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Archaeology

The Douro tells stories with thousands of years through the images engraved in rocks which exist since the beginning of mankind. On the banks of the Côa river, one of the Douro’s effluents, rises the largest and the most important sample of Palaeolithic art in the world displayed outdoors. You will be amazed by this unique gift left by our remote ancestors.

Rock engraving of an aurochs | © Melanie AntunesMuseu do Côa | © Centro Nacional de Cultura, António CruzSet of rock carvings | © Melanie AntunesExterior of the Museum of Coa | © Centro Nacional de Cultura, António CruzGuide outlines engravings | © Melanie AntunesInterpretive Centre of Castelo Melhor | © Melanie AntunesTwo overlapping prints | © Melanie AntunesCoa Valley | © Melanie AntunesRock with two pictures | © Melanie AntunesVisitors watch the Coa Valley | © Melanie AntunesVisitors on their way to Coa Valley | © Melanie AntunesOverlapping prints | © Melanie AntunesMuseu do Côa | © Centro Nacional de Cultura, António CruzA Guide of the Archaeological Coa Valley Park shows pictures | © Melanie AntunesEngraving of an aurochs | © Melanie AntunesVisitors of the Archaeological Park of Coa Valley | © Melanie Antunes

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Archaeological Sites

Near the bed of the Côa river you can find traces that date back to the beginning of Mankind when Man’s anatomically similar ancestors, the Homo sapiens sapiens, lived in the region. The Homo sapiens sapiens lived on Earth during the Ice Age when the climate was cooler and drier and the north of Europe was covered by a wide ice cap. This is what archaeologists called the Palaeolithic Age, which is divided into four periods: the Aurignacian (27 to 40 thousand years ago), the Gravettian (21 to 27 thousand years ago), the Solutrean (18 to 21 thousand years ago) and the Magdalenian (10 to 18 thousand years ago) periods.

The first traces of the Palaeolithic rock art were discovered in Portugal back in 1981 in Freixo de Espada à Cinta. These are called the Mazouco engravings and there you can find several representations, including the image of a horse.The project to build a dam in the Foz do Côa region led to the discovery of some engravings near the Canada do Inferno area in 1992, which caused the construction work for the dam to stop because otherwise the area would be submerged. Between 1994 and 1995 several other engraved rocks were found such as the ones in Ribeira de Piscos (Muxagata), Penascoa (Castelo Melhor) and Quinta da Barca (Chãs). The Archaeological Park of the Vale do Côa was built in Quinta da Barca (Chãs).

The engravings found at the Vale do Côa are from the Gravettian (archaeological site of Cardina I), Solutrean (archaeological sites of Penascoa and Canada do Inferno) and Magdalenian periods (archaeological site of Quinta da Barca).Some of the most common motifs of the engravings include the horse, the auroch (the ancestor of domestic cattle) and the mountain goat, very common at the time due to the region’s cold and dry climate. These engravings were created on rock surfaces by pecking or hammering, and the number of images painted red is reduced. Some of the motifs appear to be moving, which is highly unusual in rock art, but is quite common in the Vale do Côa. At the Canada do Inferno, other than the rock paintings, you will also find religious and popular representations made between the 17th century and the 1950s.

Currently, there are 44 sites with rock engravings scattered around the banks of the Côa river, covering about 17 kilometres. Because it is the largest Palaeolithic art site, in 1998 UNESCO classified the Archaeological Park of the Vale do Côa as World Heritage site.

Up until the discovery of the Mazouco engravings, there were no traces of this type of art in open-air sites, especially because the only examples found until then were in caves or sheltered under rocks. This is the reason why this type of art was known as “cave art”. On the contrary, in the Vale do Côa rock art was mostly practiced in open-air, and caves were exceptions. Rock art was not simply used to decorate cave walls, but also to make sanctuaries.

Other than Palaeolithic art, there are also traces of the Chalcolithic and Bronze Ages. During these times villages were built on high grounds, oftentimes surrounded by walls, as is the case of the Castelo Velho de Freixo de Numão. Prior to the Roman invasion, the region was occupied by Lusitanian peoples, in the period corresponding to the Iron Age. These populations left behind alphabetiform inscriptions that have not been deciphered yet. You can find some of these inscriptions at the Pocinho, in Vale da Casa.

The Vale do Côa is filled with remnants of the past and unsolved mysteries. Motifs drawn on top of other images, thousands of years apart, are still fascinating both to archaeologists and visitors. The answers to these mysteries have either been lost in time or are lying on the bed of the Côa river waiting to be discovered.

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