Identification of El Pez

Dr. Bruno Chanet
Institut Universitaire Européen de la Mer

Photo: Zugarto Ed.

It is always difficult to try to identify which species an animal drawn in a cave belongs to, especially if the drawing represents a rarely represented species. The style of the artist does not follow the rules of a scientific paper of the 21st century and the different superimposition do not enlighten the nature of the original specimen. Anyway, identifying accurately a species is important in providing data about the fauna, the food and the practices of the populations living in a precise place at a precise time.

El Pez is the representation of a big fish (1.5 m long) drawn in one of the deepest part of the cave (sit.18). The fish is viewed by its right side which shows the two eyes. This feature is important : only adult fishes belonging to the Pleuronectiformes order, better known as flatfish like the sole or the turbot, possess such an ocular asymmetry, with the two eyes present on one side, right or left according to the species. Moreover, the two median fins (dorsal and anal fins) extend all along the body and the dorsal fin extends onto the head ; these two features confirm that El Pez is the representation of a flatfish. If we compare it to the recent species present in the Spanish waters, the fact that the two eyes are present on the right side, the orientation of the mouth and the shape of the body lead to the conclusion that this flatfish belongs to the family Pleuronectidae and can be considered as a representation of a European Flounder (Platichthys flesus L., Platija in Spanish). But, the crescent-shaped caudal fin is quite unusual among flatfishes and we cannot reject the hypothesis that the whole fish is composite.

The European Flounder is a common species of flatfish on all the western Europe coasts, from the seashore to 60 m deep. This species can be met in estuaries, tolerates freshwater ; some European Flounders were caught in rivers several hundred kilometres away from the sea. This biological particularity prevents us from thinking that the populations who drew El Pez were for sure in contact with the sea or able to fish.

Nevertheless, El Pez is worth mentioning because it seems to be the oldest representation of a flatfish and shows that flatfish have interested people at least since the Magdalenian.

Dr. Bruno Chanet
(Plouzané, France)

To know more:
• Les représentations de poissons plats [Teleostei: Pleuronectiformes] dans l'art paléolothique européen. Munibe 57, 2005. Bibliographía
• Au Platologiste inconnu des grottes andalouses. SFI-infos, 2002, 22-23:5. Article

• Description of El Pez by H. Breuil:

"... Le grand Poisson est tracé fermement, mais non sans gaucheri'e; il semble figurer un poisson de mer, du groupe des Plies ou des Barbues, gráce à la torsion de tous les organes, de la gueule, des nageoires pectorales, à ´l'absence des nageoires dorsales et anales, remplacées, semble-t-il, par une membrane marginale suivant les rebords et marquée par le contour redoublé de la périphérie. Toutefois la queue, large et á forts ailerons massifs ne coincide pas avec ces caractéres, que l'on retrouve cependant plus ou moins dans les autres Poissons déjà cités." Page 39 of La Pileta à Benaojan, 1915.

• Other fishes painted in La Pileta: 1 (L: 130 cm W: 40 cm) and 2 (L: 155 cm W: 65 cm), fishes from the Divertículo de los Peces (sit.10); 3 (L: 210 cm W: 80 cm) is in the Salón de las Pinturas (sit.2)
• Prehistoric fishers in the cave of Nerja (Málaga). Article