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  • Palaeolithic : Cave Paintings


    Altamira is one of the most famous palaeolithic caves in Spain. It is situated in Cantabria province not far from Santander city, on the edge of Santiliana del Mar village. Although the cave and its paintings are known all over the world, the dramatic history of its first investigator, Don Marcelino Sanz de Sautuola, the owner of the land, where the cave is located, is not so familiar. The cave was found by a local hunter, Modesto Peres in 1868. Everybody in the neighbourhood knew about the cave, herdsmen found there refuge in bad weather, hunters made halts. But only 11 years later, in 1879, Maria, M. de Sautuola's daughter, walking in the estate, turned her father's attention on the strange images on the ceiling of one of the "halls", barely discernible in the darkness of the cave. That day had started M. Sanz de Sautuola's long tribulations. A year before he had been at the world exhibition in Paris and got aquainted with an exposition of ancient objects, which we now call palaeolithic small forms (art mobilier). Engraved depictions of bisons, very similar to those found by Maria and him on the ceiling and walls of Altamira, were among them. That made de Sautuola guess that the paintings of Altamira dated back to the Stone Age. He began excavations in the cave and invited his friend, a well-known specialist in the field of prehistoric archaeology, professor of the Madrid university Juan Vilanova y Piera for a consultation. The latter supported de Sautuola's conjecture. Soon they published the first information about that unique monument, which evoked general interest and even made king Alfonso XII visit the marvel cave. But all the prominent specialists in archaeology, especially French ones, beginning with Gabriel de Mortillet, admitting the palaeolithic age of the finds, made during excavations in Altamira, rejected flatly Piera and de M. Sanz de Sautuola's arguments in favour of the palaeolithic dating of the paintings. And what is more, de Sautuola was accused in deliberate distortion. They considered that the paintings had been made by one of his friends, an artist, who stayed in his castle. One can imagine the moral shock caused by "the guardians of the scientific truth" to the spanish nobleman with his enhanced sense of dignity and honour. Only almost 15 years after M. de Sautuolas death his opponents, and E.Kartaillak in particular, had to admit that the Altamira paintings are really palaeolithic.





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