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Javier Fortea Pérez

1st July 1946 - 1st October 2009

Appreciation by
Marco de la Rasilla Vives

La Viņa rock shelter excavation 1997. Javier Fortea (sitting on left), his friend the geologist Manuel Hoyos (1944-1999) (standing left) and the archaeological team celebrating his birthday.
La Viña rock shelter excavation 1997. Javier Fortea (sitting on left), his friend the geologist Manuel Hoyos (1944-1999) (standing left) and the archaeological team celebrating his birthday.

Born in Arnedo, a town located in the well-known and fertile region of La Rioja, Javier Fortea Pérez moved to Córdoba where his father was a High School Latin teacher. After attending school, he studied History at the renowned University of Salamanca and became a disciple of Professor Francisco Jordá Cerdá. Surely the intellectual interests of his family, the archaeological and cultural remains of the first two cities he inhabited and the influence of his master lit the fuse of his professional dedication. Between 1969 and 1980 he occupied different academic positions at the universities of Salamanca and Oviedo and in 1981 became Professor of Prehistory at the University of Oviedo.

Soon he began excavating sites in the Mediterranean region and Andalucía (El Higuerón, La Palica, Les Mallaetes, La Cocina, etc.) and worked on his PhD dissertation about the Spanish Mediterranean Epipaleolithic (1972). This major contribution developed into further research into the Palaeolithic, Epipaleolithic and prehistoric rock art.

1980 marked the beginning of his involvement in three main archaeological projects in Asturias. First there was a major project researching the prehistoric sites on the middle stretch of the Nalón River. In that area, Javier Fortea investigated the cave of La Lluera, which contains an important collection of deeply-made engravings, and the extraordinary rockshelter of La Viña Rock where the deep stratigraphic sequence revealed Middle and Upper Palaeolithic remains as well as engravings covered by archaeological layers. The engravings which belong to the lowest artistic horizon were created by the first Homo sapiens in the region (Aurignacian).

The next site, the cave of Llonin, also containing a stratigraphic sequence spanning the Middle and Upper Palaeolithic, revealed one the longest chronological series of rock art, with the best collection of multiple-stroke engravings in the Cantabrian region.

Finally, Javier Fortea started work in 2000 at the cave of El Sidrón. It produced what is, to date, the biggest collection of fossil remains of Homo Neanderthalensis in the Iberian Peninsula. They belong to the final phase of the presence of Neanderthals in the region (~50.000 BP).

Javier Fortea enjoyed teaching and, chiefly, fieldwork. Every September we excavated in the caves, and this year, when he was in hospital and knowing it was final, he told me: "I am perfectly conscious of my illness..., but what I really miss is to be in the cave".

University, Archaeology and Cultural Heritage were his foremost concerns: he dedicated all his intelligence and abilities to place them in the highest position, so they may contribute to public education and culture.