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Damming the Past

 

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Portugal: Ice Age rock art in the Coa River valley saved
In 1994, archeologists exploring northern Portugal's Coa River valley near the town of Vila Nova de Fozcoa discovered a prehistoric art gallery chiseled into an eight-mile stretch of gorge. Scholars consider the carvings the most important Ice Age art in Europe outside of a cave. Thought to be 20,000 years old, the rock art depicts roughly 150 animals in motion, including horses, ibex, deer, and aurochs, a type of European bison that became extinct in the 17th century.

At the time of the discovery, construction had already begun on a $300 million hydroelectric dam, which by its scheduled completion in 1998 would flood the carvings under 300 feet of water. In an unprecedented show of cooperation, archeologists teamed with a citizens' movement comprised of students, environmentalists, and local wine growers (who feared the dam would alter the area's climate) to block the dam project. Other area residents promoted the dam as a way to boost the local economy, but after lobbying for a year under the slogan "As gravuras nao sabem nadar" ("The engravings are not able to swim"), the anti-dam coalition successfully convinced the Portuguese government in 1995 to abandon the project and instead create an archeological preserve to protect the art.

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Portugal

An aurochs etched into the side of a cliff near Vila Nova de Fozcoa.

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