Las Gobas Cave Complex–NVRP Excursion 8/11/2014

On 11 August, 2014, the Najerilla Valley Research Project (NVRP) team visited the cave complex of Las Gobas in Laño, Treviño in northern Spain.

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Las Gobas cave complex in Treviño.

Las Gobas is a cave complex in northern Spain that served as both living spaces and as places of worship in the seventh through ninth centuries AD. The complex was first occupied in the seventh century, when inhabitants expanded existing caves and dug out new ones. The excavators–A. Azkarate Garai-Olaun and J. L. Solaun Bustinza of the Universidad del País Vasco–write that of the existing thirteen caves in the Las Gobas complex, two can unequivocally be said to have served as churches (Las Gobas caves 4 and 6). Beginning in the ninth century, the complex experienced a large-scale reorganization when the caves were abandoned as dwellings and used exclusively for burials. The use of the caves as a cemetery lasted up to the sixteenth century, when the site was reoccupied for agricultural use.[1]

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One of the two churches in the Las Gobas complex.

The word gobas comes from the Basque language‘s word for “cave”: goba (variant, koba).[2] The Las Gobas cave complex is situated in a region surrounded by the Basque country–an autonomous community of northern Spain with a distinct language and culture from the rest of the country. The Basque people are indigenous to the area around the western Pyrenees mountains and straddles north-central Spain and south-western France. The language of this region is a bit of a novelty–it is completely distinct from any of the languages in the areas surrounding it and is generally considered to be the last existing remnant of the pre-Indo-European languages of Western Europe.

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One of the churches with later burials.

The caves were excavated  in 2007 by the Grupo de Investigación en Arqueología de la Arquitectura (UPV-EHU), with the goal of understanding rural settlement patterns in the area during the late antique and early medieval periods. They also aimed to add evidence contributing to the ongoing scholarly debate regarding the use of the Las Gobas cave complex–some argue that the caves were used exclusively for liturgical purposes, while others argue that they may also have served secular and civil purposes as well.[3]

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[1] A. Azkarate Garai-Olaun and J. L. Solaun Bustinza, “Excavaciones arqueológicas en el exterior de los conjuntos rupestres de Las Gobas (Laño, Burgos),” Archivo Español de Arqueología 81 (2008): 133.

[2] L. Michelena, “Acentuación alto-navarra,” Fontes Linguae Vasconum 23 (1976): 147-162 [Reprinted, Palabras y textos (1987): 245-260].

[3] A. Azkarate Garai-Olaun and J. L. Solaun Bustinza, “Excavaciones arqueológicas,” 133.

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Further Reading:

2008 Excavation Report from the Archivo Español de Arqueología (Azkarate Garai-Oloun and Solaun Bustinza)

http://www.elcorreo.com/vizcaya/ocio/gps/planes/230508/planes-capadocia-alavesa.html

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Scott de Brestian discusses the history and significance of these caves in the video below:

Las Gobas Church Caves from Jayd Lewis1 on Vimeo.

Other pictures from the NVRP’s visit to Las Gobas:

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NVRP co-directors Scott de Brestian and Victor Martinez.

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NVRP assistant Jayd Lewis.

Inscriptions in one of the Las Gobas caves.

Inscriptions in one of the Las Gobas caves.

 

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