standard Altamira Cave – amazing prehistoric paintings

The Altamira cave is located in the nearby of Santillana del Mar in Cantabria, Spain and is 30 km away from Santander . Altamira cave is declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO .

The cave is famous for its Upper Paleolithic paintings of wild animals (mammals) and human hands .  Altamira was the first cave where prehistoric paintings were discovered . The artistic expresion of the paintings was in public controversy from 1880, when the cave was discovered , until the early 20th century . Many of the experts didn’t believe the prehistoric man had the intelligence to create these paintings .However the authenticity of the paintings came in 1902 and changed the perceptions of prehistoric people .

Altamira Cave Description

Altamira cave has a length of 296 meters and has a series of twisting passages and chambers . The main passgase is up to six meters high . Collapses after early karstic phenomen in the calcerous rock of Mount Vispieres formed the cave .

The excavations made in the cave floor found a lot of Upper Solutrean and Lower Magdalenean artifacts – part of Paleolithic Age or Old Stone Age . In the period of these two occupations the cave was inhabitated only by animals . Around 13,000 years ago a rockfall sealed the cave’s entrance preserving its contents until its eventual discovery which was caused by a nearby tree falling and disturbing the fallen rocks. The humans only occupied the mouth of Altamira cave . The people who made the paintings used ochre and charcoal to create the images and even exploited the natural contours for a 3D effect . The most impressive feature is the Polychrime Ceiling – bisons , horses and a large doe (and maybe a wild boar) . Beside animals there are some abstract shapes showed in the cave . The handprints are also painted on the cave walls . Many other caves in Spain have Paleolithic art but none is so well-populated as Altamira .


Altamira cave was discovered in 1879 when some amateur archeologist Marcelino de Sautuola and his daughter found the cave paintings . The french specialists ridiculed the drawings and the cave considering it a fraud and nothing bu lies of Sautuola and Juan Vilanova (another archeologist). Sautuola was even acused of forgery by some of them .

Altamira Cave painting of animals
Altamira Cave painting

In 1902 several other prehistoric paintings were found and Altamira was no longer considered to be a false . Scientists continue to evaluate the age of the cave artwork. In 2008, scientists utilizing Uranium-thorium dating estimate parts of the artworks are between 25,000 and 35,000 years

In the 1960s and 1970s the paintings were dammaged by the many vistor’s breath – nothing new here , this happened in many other caves around the world , and the acces to the cave was so limited (1982) that the people had to wait even 3 years to visit the cave . Finally a replica museum was built nearby and completed in 2001 by Manuel Franquelo and Sven Nebel so everyone has now access to one of the greatest caves in Spain – Altamira cave .

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