35 Cave Of Altamira Facts That Will Leave You Stunned

Aryan Khanna
Jan 26, 2023 By Aryan Khanna
Originally Published on Feb 03, 2022
Edited by Rhea Nischal
Fact-checked by Pradhanya Rao
number of caves in altamira cave

Located in Northern Spain, the Altamira cave is famous all across the world, especially for its prehistoric art, which can be seen on the cave wall.

In northern Spain, there is a town named Santillana del Mar that is home to the Cave of Altamira, a treasure that shows us what life was like thousands of years ago.

Since the discovery of the cave in the 19th century, archeologists have discovered several items ranging from stone tools that were used in day-to-day life to several prehistoric paintings.

In the year 1985, the Cave of Altamira, which lies in the Franco-Cantabrian region, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site owing to the cave paintings inside it. When the Altamira cave paintings were discovered, people realized that even thousands of years ago, during the Paleolithic period, people undertook art as a means of expressing themselves.

Apart from the cave paintings found inside, archeologists also came across several items that depicted the lifestyle of the people living in the Paleolithic age.

Items such as axes, remains of animal bones, and fire ash were found in the cave's entrance itself indicating human existence within. Read on to learn more fascinating facts about the Altamira cave.

Discovery Of Altamira Cave

The discovery of the Altamira cave has a great story behind it as the caves could have been discovered several years prior to the time they were discovered had the owner acted upon it quicker.

At the same time, there are chances we could never have had the opportunity to get a glimpse of these famous paintings had it not been for an eight-year-old girl who was the first to look at these cave paintings.

  • The Altamira cave was first discovered in 1868 by Modesto Cubillas, a local hunter.
  • For some reason, the owner of the cave, Marcelino Sanz de Sautola, didn't take any interest in going to the caves.
  • It was in 1876 that Marcelino Sanz de Sautola went to the Altamira caves for the first time.
  • On his visit, Marcelino came across several signs on the cave walls, but he believed them to be mere senseless symbols and left the site.
  • In 1878, Marcelino went to Paris for the Universal Exhibition, where he came across pieces of carved bone. Upon taking a closer look, he realized that they were similar to the ones he had seen in the Altamira caves.
  • The next year, in 1879, Marcelino went back to the caves along with the archeologist Juan Vilanova y Piera.
  • The two of them discovered several stone tools and animal bones dating back to prehistoric times, but hadn't come across the Altamira cave paintings yet.
  • It was Maria, the eight-year-old daughter of Marcelino, who once went to the caves along with her father and Juan Vilanova. Maria then saw the paintings of bison in one of the cave chambers, which led to the discovery of the cave art within the Altamira caves.
  • Interestingly, once the Altamira paintings were discovered, all the findings were published the following year, but surprisingly, they were discarded as modern forgeries due to the exquisite quality in which they were preserved.
  • Did you know that the French specialists, Émile Cartailhac and Gabriel de Mortillet, were the ones leading the front in arguing that the findings were mere forgeries?
  • In the years that followed, several other cave paintings were found in the area, which then turned the heads of archeologists, which eventually led to the Altamira cave paintings being considered genuine.

Number Of Caves In Altamira Cave

Altamira cave was the first one in the region where Paleolithic cave art was discovered, but as the years passed, several other caves were discovered that had similar paintings depicting the rich wildlife and flora of the early times.

Eventually, when Altamira Cave was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its importance, there were several other caves that were inscribed as its extension.

  • In 1985, at the declaration of Altamira Caves as a World Heritage Site, a total of 17 caves were inscribed as an extension to the main cave.
  • The entire property is officially listed as 'Cave of Altamira and Paleolithic Cave Art of Northern Spain'.
  • These special caves depict cave art discovered in Europe, ranging from the Iberian Peninsula to the Urals, as early as 35,000 BC.
  • Magdalenian and Solutrean paintings were discovered in caves, reflecting the lives of humans during the Upper Paleolithic period.
  • There are polychrome paintings on the cave walls symbolizing human hands and also charcoal drawings that depict the same.
  • Did you know, the various caves which comprise the 'Cave of Altamira and Paleolithic Cave Art of Northern Spain' are Covaciella, Tito Bustillo, Las Monedas, Las Chimeneas, Covalanas, Altamira and several others as well.
discovery of altamira cave

Altamira Cave Painting

Stone tools and animal bones were first found in the Altamira caves, but it was the eventual discovery of the cave paintings that led to the Altamira caves attracting a large number of archeologists and other scientists. Let us take a look at some interesting facts about these paintings, which were found in the Altamira caves.

