Archaeology and Palaeontology in Gordailua

Gordailua, the Gipuzkoa Heritage Collection Centre

The movable heritage of our region is conserved in Gordailua, at the Gipuzkoa Centre for Heritage Collections. Through this small exhibition, we invite you to discover some of the most important archaeological pieces in the collection.

Stones, ceramics, metals, bones ... among the thousands of objects that are kept at Gordailua are those from archaeological work in Gipuzkoa. As a result, we are now able to learn about snippets of our history.

The appearance of human beings on Earth took place in the Quaternary (from about 2.59 million to 11,000 years ago), a geological era that is divided into the Pleistocene and Holocene. The oldest material remains found in Gipuzkoa date back some 300,000 years, from the early stages of the Paleolithic (Lower Paleolithic), found in caves and outdoor habitats.

The important palaeontological collection of Gordailua also comes from the caves, including this skull from the Panthera spelaea or cave lion. The skeleton, which is almost whole, was found in an inner gallery of the Arrikrutz cave and is one of the most complete in Europe. This species lived on our continent between 670,000 and 12,000 years ago.

Middle Paleolithic
We have more information and materials from the Middle Paleolithic (between approximately 130,000 and 36,000 years ago). In this period, as during the entire Paleolithic period, communities lived from hunting and gathering.

They also made tools in stone, wood, etc., such as this hand axe, a tool with a variety of uses located in the Mousterian level of the cave of Lezetxiki.

The cave of Amalda was also occupied during the Middle Paleolithic . This unique piece, called a “slug”, comes from there.

Knapped in flint, this tool would be used to cut, scrape and scratch off meat, leather, wood, etc. It was revived successively to reuse the piece.

Upper Paleolithic : Solutrean
Approximately 36,000 years ago, Homo sapiens neanderthalensis became extinct and a new species appeared in Europe: Homo sapiens sapiens or Cro-Magnon, our species. These human beings diversified their tools and widely developed activities related to art and beliefs.

The Upper Paleolithic has been divided into several stages to study it better and the tip presented here, a “laurel leaf” type, comes from the Solutrean (20,000 - 17,000 years ago). A very high level of technical development was achieved in flint knapping during that era.

Towards the end of the Upper Paleolithic , 17,000 - 1,100 years ago, during the Magdalenian era, art reached its peak expression. Animals, signs and even human figures were painted or engraved on cave walls or on pieces of furniture, sometimes very realistically.

Although its function is unknown, this activity would be related to the world of beliefs.

This platelet found in the cave of Ekain is one of the most important pieces of furniture art in Gipuzkoa. The front parts of a Pyrenean goat ...

... and a deer and a horse are beautifully represented on a sandstone plate.

They are engraved with great perfection.

At the same time, the most abundant pieces of bone industry are those from the Magdalenian period. This spear, crafted out of deer or reindeer horn, from the cave of Aitzbitarte IV, would be used for fishing and hunting, inserted in a wooden shaft.

In the Holocene, approximately 6700 years ago, the economic base of human beings changed radically in this region. Living from hunting and gathering changed to agriculture and livestock farming and, with this, lifestyles also changed. During the Neolithic period, the first settled communities appeared with new materials, for example, ceramic vessels or polished tools, such as this axe from Udalaitz.
Metal Ages: Copper Age - Early Bronze Age
Within this economic model, metallurgy came to this region in the Copper Age (about 4500 – 3800 years ago). Although copper and gold were originally crafted, during the Bronze Age (3800-2800 years ago) bronze and other copper alloys were used.

In those times, the dead were buried in caves or in megaliths (dolmens and tumuli). Trousseau elements have occasionally been discovered beside the skeletons, such as these 9 necklace beads from the cave of Iruaxpe I.

At the same time, at the end of the Copper Age and the beginning of the early Bronze Age, the Bell-Beaker cultural complex developed in Europe. Little is known about this culture or phenomenon, but they left a very special trousseau in the burials, especially in cists.

