep retouch. Blanks selected to make armatures were mainly straight and narrow
bladelets (34 mm). The presence of impact fractures on some of these pieces indicates that they
were used in composite hunting weapons. Burins are thick, usually displaying multiple burin
facets and crest-like preparations. Some of them probably acted as bladelet cores. Aside from
retouched tools, there are also some non-retouched macro-tools that were used in knapping and
other activities, such as retouchers or ochre grinders.
The faunal assemblage from Level I is dominated by mountain goat (Capra pyrenaica)
and chamois (Rupicapra pyrenaica), but other species such as red deer (Cervus elaphus), wolf
and bear are also present (Table 4) (Arceredillo-Alonso et al. 2013).
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TABLE 3

Typological classification of Level 1*


S. Bordes type
23. Borer
24. Bec
26. Micro-borer
28. Asymmetrical dihedral burin
29. Angle dihedral burin
30. Angle burin on broken blade
34. Burin on straight retouched truncation
58. Backed blade (total backing)
74. Notch
78. Raclette
78b. Raclette (atypical)
85. Backed bladelet
87. Denticulate backed bladelet
89. Notched bladelet
90. Dufour bladelet
92. Diverse
92. Fragment of backed blade
92. Retouched tool
92. Flake with retouch in ventral surface
92. Fragment with abrupt retouch
Macrolithic tools
Shaped pebble
Hard hammer
Retoucher
Used slab
Total

Sandstone

Limonite

Mudstone

Silex

2
1
3
1
1
2
1
1
2
1
14
1
4
1
1
1
1
1
2

2
1
3
1
1
2
1
1
2
2
1
14
1
4
1
1
1
1
1
2

41

1
1
1
4
50

1
1
1
4
6

* Following Sonneville-Bordes and Perot 1956.

TABLE 4

Number of remains (NR) and minimum number of individuals (MNI) of the faunal remains found in Level I of
Arlanpe Cave
Taxa

NR

MNI

Artiodactyla indet.
Cervidae indet.
Cervus elaphus
Caprinae indet.
Rupicapra pyrenaica
Capra pyrenaica
Herbivores
Carnivora indet.
Canis lupus
Felidae indet.
Ursus sp.
Carnivores
TOTAL

33
3
2
1
9
5
53
7
1
1
1
10
63

2
2
6

1
1
1*
2+1*
8+1*

* Individuals based on decidual dentition

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Arlanpe Level I can be interpreted as the result of various short occupations that may
have been infrequent, based on the dates obtained from this level. During these occupations,
activities related to weapon replacement were carried out. The strategic position of the site with
a good view over the confluence of two rivers (Arratia and Ibaizabal), as well as its location at
the entrance of a calcareous gorge, probably favoured its use for controlling prey movements.
Compared to the occupations in Level II (Final Upper Solutrean), where some signs of stability
were recognized (Rios-Garaizar et al. 2013), Level I seems basically to fulfil the function of a
hunting camp on the basis of the lithic and faunal assemblages.
DISCUSSION

