Famous Ceilings: Cave of Altamira

Written by Milan Jara

cave-painting-anthropos.jpgWhen one hears the word 'cave,' generally the first words that come to mind are not art or ceilings. The Cave of Altamira, however, combines both features. The Cave of Altamira is a cave located in close proximity to the town of Santillana del Mar in Spain. The cave itself is located in the province of Cantabria, a region of many archeological discoveries from the Upper Paleolithic time period. The Cave of Altamira is extremely significant for its display of historic cave paintings on the cave ceiling.

Discovery of Altamira

The cave of Altamira was not discovered on purpose by historians. In fact, it was an unknown cave discovered in the year 1868 by pure chance. It was a hunter that first stumbled upon the Cave of Altamira; however, a nobleman in Spain during the year 1875 was the first to visit and explore the cave. Marcelino de Sautuola found animal remains during the first visit and returned again a few years later to further explore the cave in 1879. In 1879, Sautuola made a vital decision to bring his young daughter, Maria, along for a cave exploration exploit. It was Sautuola's child that first discovered and pointed out the various paintings and artistic depictions on the cave's ceiling. Sautuola later wrote about his and Maria's findings within the cave, although they were widely considered fakes by experts of the time period. Sautuola's depictions of the cave and the cave's ceiling artwork were not proven to be legitimate forms of historical artwork until the twentieth century.

  • Discovery of Altamira: This resource discusses the discovery of the Cave of Altamira's artwork by Marcelino de Sautuola and his daughter, Maria.
  • Altamira Caves: Here, a vivid description of the discovery of the cave is described, as well as the size and dimensions of the cave.
  • Altamira: The Story: A detailed version of the discovery of the Altamira caves is told through this resource.
  • The Many Faces of Altamira: This paper gives a historical introduction to the Caves of Altamira, the discovery, and historical significance.
  • History of Altamira: Information on the first discovery of the Altamira cave is given in this document.
  • Cueva de Altamira: Here, both the discovery of the Altamira cave and the controversy surrounding the ceiling artwork is discussed.

Altamira Artwork

reproduction-cave-of-altamira.jpgThe art found on the ceiling of Altamira Cave is truly spectacular. It was the first cave in which prehistoric artwork was ever discovered. The cave's ceiling is covered in drawings and rock paintings of animals and even drawings of human hands. Most of the artwork appears to be created through the use of various materials to create color, including iron ore, burnt bone, and clay. The extreme detail and skill in these cave paintings and drawings has led to extreme controversy regarding the true mental capability of prehistoric humans.


altamira-bison.jpgArtwork found in the Altamira cave was (and, to some extent, still is) a big cause of controversy among historians and scientists alike. Before the discovery of the Altamira art, it was widely accepted that prehistoric humans were much different from modern-day humans. Most scientists and historians attributed the advanced human cognitive capabilities to evolution, but after seeing that prehistoric beings were capable of detailed artwork, they were forced to re-evaluate their previous theories. Historians and scientists alike continue to search for meaning and symbolism in the art of the Altamira cave, in hopes of unlocking the mystery of prehistoric human beings.

Other Famous Paleolithic Art

blandrig-sandpit.jpgSince the discovery of the Altamira cave art, there have been countless discoveries of other art forms from the Paleolithic time period. Much of this prehistoric artwork is also very advanced for prehistoric human beings, according to historians. There are also many other caves in which similar artwork to that of the Altamira cave has been discovered. As archeological discoveries continue to be made in the future, information on the evolution of the prehistoric human brain to that of the modern day human may become easier for scientists and historians to understand.

  • Cave Art: The form, function and impact of historical cave art is discussed.
  • Types of Early Art: This website provides information on, and photographs of, the many types of Paleolithic Art, including cave art.
  • Paleolithic Cave Art: Art has been found in many different areas around the world, dating to the Paleolithic time period. This text describes the type of art found in caves across the world.
  • Paleolithic Art Gallery: This resource acts as an online art gallery, allowing users to view photographs of many types of Paleolithic art.
  • Paleolithic Sites: Finding art in caves is a key to the history of the Paleolithic people. On this web page, many Paleolithic location sites are discussed and shown in photographs.
  • Lascaux Cave Paintings: Lascaux Cave paintings are very similar to paintings found within the Altamira cave.
  • Paleolithic Art: This page provides a list of caves around the world and the art that has been discovered there.

- Milan Jara

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