This trousseau includes bell-shaped vessels that gave the culture its name, like this almost complete specimen of a dolmen from Pagobakoitza. These vessels have a very expressive decoration.

By the end of the Bronze Age, metallurgy techniques had improved and enormous progress had been made in the types of metal tools and weapons. In the case of axes, for example, they were adding new elements to fasten the main piece to the handle better.

Iron Age
The end of Prehistory is known as the Iron Age, from about 2800 years ago until the change of Era, specifically until the time when the Romans dominated our region. In the villages started to work with iron about 2500 years ago and all kinds of tools, implements and weapons were made using this new metal, as it was more suitable than copper or bronze.

These two metals were not, however, completely abandoned, being relegated essentially to ornaments. Proof of this is this fibula from the fortified village of Munoaundi. This piece was used to fasten clothes by means of a needle.

The daily activities in these villages were mainly based on agriculture and livestock farming and they also made different products such as metals, ceramics, textiles, etc. But, in addition to this, there are also documented remains that prove the long-distance commercial activity, such as this beautiful necklace bead.

Change of Era: Romanisation
The organisation of this region changed radically approximately with the change of era. The Iberian Peninsula and much of Europe remained under Roman rule; fortified villages built in the Iron Age disappeared and the population was reorganized based on the interests of Rome. During this period, settlements were located on the coast, such as Oiasso, built in accordance with Roman organisation and techniques.

Cabotage was mainly used for trade and these bronze wall lamps found under the sea are evidence of this. They represent Roman gods telling us of changes in beliefs. They were probably part of a wooden box transported on a vessel that sank in about the 2nd century after the change of Era.

The Romans also brought their fashions and new technologies with them. This Terra sigillata bowl comes from the area where the port of the town of Oiasso was located. It is decorated with bands with plant motifs.

Middle Ages
After the Roman Empire, from about the 5th century onwards, we entered what is known as the Middle Ages. In Gipuzkoa, we have information about the late Middle Ages (11th - 14th centuries). The most outstanding sites include the castles, where many weapons, such as this crossbow point from Jentilbaratza, have been found.

In another nearby castle, in AusaGaztelu, a hemisphere-shaped iron helmet was found, also from the late Middle Ages. It has small holes on the edge to join the coat of mail to better protect the rest of the head and body.

These two castles are located in the north of the Sierra de Aralar and were very important in the conflicts between the Kingdoms of Pamplona-Navarre and Castile, as well as in the War of the Bands.

But not everything was a weapon. We often also find ornaments or decorated objects in these castles. For example, we have this golden, embossed stud from Mendikute Castle.

Modern Age
And, to end with, the Modern Age. In the villages the Ahaide Nagusiak (landed nobility) were gradually losing power. A new class was born, as the merchants became more and more prominent. And they left their mark on the archaeological record, with new fashions, such as this ceramic bowl from the 16th-17th century.

It is made of traditional Spanish / Arabic lustreware and was probably made in the Mudejar workshop in Muel (Zaragoza, Aragon). It has handles in the shape of lugs with a geometric decoration.

Pipes like this piece were very common in small towns. This example is from the 18th century, but they were used in Europe from the 16th century until the 20th century. They are made of clay, more specifically kaolin, from a mould. In this case it has a plant decoration.

The list of Gordailua's pieces does not end there, as there are a number of objects of various materials and types. They are preserved in the best possible conditions, with the aim of promoting research, while at the same time preserving our heritage for future generations.

Gordailua, The Gipuzkoa Heritage Collection Centre
Credits: Story

The Gipuzkoa Heritage Collection Centre
Provincial Council of Gipuzkoa

Photos of the Gordailua facilities taken by Oscar Moreno

Photos of archaeological pieces: Saioa Cano (Garoa) and Giorgio Studer (Gordailua)

Photomontage of the Ekain platelet carried out from the drawing by Javier Salaverria (Barandiaran, Altuna, 1977)

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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