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Physical geography

The ravine Valltorta is located within a mountainous area of the Mediterranean littoral of the Iberian Peninsula, more specifically in the northern part of the province of Castellón de la Plana.

This geographic area consisting of the great plateau of the Maestrazgo, is made up of an intricate system of semiarid valleys extending from Aragon to the coast. Broadly speaking, Valltorta is integrated in the middle course a ravine between two geographically and geologically different regions, the Upper and Lower Mastership, which have been the setting for unique events throughout its history.

In the Maestrazgo melt two major mountain systems whose different geological roots have determined the physiographic aspect, climate, and in a way, the human development of the two entities comprising melt. In this region, the structures of the Iberian mountain range, following the NW-SE direction, converge with the longitudinal ridges of coastal accidents that take place in the general direction SW-NE. Thus, we see the High Maestrazgo is integrated into the Iberian system and the Low Maestrazgo in the Catalanides system. However, both regions have felt the influences of both domains.

The High Maestrazgo, consisting of Mesozoic limestones, from Cretaceous generally, forms a subtabular region crossed by a few lax folds and numerous faults, mainly in the southern part. The intense erosion of the Ebro river basins and the Mijares River and also the Mediterranean rivers of Servol and Rambla de Cervera (this last one called at his source as the Morellana's wadis, and later Valltorta River Coves or Sant Miquel, on its way through the coast) have carved a rough and rocky terrain, dominated by the cold peaks and teeth of mountains that rise more than a thousand meters (Penyagolosa, 1813 m, 1318 m Mola d'Ares).

In the low Maestrazgo, altitude decreases and the landform becomes less confusing and intricate. The mountains consist of Jurassic limestone blocks Cretaceous and align in the direction parallel S N NE-SW, reaching the coast. Starting from the mountain ridge forming the mountain of Esparraguera and Montegordo (837 m), heading towards the sea, we find the Galceran's mountain, Valdancha, the watchtowers of Alcala and finally the mountain of Irta. The favorable climate and its location between these mountains of broad valleys, filled by materials from Neogene and Quaternary, allow an important agriculture development in this region, and that's why the population is more dense than in the mountains of the interior.

The Valltorta is located in the heart of this geographical context and is the part of the ravine situated between the Montegordo (Tírig) and the Valley of Vinromà Coves: his course is torrential and has its origin in thousand meters of altitude, east of Cati village, dying into the Mediterranean Sea, in the southern part of Alcocebre. His name, Valltorta comes by its tortuous layout during his journey, whose development is 6.5 km, while has only 4 km in straight direction, between coasts 400 m, and 280 m of altitude.

The look of Valltorta's landform is deeply recessed, and analysis of its layout, among other morphological details, raise questions that can only be solved by extending observations beyond the local level. It is therefore impossible to analyze the origin and evolution, extracting it from the regional framework in which this nailed.

Topography and layout of the wadis

Any observer who examines carefully first geographical and geological maps and then walks around the area where is located the ravine of Valltorta, can easily appreciate the contrast between the plains of Vinromà Coves and the highlands of soft rolling hills, where ravines with high steeps fit between themselves. The observer can also discover the great mountaintops of Montegordo and Valdancha. He will see that the only important tributaries of Valltorta are those of the right side, and those on the left margin correspond to tiny hanging valleys above the area. Will notice also that Tírig, across the Valltorta, seems to extend to Albocasser, above of the way crossed by the ravine called Fondo. Finally, he will see that while some forms of the landform are erosion, others are purely structural. And beside the river forms, we have the karstic. Finally will get the idea that to understand the presence of all these forms, he must admit a complex evolution, during which it has changed the landscape through the climatic and the paleogeographic conditions.

During a long part of the Oligocene and the full Miocene, a large part of an area of the Maestrazgo was fossilized by debris torn of the masses of Mesozoic newly erected around the continental basin sedimentation. Some parts of the blocks placed in the raised position (at the begining of the gliptogénesis) got at the end of the Miocene, a remarkable pre flattening, showing a landform of gentle hills as a result of the large reduction in the watersheds. Likely it seems that the landform of the great remodeled Cretaceous block of Valltorta can be derived from this primitive surface of erosion, given its proximity to what was the western edge of the Miocene basin. This should be placed around Coves of Vinromà, judging from the outcrops.

In recent times pontienses or in the beginning of the Pliocene, several parallel faults to the coast again come into play, emphasizing the division into blocks and causing the decreasing of the Miocene's strata. The result was the formation of several structural basins direction S SO-N NE, including the Albocasser-Tírig-Sant Mateu Basin, which extends to the lower valley of the Ebro. Finally, west of Alcala, rises one last set of blocks in this case, the Irta mountain, defining a coast steep barely passable.

