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Sporadic occupation in Armiña cave during the Upper Magdalenian: what for?
Joseba Ríos-Garaizar  1@  , Diego Garate-Maidagan  2@  , Rivero Olivia  3@  , Ana B. Marín-Arroyo  4@  , Martin Arriolabengoa  5@  , Josu Aranbarri, Iñaki Libano  6@  , Juan Rofes  7@  , Amaia Arranz-Otaegui  8@  
1 : Centro Nacional de Investigaciones de la Evolución Humana  (CENIEH)
CENIEH (Centro Nacional de Investigación de la Evolución Humana), Paseo de Atapuerca s/n, 09004 Burgos, Spain. -  Espagne
2 : Universidad de Cantabria
3 : Universidad de Salamanca
4 : Instituto Internacional de Investigaciones Prehistóricas de Cantabria, Universidad de Cantabria, Gobierno de Cantabria, Santander  (IIIPC)  -  Site web
Edificio Interfacultativo, Avda. de los Castros s/n, 39005 Santander, Cantabria -  Espagne
5 : Departamento de Mineralogía y Petrología. Universidad del País Vasco
6 : Edestiaurre Arkeologi Elkartea
Barrika (Spain) -  Espagne
7 : Laboratoire "Archéozoologie et Archéobotanique: Sociétés, Pratiques et Environnements"  (UMR 7209)
8 : Department of Cross-Cultural studies and Regional studies, University of Copenhagen

The cave of Armiña is part of the same karstic system than Atxurra cave, which has an occupation site in the entrance, covering from Gravettian to Late Magdalenian, and numerous evidences of Paleolithic rock-art in the inner part of the cave. The current entrance of Armiña was discovered at the end of XIX century when the road between Markina and Lekeitio was opened, but there is no previous indication that the cave was open before the limestone hillside was excavated. Since its discovery, Armiña has been explored by A. Galvez Cañero, J. M. Barandiaran and J. Altuna, finding only scattered evidence of human and animal occupation (Garate, 2012). In 2014 a new archaeological project started in the Atxurra-Armiña system. The site of Atxurra was re-excavated between 2014 and 2015 revealing a long and well-preserved sequence comprising the Early Gravettian, Lower and Late Magdalenian. In 2015 the rich rock-art of Atxurra was discovered in the deepest part of the cave (Garate et al. 2016). Most of this art can be confidently attributed to the Magdalenian.

In 2016, several test pits were made in Armiña cave, founding archeological evidence in one of them. In 2017 the excavation of this latter pit was extended to 6 m2. The stratigraphic sequence was sealed by a succession of sterile units (Ia-Ic) with no archaeological or faunal remains. At the bottom of this sterile unit a continuous flowstone separate it from level III, an almost sterile unit containing few transported bones and charcoal fragments. Immediately under this unit, the first archaeological remains were found. They are few bone fragments and lithic tools associated to a small fireplace and an ocher stain. Interestingly, many of the lithic remains are retouched tools, some of them made on exotic raw materials (80 km). In the units under this archaeological layer only faunal remains were recovered.


The available archaeological evidence, and the first results of the ongoing multiproxy analyses suggest that the studied site is the result of a very short occupation event or even shorter visits to this spot inside the cave. These visits were more or less contemporaneous the occupation levels from Atxurra and probably corresponding chronologically to the artistic activity. However, although Armiña cave is very suitable for human occupation, only a limited occupation has been recognized. This could partially be related to the morpho-topographic conditions of the cave which would imply that the external access was closed during this occupation. Thus, it would be possible to define the occupation site as an inner archaeological context (I.A.C.). Therefore, our main hypothesis is that this short term occupations were activities spots of Magdalenian explorers inside the cave, in where the developed activities were not exclusively related to technological and subsistence practices given the particular nature of the findings (ocher stain and exotic materials).




Garate, D. (2012): Neandertales y Cromañones. Los primeros pobladores de Bizkaia. Guías del Arkeologi Museoa. 2, Diputación Foral de Bizkaia, Bilbao.

Garate, D.; Rivero, O.; Rios-Garaizar, J.; Intxaurbe, I. (2016): La grotte d'Atxurra : un nouveau sanctuaire majeur du magdalénien au Pays Basque. International Newsletter of Rock Art. 1 - 4.

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