The archeologists studying the footprints left behind by our distant ancestors in the land that is now the Basque Country never cease to amaze us with their discoveries.

We’ve already spoken about many of these discoveries before:

  • Humans who inhabited the area that is now San Sebastián 25,000 years ago had commercial contacts and relations with other communities who lived hundreds of kilometers away.
  • The oldest known existing map in western Europe was discovered ina a cave in Navarre.
  • The extraordinary collection of cave art, 15,000 years old, found in Atxurra cave in Biscay.
  • A stone pendant calculated to be 25,000 years old, found in Irakaitz cave in Gipuzkoa.
  • The three “Isturitz sticks” named for (Isturitz cave) that appeared in Ezkuzta cave in Gipuzkoa, dated to 14,000 years ago.

There’s a lot of history of this part of Europe that is a part of the  Mucha historia en esta zona de Europa que forma parte del Franco-Cantabria refugium, which covers the area from southwestern France to the Eastern edge of the Cantabria range.  It’s considered the main settlement area for the groups of humans who came from Northern Europe during the last glacial period, fleeing adverse climate conditions. At the end of this age of this period is when some of those left to colonize Europe.

The mammoth hunters of Isturitz

And we’re coming back to this topic because researchers at the Univ. of the Basque Country (UPV) are participating in an international project at Isturitz cave.  This cave is at the center of cultural spread, and lends its name to the bone sticks we mentioned before, as well as where the oldest flutes on earth were found, at about 25,000 years old.

Flauta de hueso de la cultura de Isturitz
Bone flute from the Isturitz culture

There, in 1988, is where the right shoulder blade of a mammoth that had been hunted 29,000 years ago and brought into the cave to be consumed was found.  This was quite a surprise, as normally humans avoided contact with animals as large as mammoths.

So this could literally be annexception, something extraordinary.  But the UPV researchers have brought out new evidence at the end of the fieldwork project, with just three weeks left until it ended.

In a two-square-meter research area, three thousand pieces of animal and stone remains have been found.  And among those remains, they’ve found that that mammoth shoulder blade wasn’t alone and wasn’t an exception.  There were other remains, quite a few, of reindeer, horses, and bison, which were common prey in the Upper Paleolithic, and also other mammoth remains.

And this means that something that was considered an exception no longer is, and that those who inhabited what is today Lower Navarre included mammoth in their diet, when they could.

France Bleu – 17/4/2021 – France

Des fouilles archéologiques révèlent que des hommes chassaient le mammouth à Isturitz

Une découverte exceptionnelle dans la grotte d’Isturitz à Saint-Martin-d’Arberoue. Dans cette cavité se trouve une épaule de mammouth découverte en 1998. Une équipe archéologues de l’Université du Pays Basque (UPV/EHU) vient d’apporter des éléments nouveaux au terme d’une campagne de recherche de trois semaines.

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Campusa – 14/4/2021 – Euskadi

Nueva excavación en la cueva de Isturitz, un yacimiento arqueológico único en Euskal Herria

Un equipo de la UPV/EHU participa en la excavación del yacimiento de Isturitz, un proyecto internacional en cooperación con las cuevas de Isturitz & Oxocelhaya y financiado por el Service Régional d’Archéologie de Nouvelle Aquitaine. En lo que llevan de excavación, han recuperado tres mil restos arqueológicos, entre fauna y lítica. Este contexto arqueólogico único permitirá reconstruir los modos de subsistencia de los humanos que habitaron Isturitz durante milenios.

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