the Altamira caves

Altamira, cave famous for its magnificent prehistoric paintings and engravings, situated 30 kilometres (19 miles) west of Santander, in northern Spain. The cave, discovered by a hunter in 1868, was visited in 1875 by Marcelino de Sautuola, a nobleman from Santander, who found animal bones and flint implements there. Sautuola returned in the summer of 1879 and on one visit was accompanied by his little daughter Maria; it was she who first noticed paintings of bulls (actually bison) on the ceiling. Convinced of the antiquity of the paintings and the objects, Sautuola published descriptions of his finds in 1880. Both Spanish and foreign experts, however, dismissed the paintings as forgeries, and not until the first decade of the 20th century were they accepted as genuine.

The Altamira cave is 270 metres (890 feet) long. In the vestibule numerous archaeological remains belonging to the Aurignacian (Perigordian), upper Solutrean, and lower or middle Magdalenian periods were found, including ceremonial staves and engraved animal shoulder blades. The great lateral chamber that contains most of the paintings measures 18 metres by 9 metres, the height of the vault varying from 1.15 metres to 2.65 metres. The roof of the chamber is covered with paintings, chiefly of bison, executed in a magnificent, vivid polychrome of red, black, and violet tones. There are also two wild boars, some horses, a hind, and some other figures in a simpler style; in addition, there are eight engraved anthropomorphic figures, various handprints, and hand outlines. The other galleries contain numerous black-painted or engraved figures. In many cases, the creator of the designs exploited the natural contours of the rock surface.


Document URL:
Last modified: Wednesday, 18-Jul-2007 16:24:31 EDT