Cave paintings found in Cantabria, older than those in Altamira

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Cave paintings found in Cantabria, older than those in Altamira

Cave paintings in the replica of the Cave of Altamira. Photo: EFE/Alberto Aja. (EFE)
Cave paintings in the replica of the Cave of Altamira. Photo: EFE/Alberto Aja. (EFE)

In the late nineteenth century, the paintings found in the cave of Altamira by Modesto Cubillas and studied by Spanish naturalist Marcelino Sanz de Sautuola revolutionised the field of prehistoric archaeology. Nearly 140 years later, another finding in four Cantabrian caves could be a new milestone in the history of Palaeolithic cave art in Europe.

A team led by Roberto Ontañón at the Museum of Prehistory and Archaeology of Cantabria (MUPAC) has uncovered four paintings that have been dated to as far back as 20,000 to 30,000 years ago in a number of caves in Cantabria. Based on this dating, they could be older than the cave paintings in Altamira.

The archaeologists announced the paintings were in El Rejo (Val de San Vicente), Los Murciélagos (Entrambasaguas), Las Graciosas I and II (Medio Cudeyo), and Solviejo (Voto).

According to the archaeologists, the drawings were made by prehistoric men from Cantabria before the Magdalenian or Gravettian period, when they used mostly red pigments to draw mainly geometric patterns and some animal figures as well.

Cutting-edge technology

More than 20 years ago, a cave explorer said there could be prehistoric art in several caves in Cantabria, but the technology available back then was unable to confirm his suggestion.

Now, with the latest photometric and image scanning techniques available, the research team led by Mr Ontañón extracted information from the drawings that enabled them to establish were made at least 20,000 years ago.

The finding came a year after the MUPAC team set out to study the area. The project, which began in 2016, is being funded by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports of Cantabria with the aim to learn more about cave art in the region, one of the most important in the world in terms of prehistoric heritage.

Cantabria, a wealth of cave art

The new findings in Cantabria will add valuable information to the map of prehistoric art in Spain.

The Cave of Altamira is considered to be the ‘Sistine Chapel’ of cave painting. According to UNESCO, it is a true masterpiece of Palaeolithic cave art, which spread in northern Spain and across Europe.