The Cave of Altamira


Entrance Museo Altamira Altamira Spain
The cave of Altamira, located near the town of Santillana del Mar in Cantabria, northern Spain, was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1985.
This region was occupied by Upper Palaeolithic groups for millenia; indeed, the groups formed a cultural society, using this and other nearby caves such as La Clotilde, El Linar, Las Aguas, Cualventi, La Meaza, Cudón, El Castillo, La Pasiega, Las Chimeneas, Las Monedas, Hornos de la Peña, Morin, El Pendo, Santián, El Juyo, Camargo, and El Ruso, among others.
Cave of Altamira entrance
Cave of Altamira entrance
© Museo de Altamira. Photo M. Otero
The cave of Altamira, with its twisting passages and chambers, is roughly 270 metres. The main passage is at times six metres in height. Archaeological excavations in the cave have revealed Palaeolithic artifacts from the Gravettian (roughly 22.000 years ago) to the Middle Magdalenian (between roughly 16.500 and 13.000 years ago). The cave was inhabited by different groups of people between these two periods. The location of the cave was clearly favourable for occupation, with a landscape of valleys and mountains as well as the nearby coastal region. Roughly 13,000 years ago a rock fall sealed off the cave's entrance; Altamira remained sealed until its rediscovery in 1868.
Polychrome ceiling Altamira Cave Art Paintings Spain
Polychrome ceiling
© Museo de Altamira. Photo P. Saura
Whilst human occupation only occurred at the cave mouth, the painting, drawing and engraving took place throughout the cave. The artists used ochre and charcoal. As with other Palaeolithic artists, they used the natural contours of the cave walls to enhance the polychrome depictions; the contours may have inspired a particular depiction, or the artists may have been using this technique to provide a 3-dimensional element to the art. The art of Altamira encompasses naturalism, abstraction and symbolism.
The Cave of Altamira
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