Chrono-cultural attribution
The suggested stratigraphical association between the block and Level I, although not
definitive, is probably the most parsimonious explanation based on the available evidence. Level
I represents a succession of ephemeral hunting camps, where limited activities were carried out.
The dates of this level situate it in an early phase of the Middle Magdalenian. The lithic
assemblage recovered in Level I is not very diagnostic, but the presence of abundant backed
bladelets, the large proportion of burins compared with endscrapers, and the characteristics of
blade production are quite similar to other regional Middle Magdalenian sites such as Ekain VII
(Cazals and Langlais 2005), Santimamie levels Csn-Camr (Lpez Quintana and Guenaga
Lizaso 2011) and Mirn Cave (Straus and Gonzlez Morales 2012).
The chronology of such kinds of feminine representations in Europe extends from
c.13,680 130 BP (Magdeleine-la-Plaine, France) to 11,700 90 BP (Petersfels, Germany)
(Bourrillon et al. 2012; Bosinski et al. 2001; Ladier et al. 2005), that is, between the end of the
Middle Magdalenian and the Late Magdalenian. Unfortunately, most of these representations
lack precise dating and their chronology has been estimated by stylistic comparison. Some of
them, from southern France, can also be attributed to the Middle Magdalenian, as is the case for
Arlanpe Level I. This is also true of those from Villars (Dordogne), Gourdan and Mas-dAzil
(Pyrenees). The engraved FFS from Gourdan has been attributed to the Middle or Upper
Magdalenian by stylistic comparison (Fritz et al. 1993), and the associated archaeological
context has yielded two dates between 14,400 and 13,200 BP (Bertrand et al. 2003; Jaubert
1995), that is, within the temporal range of the Middle Magdalenian. At Mas-dAzil, FFS have
been recovered from a Middle Magdalenian layer without direct dating, but archaeological layers
with the same cultural attribution excavated in the Salle Piette and in the Galerie des silex yielded
14
C dates between 13,640 and 13,200 BP (Alteirac and Bahn 1982).
Contextual interpretation
The presence of this kind of representation in a site interpreted as a hunting camp may
be difficult to explain. However, the low intensity of the use of this cave in the Magdalenian
leaves plenty of room for multiple uses over a long period of time. The block was probably
originally upright, with the images on Side B facing the entrance of the cave, and Side A
orientated in the narrow space between the block and the cave wall. Despite the fact that no other
evidence of symbolic activity has been identified at Arlanpe in the Magdalenian (possibly owing
to the limited extent of the excavation), this probably belongs to some sort of ritual structure. The
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presence of ritual structures in the Lower and Middle Magdalenian has recently been described
in detail (Arias 2009). It seems that sometimes these occur in the deeper areas of caves where
symbolic activities were carried out, for example La Garma A, Praile Aitz, Erberua and the
recently described Etxeberri (Garate et al. 2012); while others took place closer to occupation
areas, for example Erralla, El Juyo and the secondary burial at El Mirn (Straus et al. 2011).
Some of these sites include upright stones (Erralla, Juyo, La Garma A) and on many of them
there were anthropomorphous representations (Entrefoces, La Garma A, Juyo). In such levels,
pigments and ornaments were also commonly present. In the case of Arlanpe Level I, ochre
grinders and ochre fragments have been recovered close to the engraved block, but no ornaments
or portable art are known. What seems different in the case of Arlanpe is the presence of objects,
such as burins or backed bladelets, associated with everyday activities. Furthermore, regarding
the faunal assemblage, there is nothing unusual or significant. The animals show a predominance
of mountain species as would be expected from the environment surrounding the cave (cf. Erralla
Altuna and Mariezkurrena 1985).
Regional stylistic parallels
The only two known parallels for Arlanpe in the northern Iberian Peninsula are the
figures from El Linar and Arenaza Caves (San Miguel and Muoz 2002; Garate 2004). In these
sites, unique schematic feminine representations (FFS) have been recognized. They show a
fusiform torso, exaggeration of the buttocks, and the waist indicated by a V-like line, with no
indication of the extremities or the head. Unlike Arlanpe, both figures are faint engravings on
cave walls and are located far away from occupation areas (100 m in Linar, 250 m in Arenaza).
None of these figures has been dated directly. Initial work in Linar Cave suggested that the
human occupations were of Upper Magdalenian age (Moure 1971), but recent excavations in
three different sectors, situated at c.20 m from the FFS engraving (Lasheras et al. 2005), suggest
that the site was occupied during the Middle Magdalenian, with dates between c.15,800 and
14,000 BP (Rasines et al. 2009), and is also associated with portable art typical of the Middle
Magdalenian (de las Heras et al. 2008). In the case of Arenaza, the excavations that were carried
out in the 1970s and 1980s revealed a Late MagdalenianAzilian sequence (Apellaniz 1985), but
a recent revision of the lithic industry reveals that level VI has elements that link it to older
phases of the Upper Magdalenian or even the Middle Magdalenian (Rios-Garaizar and San
Emeterio 2012). In the cave of Ardales, located in the south of the Iberian Peninsula, several
possible FFS have also been described (Ramos et al. 2002; Maura et al. 2009), but so far no
concrete Upper Palaeolithic occupation context has been reported (Cantalejo and Espejo 2013).
Geographical dispersion of FFS among Europe
The distribution of sites with FFS representations extends from the northern Iberian
Peninsula to the central European plains. Three main concentration areas can be distinguished,
one in the Dordogne/Quercy/Pyrenean regions (France), and the other two in western and eastern
Germany (Fig. 9). As mentioned previously, the older manifestations are found in the southern
French area, probably beginning during the Middle Magdalenian, while in northern Europe these
figures are associated with the Late Magdalenian occupations. In this sense, the attribution of the
Arlanpe block to the Middle Magdalenian reinforces the idea of an origin for these kinds of
images in south-western Europe and an ultimate expansion towards northern Europe at the end
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Figure 9
Sites in Europe with FFS. The doubtful figures (38, 43, 45, 46) are in grey. The circles represent the main regional aggregations. (Basemap: European
Environment Agency, modified by R. Bourrillon.)