  • Did you know that some paintings that were found in the cave are a popular part of Spanish culture?
  • Scientists haven't been able to perfectly guess the time when the Altamira cave painters made these paintings.
  • Although by using thorium-uranium dating technology, scientists have been able to determine that the paintings were made over a period of 20,000 years.
  • The most significant artwork of the cave is the polychrome ceiling which shows a herd of bison, a couple of horses, a wild boar, and a doe as well.
  • Interestingly, the bison are depicted in various poses. Moreover, the species of bison in the paintings are now Extinct, the steppe bison species.
  • Did you know, the cave painters drew the mouths and eyes of the figurines around the bumps of the stone in the cave to give the image a three-dimensional quality?
  • As a fact about these paintings, most of them were made using hematite, charcoal, or ochre. The painters diluted these materials and then drew to depict a variation of intensity in the paintings.
  • Uponarcheologicall surveys, it was discovered that these paintings did not only show animal subjects but also interesting abstract shapes.

Fun Facts About Altamira Cave

The Altamira Caves were discovered in the late 19th century and believed to be true in the early 1900s, but ever since the world has come to know about this cave, people have been spellbound by the items that have been unearthed.

  • Did you know that the Altamira cave is divided into three different segments for ease of understanding? The cave entrance, the polychrome room, or cave room, and lastly, the gallery.
  • A scientific study says that the Altamira caves were formed due to a collapse of the calcareous rock of Mount Vispieres.
  • The famous polychrome room of the cave has been painted in different colors and is located in the inner section of the cave, due to which it does not receive any natural light.
  • The entrance of the cave, along with the polychrome room, together form the great hall of the Altamira caves.
  • Interestingly, even though the last part of the caves is pretty narrow and is a gallery, they contain various paintings.
  • Can you think of how these paintings were preserved inside the caves for such a long time and in such good quality? Well, it is largely because the cave's entrance had collapsed due to the fact that the entrance was entirely covered, avoiding any adverse climatic effects.
  • During the 1900s, the cave was opened to human visitors, and paths were created inside the caves, which led to the downfall of the quality of these paintings.
  • In the latter half of the 20th century, human visitation was restricted, and measures were taken to preserve the paintings.
  • Upsettingly, later on, the caves were entirely shut, but currently, only a handful of people are sent once a week for a restricted amount of time to visit the caves.
  • Did you know that the authorities have constructed an Altamira museum which shows many of the artifacts found in the caves? Moreover, there is a section that is a replica of the cave.

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Written by Aryan Khanna

Bachelor of Business Administration specializing in Marketing

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Aryan KhannaBachelor of Business Administration specializing in Marketing

A dedicated and hardworking content writer currently pursuing his Bachelor's in Management Studies from St. Xavier's University, Kolkata. Aryan aims to gain corporate exposure and enhance his skills while creating well-researched and engaging content that is SEO-friendly. Aryan is a talented individual who puts in the effort to overcome any obstacle in his way.

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Fact-checked by Pradhanya Rao

Bachelor of Commerce specializing in Marketing and HR

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Pradhanya RaoBachelor of Commerce specializing in Marketing and HR

With a Bachelor’s degree in Commerce from Christ University, Bangalore, Pradhanya's passion for the English language and literature led her to explore the field of content writing, where she has gained extensive experience in writing, reviewing, editing, and fact-checking. She has also earned certifications in Google Ads Search, Google Ads Display, and Social Media Marketing, showcasing her proficiency in digital marketing.

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