bison in altamira cave

Cave art of Altamira

The cave of Altamira is in Spain. In the historic town Santillana del Mar in Cantabria. The cave is famous for its parietal cave paintings that consist of charcoal drawings and polychrome paintings of the human hands and local environment. The cave is dated back 18500 and 14000 years back. It falls within the upper Paleolithic age when Paleo human settlers were around.

Marcelino Sanz de Sautola was first to promote the cave as having prehistoric paintings. Together with Juan Vilanova in 1880, their publication of the caves research was made public. Releasing the study was not very welcome, it became controversial, and debates began. They took place until 1902 when similar findings made the evidence overwhelming. The cave of Altamira is a world heritage site as the UNESCO declares.

About the cave of Altamira

The cave of Altamira is a result of the collapse of the new Karst phenomena in Mount Vispieres. The cave is 1000 meters long and has passages and chambers all through the cave. The central passage is about 6-8 meters high. It is a one of a kind cave that is rich in artifacts from the Upper Solutrean and lower Magdalenian.

The two periods fall under the Old Stone Age which shows that the cave had wild animal inhabitants. Humans living in the area took advantage of the plentiful wildlife that was in the valleys and the mountains and the aquatic life in the coastal regions. A rock fall over 13000 years back made the cave no longer accessible. The rock fall became a preservation of the contents of the cave until its discovery.

The discovery of the cave came about when a tree fell, misplacing the blocking rocks. There was evidence that humans were mostly at the mouth of the cave although the paintings were present throughout the cave. The paintings were mostly charcoal and ochre (hematite). The painting process involved diluting the pigments so that they had different intensities to work with comfortably. They took advantage of the contours of the cave to create three-dimensional drawings.

image of altamira bisons

Reproductions at the Museo del Mamut, Barcelona 2011

The cave boasts of a polychrome ceiling that is the catchiest part of the cave. It depicts a herd of Steppe bison that arts extinct, two horses, a large dog and a wild boar. The paintings date back to the Magdalenian age and even include abstract shapes. The Solutrean paintings mainly consist of horse and goat drawings.

There were hand prints too that came about by the artist blowing the pigment over their hands leaving a negative image. No other cave in the northern Europe has detailed and intricate paintings like the Altamira cave.

Discovery of the Cave

The credits go to Marcelino Sanz de Sautola, but the person who found the cave was his eight-year-old daughter Maria de Sautola who had been wandering off from her father when she saw the drawings. Marcelino teamed up with Juan Vilanova an archeologist from the University of Madrid to excavate the cave. The discovery was in 1879.

The publication by Marcelino and Juan got a rejection from Gabriel de Mortillet and Emile Cartailhac. The reason why it was hard to believe that the paintings were prehistoric was that of their quality. These two critics accused Marcelino of forgery. The debate and accusations continued until 1902 when other findings came up.

After the results had been made sure of, Emile took back his words and gave his support to Marcelino. Unfortunately, Marcelino did not live to see the confirmation as he died fourteen years earlier. After the confirmation, excavation was continued by Hermilio del Rio, 1902-1904 and Hugo Obermaier, 1924-1925 and finalized by Joaquin Gonzalez in 1981.

Dating

There is no comprehensive timeline on when the paintings date. In 2008, scientists, using uranium-thorium dating found that the arts are from over a period of 20,000 years. The next dating, done in 2012, where the earliest paintings were found to be from the Augnacian culture, the first occupants of northern Spain, 35,600 years old.

Significance of the cave of Altamira

The cave of Altamira is of a profound cultural significance to Spain, especially in Cantabria. The polychrome paintings in the cave are famous in Spain, and the government of Cantabria uses a logo that derives from the arts to promote tourism. A 20th-century cigarette brand also has a drawing from the cave as part of its logo.

So many things in Cantabria and the wider Spanish region borrow from the cave of Altamira. It makes the cave a very significant part of the area and a very useful discovery that has laid a foundation in the community.

A Spanish comic character and a series are known as Altamiro de la Cueva are because of the cave of Altamira. The storyline of the comic explores the life of cave dwellers. The Caves of Altamira song is a 1976 album that also circles the cave. The song was originally jazz but was then soul group, Perri did another version.

Viktor Schreckengost made dinnerware designs for Salem China that had inspirations from the bison, deer and the stick figures that were in the cave. The dinnerware, made in the mid-20th century. A second song on the cave came up in 1978 by a rock-folk group Ibio. The Bison image is on the cover of the album.

The impact of the cave has been evident in many areas, from entertainment to dinnerware and cultural implications. Modern day film, Altamira by Hugh Hudson in 2016 is about the discovery of the cave. The film stars a famous Spanish actor Antonio Banderas.

The discovery of the cave may have been rocky and disputed but once it gained acceptance everyone was able to see what a remarkable finding the cave is and it has helped benefit many people over time. Cantabria boasts of the status of a world historical site because of the Altamira cave. Even though Marcelino did not live to see the acceptance of his discovery of the cave, he opened the doors to a lifelong treasure that is the Altamira cave.