During the Pliocene, with the new Teutonic adjustment, the landform was remodeled and the newly formed fault scarps were exploited by erosion. A good example of this morphology is in the western edge of the depression - Tírig Albocasser -Sant Mateu. Drainage had been logically organized along structural depressions, so at that time, the waters of the Carbonera after arrived to Albocasser, would continue to Tírig, following the trough in which today is located the Fondo's ravine, while the Morellana would go to Tírig. Likewise the depressions of Vinromà's and Alcala's coves should run parallel. The normal progress of the soil drainage goes therefore to the plains of Vinaros and the lower valley of the Ebro river.

The regime of the hydrographic network took with him the accumulation of detritic materials, coarse size and more or less rounded in the most depressed parts of the valley, causing the leveling of the riverbeds as a result of the erosive power decrease at Albocasser Tírig -Sant Mateu, Coves of Vinromà - Alcala - Vinaròs, whose origin dates on the late Pliocene.

After the regression of the Astiense sea, the large Quaternary climatic convulsions occurred. The eustatic effects of the glaciation came to further depress sea level in the early Pleistocene. During this time it is likely that the landform can experience further adjustments and, with them, the coast was modified. All these phenomena represented a great revival of the erosive capacity of water courses.

From that moment, the struggle in the drainage, that apparently started late Pliocene, intensified. On the one hand, the old courses which were following the long structural depressions, had to travel a long way in order to prevail in those geological circumstances. On the other hand, the mediterranean rivers, perpendiculars to the coast, changed with avidity their headwaters into the low Maestrazgo, fitting in the Mesozoic limestones, sometimes by the overprint and other times by regressive erosion. Result of this long process was the disorganization of the old river network.

In the block Valltorta there was a phenomenon of capture, ie, the Carbonera - the Fondo's ravine and the region of Morellana found a short trip on the way to the level of general base through the young Valltorta and Coves river, leaving the valley of Sant Mateu - Tírig as a dead valley (Fig. 10).

The stream of this valley, currently inactive, flows into the River Coves, however it can be clearly seen to the SW of Sant Mateu that the boundary between this and the tributaries of the Rambla de Cervera, retaining some of the original meaning of the drainage, is very imprecise. Despite all these changes, the stability of the network had not been reached yet. The left tributaries of the River Mijares, from the Massif Penyagolosa, were retreating constantly their headwaters. Among them, the way of the Widow arrived to the basin of Albocasser and captured the Carbonera location, ending the reorganization of the hydrographic network, which has remained until the current condition.

The traced meandering is accentuated in Valltorta, carving the landform and deeping other river tributaries as the gully of Matamoros. Consequently, the slopes suffered modifications that uncovered ancient karstic cavities. Finally, everything was arranged to let the primitive groups of hunters could develop their activity in the Maestrazgo and they give us the most expressive testimony of their existence.

Karstic modeling

Parallel to the establishment and evolution of the hydrographic network, from the Tertiary to the present day, has been created a karstic modeling. The successive stages of development are difficult to pin down, especially as you go back in time. But, nevertheless, we can cite a few statements that correspond to the most recent stages of karstification.

During the Pontiense age, and over the eroded surface, subaerial karstic forms must be modeled, not only in the highest parts of the limestone block, also near the Albocasser - Tírig depression. These forms reached, apparently along the Pliocene, a considerable development.

Regarding underground karstic forms, some chasms as the Avenc Santa Barbara (photo attached) which opens above Tírig, the Avenc Mas Nou and the Avenc of Cingle Mas d'en Salvador are examples of cavities responsibles of the drainage of surface waters to the massif's subsurface. Furthermore, in Valltorta and the gully of Matamoros there are other cavities open which we will cite later. However,in the gully of Fondo, is discovered a cave, inside the whole of Cingle de l'Ermita, which is presented as an exceptional testimony, able to throw us light about the karstification and the evolution of the superficial ideography.

It is a series of ducts and fireplaces that open to about 30 m above the riverbed of the gully where four major morphogenetic phases are seen: erosion - corrosion, a Stalagmitic concretion deposit, alluvial fill and partial dismantling of the stuffing and the cavity. Another witness of similar characteristics is at the foot of the road to Albocasser Tírig, about two kilometers from the town and over the river bed of a small tributary stream of the gully of Fondo. These fillers should be considered as terraces which certify the way of the valley in this level and the pre-existence of karstic cavities in which these sediments are preserved. By its altimetric position, it is conceivable that these relics belong to an age alluvium in which the gully of Fondo had already started to drain through the young Valltorta. Recall that the western edge of Tírig's depression is only about 20 m above the level marked by the alluviums of one of the caves of the Cingle de l' Ermita.

