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THE AMATEUR ARCHAEOLOGIST ONLINE
A Call to Arms to save the largest open-air assemblage of Upper Paleolithic art in Europe from being drowned NOW behind a rising dam at Foz Côa, Portugal
PREFATORY LETTER & LINK TO ARTICLE IN PDF FORMAT
Prefatory letter: Dear Mike & Sherry,
I was wondering whether you'd be willing to post another of my articles on the ASAA website? This one is a PDF called "Out of Sight, Out of Mind: The Conspiracy to Flood the Seventh Wonder of Prehistory". It was written in May 1995 after I snuck past guards to investigate reports that a cornucopia of Paleolithic art was about to be flooded by a three-hundred-million-dollar dam at Foz Coa in northeastern Portugal. What I found made me come out fighting. After writing the call-to arms - which was widely circulated, published and excerpted during the summer and fall of '95, I launched an international petition drive called Prehistoric Art Emergency, which funneled hundreds of signatures to the Portuguese president. After an election that was partly fought around the scandal, a new government paid attention to the huge local, national and international outcry and halted the half-completed dam - ultimately making the valley the archaeological park that it is today. But the same new government proceeded to flood another valley with rock art - making the largest reservoir in western Europe. So it was a close call.
Finally, I've just gotten back from a pilgrimage to the Coa, where I was given night tours of 22,000 year-old friezes and a preview of the museum that's about to open. As one drives up to a cliff overlooking the gorge, the museum is nowhere in sight, since one arrives on its roof, which is worked into a crest overlooking the valley. To make it even more fitting, the same slate that the art is engraved on at about 60 locations in the valley was powdered into the cement, which was then held in place by huge slate slabs that lent their grain to the rock-colored walls. They're so suggestive that one can't help but look for engravings of animals even in the concrete!
The only thing that suggests that there is a large building below is a fissure with a ramp down into the darkness. After descending it with trepidation, one finds oneself in a palace of halls lit by tall narrow slits. It's all state-of-the-art and very flashy, but my favorite rooms are unfortunately the ones housing replicas of art panels that were found when the water dropped for a few days behind an existing dam that still floods part of the valley. Hundreds of aurochs, deer, horses and ibex cover a single monumental slab that deserves to be made into a UNESCO World Heritage Site just for its own sake! Even though I knew much of the art that remains above water because of my survey of the valley, I was blown away. This was like flooding part of Lascaux!
Plus a Portuguese archaeologist told me that the fight is not over - certain political elements are apparently hoping that the museum won't get enough visitors, so they can say "We told you so! Portugal should resume building the dam!" After all our efforts, its fate still hangs in the balance. So we should do everything we can to encourage visitors to go see the marvels - which is all that may eventually save them. After reading the old article, which I've revised by adding photographs and footnotes, to give it historical depth, readers may want to learn how they can see the Coa's splendors and how Prehistoric Art Emergency helped preserve them (so far) by checking out a series of webpages at:
My warmest greetings and thanks.
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