The wind blows hard. It runs through the Agua de Dios ravine, in the municipality of Tegueste, with a guttural sound that violently moves the leaves of the reeds and seems to cut the volcanic stone. A narrow and winding path, almost vertical to the walls of the ravine, leads whoever passes through it on a journey through time, since it is the same land that the aborigines walked on to reach one of the best-preserved Guanche houses in Tenerife: the Cave of the Heads.
The narrow path that leads to the cave has become during the past week the path that a dozen archaeologists from the University of La Laguna (ULL). A diverse group of scientists trying to discover the secrets that this archaeological site still holds. The reason that has led them there is to study the anthropic footprint left by the Guanches at that point on the island. “We tend to think that ancient populations had no effect on their natural environment, but we are seeing that this is not the case,” explains Salvador Pardo, co-director of this project and ULL researcher. Not surprisingly, they have found that where now only reeds, bushes, prickly pear cactus and some weeds grow, in the past a dense fayal-heath forest.
To know the anthropic impacts of the past populations, the researchers study the traces of coals that have remained embedded in the stone, because with their analysis they are able to unravel what type of vegetation they used to fuel their fires. But it is not the only thing. The paloenvironmental sequence will be obtained for the first time at this site through the combination of different disciplines such as “the analysis of pollen, photoliths, seeds and fruits together with the study of coals”, explains Paloma Vidal, co-director of the project and also ULL researcher.
Researchers study the human footprint left by the Guanches in the area
And although this has been the main incentive to reactivate the exploration of the cave, the researchers soon realized that there was much more to discover within that crack in the earth. This competitive project of the Ministry of Science, in which scientists from international universities, such as Cambridge, and from the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (ULGPC) also contemplates the study of the religious rites that predominated among the ancient inhabitants of the Islands and what type of animals formed part of your diet.
After a winding journey through a path of steep escapes and steep elevations that require the use of a thick rope to save them, the cave welcomes visitors as if time had not even scratched it. The opening in the mountain is small, although perhaps in the 6th century – at which time the first signs of habitation were found – the gap between the ceiling and the floor of the cave was large enough to allow the entrance of the aborigines. without the need to round your back almost 90 degrees.
The one that can suppose a dangerous entrance for some clueless, is perhaps the one that in the 70s inspired the lagoon archaeologist Luis Diego Cuscoy when naming it. The Cueva de los Cabezazos –sometimes described by Cuscoy himself as bigheads– It is spacious, although sometimes the height of the ceilings forces you to lower your head. Most likely, it was formed, like many other caves in the Islands.Thanks to the volcanoes.
Time is short and there is a lot of cave that digThat is why no one stops working for a moment inside the deposit. But archaeologists are meticulous, knowing that too quick an execution could cost the loss of years of history. The archaeologists begin before dawn to chip at the stone, georeferencing the key points of the cave and taking small samples of the treasures they find inside. With a brush, one of the researchers caresses the rock and deposits the remains that come off it in a small plastic bag. Since they started, they have filled hundreds of plastic bags with small samples inside that are waiting their turn to be analyzed in the ULL laboratories.
Great variety of pieces
There are many pieces that have managed to extract from the stone in just a few weeks of excavation. They have found small traces of elaborate ceramics, beads, various tools (such as awls) and even animal remains: from dogs, pigs and goats to a few limpets and fish bones. Its great archaeological productivity has pleasantly surprised scientists. “It was said that this cave had already been fully explored and what we are finding is that there is still a lot to do,” says Pardo.
The ULL is giving a second life to a deposit that was believed to be fully explored. The last expedition carried out in the area was the one carried out by the members of the Museum of Nature and Archeology (MUNA) in the 1990s. Their findings corroborated what Cuscoy had already warned 20 years before: it was a cave-room. The first found in Tenerife and the place where several generations of Guanches had survived for centuries. Today it is known that at least between the 6th and 9th centuries they took refuge in it.
The MUNA found a key piece to give even more credibility to the theory of the Laguna archaeologist. He found a combustion structure, a basin where the aborigines lit their fires to cook, keep warm on cold Teguester nights or to avoid less friendly visitors. “Cuscoy divided the cave into several sections, including a kitchen and a bedroom,” explains Pardo. “It’s still hard for me to accept it because the base is very irregular,” admits the researcher.
The scientists returned to the cave this Holy Week and were stunned by what they found. “We realized that there was a bit of ceramic in a corner, so we decided to expand the study area,” says El Pardo. What happened next, he assures him, was something of “chance.” From there came a vessel in perfect condition, full of sediments inside and lipids at the bottom. “The first in Tenerife to be found face up, in its original position of use,” explains Pardo, who emphasizes that, in the caves of the Teide National Parkfor example, have all been found upside down.
The traces of the past had remained intact inside that pottery and now the researchers are trying to find out what exactly it keeps. “We know there’s fat in it, so it’s probably a food storage vessel, but we’re analyzing the samples to find out exactly what they were keeping,” he explains.
Although the main objective of the excavation is scientific, the researchers also believe that it may have an important social role. With the imminent inauguration of the Tegueste Archeology Interpretation Center, scientists believe that it is important to know in depth everything that sedimentary rock hides. “It is part of our history and will serve as a tourist attraction in the future,” insists Pardo.
During yesterday’s session, the Tegueste City Council and the University of La Laguna (ULL) conducted guided tours of the cave open to anyone who dared to delve into the history of their municipality through the Cueva de Los Cabezazos. In the eyes of the Department of Heritage of the municipality, these types of activities value our important historical and cultural heritage, exposing the revaluation of the Agua De Dios Ravine.
The Cueva de los Cabezazos, together with the set of natural caves of a residential or funerary nature, have numerous archaeological sites, making up one of the aboriginal settlement units that has provided the greatest volume of information for the island of Tenerife.
“With this guided tour, we want to give the possibility of knowing first-hand the ways of life and the culture created by our aboriginal ancestors, in addition to offering attendees accurate, rigorous and documented information,” they highlighted from the municipal corporation.