The evolution of the river's slopes and the prehistoric shelters

On the slopes of Valltorta dominate the ledges formed by the hard benches of Cretaceous limestones, being gradually cuted in a vertically sense by the strong and linear erosion of the torrent. However, against these slopes carved by beak almost there were always others with a decline much more soft, coinciding with the convex margin of the meanders.

The Structural ledges evolve by setbacks, due to the fall in large blocks and even full blocks of limestone. This phenomenon can be decomposed into three phases: the expantion of diaclases, the cracking and the spalling (add photo), the false position of the blocks and the fall of them. The karstic disolution is involved in this process,  the strength of the root's turgidity, the erosion in favor of less resistant blocks and the attraction to the vacuum. As a result of this abruption, and later by the descomposition of the materials, is formed on the basis, a slope of colluvium very characteristic.

The formation of shelters or balmas, on the slopes of the Valltorta and its main tributaries, is the result of different processes, although the origin of most of them is the intervention of morphogenetic mechanisms. A good number of them should be attributed to the differential erosion, either caused by simple meteoric disintegration of some blocks whose structure is favorable, or by the action of water torrents crashing against the concave margin of the meanders. This last mechanism, which also takes profit from the weakness of some strates, seems to us very general in the genesis of shelters, taking into account the suggestive location in the aforementioned place of the meanders. Many prehistoric shelters, therefore should be abandoned rock faces of the meander that have been more or less remodeled by the rock weathering.

In the process of remodeling a rock face, the disintegration or the gelivación crioclástica was very important during the cold periods of the Quaternary. The interstitial water circulation and the cold let that these very cracked blocks were easily gelivados. The products of this process of disintegration and hence remodeling the rock faces, almost always have been erased by a posterior erosion; hence that we consider this process as pre actual. However, inside the shelters of Saltadora, there still remain protected by a stalagmitic blocks, appearing in small deposits of angular edges whose rockslide from the wall must date at the aforementioned quaternary periods.

More recent are the phenomena of parietal concretions, mainly seen in the sunny faces of the walls. That's a result caused also by the water that scapes out of the many limestone cracks that under a mild weather conditions, are favorable to the precipitation of calcium bicarbonate that water carries in dissolution. Finally, corrosion, either with or without the intervention of certain microorganisms, is a factor that currently produces alteration of the walls of the shelters.

The early population of Valltorta - Gassulla certainly were familiarized with a different vegetation from present, more wooded and less bushy, more presence of ilex and less Kermes oak and gorse. They couldn't dominate the agricultural techniques, so that the current fields of olive and almond trees and the herds of goats and sheep would be totally strange for them.

 But what they could know, is the same broken limestone landscape, with steep ravines full of coats, and the ledge's  birds: peregrine falcon, eagle, eagle owl, jackdaw, red-peak and the blue rock thrush, Crag Martin or black wheatear. In fact, even they shaped some of them in his paintings, as they did with bees that provided honey to them .

Exist an abundance of reptiles in these rocky ravines: Ocellated lizard, bastard snake, and up to four species of little lizards: Iberian, long-tailed, red-tailed and Cinderella. Green frogs and other amphibians can be seen in the permanent tidepools that appear scattered in the bottom of the ravines.

Regional archaeological context

The mountain ranges north of the province of Castellón harbor a significant number of rock art places, usually in the form of open calcareous coats along steep ravines, which contain abundant manifestations and representations of Levantine art, and to a lesser extent, schematic art. It involves some representations made ​​in relation with others made along the entire Mediterranean coast, from the Pyrenees to eastern Andalucia, where we can observe all classic representation themes: archers, scenes of hunting and gathering, naturalistic depictions of animals ... painted using a flat inks of ochre color in the most of them.

History of the enclave

The shelters of the Valltorta - Gasulla are known since the early twentieth century. Thus, the first data on them are published in the decades of the 10s and 20s, with the help of local scholars, and eminent  prehistorians of the time as Henri Breuil. After the Civil War, it is not weird the discovery of new enclaves in these regions. From the late 60's the scientific study of the enclaves, which will be the subject of specific studies in the form of some specific monographs and doctoral thesis, is reactivated.

In 1998, the enclaves became part of the declaration of World Heritage of UNESCO, to the Rock Art of the Mediterranean Basin on the Iberian Peninsula, moment when an intensive program of study is activated and an appropriate valuing of this area, all coordinated from the Museum of Valltorta, institution created especially to house the human and technical teams dedicated to the proper management of the Prehistoric Heritage of Valencia.

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