Altamira Cave Paintings

In class we learned about ancient cave paintings, and focused on the Lascaux Cave in France. This got me wondering about cave discoveries and the artwork that was done in other parts of the world. Another equally renowned cave finding is the Spanish site of Altamira. This site is located northern Spain, and was initially discovered accidently in 1868 by a hunter who wandered into them. The caves were not studied further until 1875 when a nobleman named Marcellino Sanz de Santuola wanted to explore the caves. He was interested in the caves, but his daughter was the one who discovered the paintings in the cave in 1879. These paintings were so well preserved that experts first thought that they were not authentic. It was not until later in the 1900s that other similar findings from the same era as the Altamira cave paintings were discovered and the cave paintings were finally accepted as genuine.

After being studied, it was determined that there were paintings from two different eras. These eras were the Upper Solutrean period which was about 18,500 years ago, and the Magdalenian era, which was between 16,500 – 14,000 years ago. Humans inhabited the cave during these separate eras with an absence in between. The paintings in the cave were so well preserved because it is believed that a rock fall sealed off the entrance to humans around 13,000 years ago. The paintings from the later Magdalenian era depict a herd of bison, as well as other animals including horses and what is believed to be a boar. These are some of the best representations of artwork from this time period. The paintings form the earlier Upper Solutrean period include pictures of horses, goats, and many human handprints.

The paintings in the Altamira caves are in color, which is unusual for the time period they were created. The people used charcoal, and dyes such as ochre and hematite to create colors that were orange and red. In addition to the colors, the painters also used the natural shapes of the rocks in the cave to help create the illusion of animals that were more dimensional. These effects in combination with the cave being sealed for so long is why the Altamira cave paintings are considered to be some of the best examples of artwork from the Magdalenian era. Using these paintings, researchers can create a better idea of what the people of this time experienced during their lives. The fact that they used creativity to depict their world shows just how similar we were to these ancient humans.

To learn more about the Altamira Cave Paintings I used the sites below

One thought on “Altamira Cave Paintings

  1. I found your discussion of the Altamira cave paintings very interesting. After reading your post, I went and looked up images of the paintings and they are really beautiful! The most common picture that came up on my search was an image of a large red bison with fur around its back and chest. This was very interesting to me because none of the paintings we have looked at in class that depicted bison included the shaggy looking fur, so it was amazing to see people from thousands of years ago creating images with these small details. I was very surprised at how intricate some of these paintings were, and the colors used in the paintings were very unique and impressive for the people of this era as well. The paintings seem similar to the Chauvet cave paintings we viewed in the documentary last week in class, but they are also very different in the detail put into the animals and the bright colors used. Also, as you mentioned, there was evidence that people inhabited the cave at the time the paintings were created, whereas scientists have concluded that people never lived in the Chauvet cave.

    One thing that also surprised me was that the Altamira cave was discovered almost 150 years ago and the caves are still very well preserved. People in the time period of the cave’s discovery and first exploration would not have had the advanced technology now being used to preserve and study caves such as this. Because of this, I am very surprised that the paintings are so well preserved today. These cave paintings are truly a remarkable source of information about the history of mankind.

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