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The Secret in the Mud. A Neolithic Cántaro from the Cova d’En Pardo in Planes



11th December 2008

A pottery vessel found in 2004 in the Cova d’En Pardo in Planes is on display in the temporary exhibition space in the entrance hall of MARQ. This cave is located 640 metres above sea level on the southern slopes of the Sierra de la Albureca mountain range. It has a narrow triangular entrance which leads to a medium sized karstic cave. A large stalactite divides the interior of the cave into two spaces or “chambers”. Excavations carried out in the cave by MARQ between 1993 and 2007 focused on the right hand side chamber. The pottery vessel on display was found right at the back of this part of the cave. 

Excavation of the cave has identified a number of various archaeological layers. The amphora shaped pottery vessel was found in layer VI. This layer or occupation surface is characterised by a brownish-grey coloured sediment which contains very little stone. Like the layer above (level V), this layer contained a number of small fragments of pottery with comb decoration and other material culture such as faunal remains, flint tools and perforated shell beads; all of which indicate that the cave was used by prehistoric shepherds. Radiocarbon dates taken from a cattle bone and a human bone date layer VI to 6,600 years old.
This is also the date of the pottery vessel found, which means that it was made in the Middle Neolithic period. It is therefore surprising that the vessel has survived in such a good condition, which has allowed it to be analysed in great detail by various specialists. The vessel is what is known as a “cántaro” or shouldered jug and has a similar shape to an amphora. It has a capacity of 25.9 litres and was buried in the ground with only its mouth protruding above the earth. The cántaro is associated with Neolithic shepherds who used the cave and it would have been used to collect water that dripped inside the cave or to store milk, which would have been drunk fermented.
Various similar vessels have been found in the Valencian Region, nearly all of which come from the Alicante Province. The vessel from the Cova d’En Pardo was used by a group of shepherds who stayed in the cave from spring to summer. They used the cave as a sheep pen and this type of transhumant livestock farming has been well documented in the 5th century BC. When the cave was abandoned the shepherds left the vessel buried in the ground and covered over with the idea of returning and using it the following year. However, the people who returned to the cave afterwards did not find the vessel and it remained buried and undamaged for six millenniums.

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