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of the Magdalenian. This expansion would coincide roughly with the process of colonization of
the central European plains at the end of the Last Glacial (Otte 1990; Jochim et al. 1999;
Terberger and Street 2002; Demars 2006), which probably was made from FrenchIberian
refugia. It has also been proposed, from genetic evidence, that Cantabrian populations played a
major role in the colonization of northern Europe (Torroni et al. 2001), but recent studies suggest
a more cautious interpretation of this genetic evidence (Garcia et al. 2011).
Thus, the apparent scarcity of FFS in the northern Iberian Peninsula is unexpected. This
fact has been used to propose the existence of a stylistic frontier during the Upper Magdalenian
between the Cantabrian region and south-western France (Fritz et al. 2007). The available data
suggest that FFS originated during the Middle Magdalenian, and the discovery of the Arlanpe
block, where three FFS (two of them less perceptible) were depicted probably in the Middle
Magdalenian, reinforces the possibility that the symbol originated in the Franco-Cantabrian
region during this period, and then dispersed from this macro-region towards north-central
Europe during the Late Magdalenian. Many other lines of evidence speak about a certain unity
of this macro-region during the Middle Magdalenian, such as the repetition of artistic
representations (ie. Contour-dcoup, Claviforms, Niaux-style bisons, etc. (Tosello 2003; Garate
et al. 2012), of ornament types (Rivero and lvarez-Fernndez 2009), the distribution pattern of
raw materials (Corchn et al. 2009), and the expansion of certain types of bone tools (i.e.
fork-based antler points Ptillon 2007).
CONCLUSIONS

The finding of the Arlanpe block, with engraved figurines, reinforces the presence of FFS in the
northern Iberian Peninsula, although some doubtful examples were previously recognized, in El
Linar and Arenaza Caves. One of the Arlanpe figures clearly fits the stylistic canon of LalindeGnnersdorf representations, while another two are closely related to this canon and can thus be
interpreted as probable FFS, with a further two being more difficult to interpret. In Arlanpe, the
presence of this engraved block in a site interpreted as a hunting camp is difficult to explain, but
is probably linked to the creation of some sort of ritualized space, as has been proposed for other
examples from the Cantabrian region.
The block at Arlanpe also fills a gap in the distribution of FFS representations in
south-western Europe, which was difficult to explain given the apparent unity, at least in
symbolic-artistic manifestations, of the Franco-Cantabrian region during the Middle and Upper
Magdalenian. The possible relationship of the Arlanpe block to the Middle Magdalenian levels
of the site reinforces the idea that such images were initially developed in south-western Europe
and later diffused to the north, following the colonization routes of the northern plains, already
free of ice. This also opens new questions about the role of populations from the Cantabrian
region in this recolonization process.
Finally, the presence of a clear Lalinde-Gnnersdorf type figure from an Early Middle
Magdalenian context suggests that these kinds of manifestations, typical of the Upper
Magdalenian, probably had an older origin than previously thought.
Acknowledgements

We wish to express our gratitude to the anonymous reviewers who helped substantially to
improve the manuscript. The English version was corrected by Charles Bashore. We are grateful to the
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THE VENUSES BLOCK FROM ARLANPE CAVE

Arlanpe excavation and research team for their efforts. Fieldwork was funded by Bizkaiko Foru Aldundia,
Harpea Kultur Elkartea and the Barandiarn Foundation, and help provided by Lemoako Udala and the
Instituto Internacional de Investigaciones Prehistricas de Cantabria IIIPC. The cataloguing of the
archaeological material was funded by Eusko Jaurlaritza. The faunal analysis was funded by grants from
Eusko Ikaskuntza. AG-O had a Marie Curie IEF Fellowship when this work was done and is supported by
the Ministerio de Economia y Competitividad (project CGL2012-38434-C03-01) and Gobierno Vasco/
Eusko Jaurlaritza (Research Group IT 834-13).

(JR-G, TK) Centro Nacional de Investigacin sobre la Evolucin Humana (CENIEH)


09002 Burgos
SPAIN
E-mail: joseba.rios@cenieh.es
(DG, RB) CREAP Cartailhac-TRACES-UMR 5806
Universit de Toulouse-Le Mirail
31058 Toulouse Cedex
France
(AG-O) Ikerbasque/Dept. Estratigrafa y Paleontologa
Facultad de Ciencia y Tecnologa
Euskal Herriko Unibertsitatea
UPV-EHU. Apdo. 644
48080 Bilbao
SPAIN
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