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Altamira (cave)

From Academic Kids

Altamira (Spanish for 'high view') is a cave in Spain famous for its cave paintings. It is located near the town of Santillana del Mar in Cantabria, Spain, 30 km west of the city of Santander.

In 1879, Marcelino Sanz de Sautuola was led by his daughter to discover that the cave contains Upper Paleolithic drawings and polychrome rock paintings depicting wild mammals and human hands. The paintings are listed on UNESCO's inventory of the human cultural heritage.

The cave is 270 meters long, and consists of a series of twisting passages and chambers. The main passage varies from two to six meters high. The cave was formed through collapses following early karstic phenomena in the calcerous rock of Mount Vispieres.

Archeological excavations in the cave floor found rich deposits of Upper Solutrean (c. 18,500 years ago) and Lower Magdalenean (between c. 16,500 and 14,000 years ago) artifacts. The cave was occupied only by wild animals in the long period between these two occupations. The site was well positioned to take advantage of the rich wildlife that grazed in the valleys of the surrounding mountrains as well as permitting the occupants to supplement their diet with food from nearby coastal areas. Around 13,000 years ago a rockfall sealed the cave's entrance preserving its contents until its eventual discovery which was caused by blasting from nearby quarrying disturbing the fallen rocks.

Human occupation was limited to the cave mouth although paintings were created throughout the length of the cave. The artists used charcoal and ochre or haematite to create the images, often scratching or diluting these dyes to produce variances in intensity and creating an impression of chiaroscuro. They also exploited the natural contours in the cave walls to give a three-dimensional effect to their subjects. The Polychrome Ceiling is the most impressive feature showing a herd of bison in different poses, two horses, a large hind and a possible wild boar.

This art is dated to the Magdelenean occupation and as well as animal subjects also included abstract shapes. Solutrean images include images of horses, goats and handprints created from the artist placing his hand on the cave wall in spraying paint over it leaving a negative image of his palm. Numerous other caves in northern Spain contain Palaeolithic art but none is as advanced or well-populated as Altamira.

The cave was excavated by de Sautuola and then by Herminio Alcade del Río in 1902-04, the German Hugo Obermaier in 1924-25 and finally by Joaquín González Echegaray in 1981.

Altamira was closed to the public in 1977 as the paintings were being damaged by visitors' damp breath and only limited access is now possible. Instead, a replica cave and museum were built nearby in recent years, reproducing the cave and its art. The replica allows a more comfortable view of the polychrome paintings of the main hall of the cave, as well as a selection of minor works. It also includes some sculptures of human faces that are not visitable in the real cave.

There are other earlier replicas in the Museo Arqueológico Nacional (Madrid), and in Japan.

Some of the polychrome paintings at Altamira Cave are well known in Spanish popular culture. The logo used by the autonomous government of Cantabria to promote tourism to the region is based on one of the bisons in this cave.

Bisonte (Spanish for 'Bison'), a Spanish brand of cigarrettes of the 20th century, also used a Paleolithic style bison figure along with its logo.

Spanish comic character and series Altamiro de la Cueva, created in 1965 are a clear consequence of the fame of Altamira Cave. This funnies tell the adventures of a group of prehistoric cavemen, depicted as modern people, but dressed in pieces of fur, a bit like the Flintstones.

See also

External links

et:Altamira es:Cueva de Altamira eo:Altamira (groto) fr:Altamira lb:Altamira nl:Altamira pl:Altamira pt:caverna de Altamira sv:Altamira

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