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Altamira Cave (Spain)


Altamira Cave Painting - Reproduction at the Deutsches Museum in Munich

Altamira Cave Painting - Reproduction at the Deutsches Museum in Munich

Definition: Altamira Cave is known as the Sistine Chapel of Paleolithic Art, because of its huge, numerous wall paintings. The cave is located in northern Spain, near the village of Antillana del Mar in Cantabria.

Altamira's cave paintings are fine examples of Solutrean to Magdelanian parietal art, dating to between 18,540-13330 bp. Occupations within the cave are dated from 14,000 to 12,000 years old. The cave walls are decorated with multi-colored ("polychrome") paintings of animals, stenciled hands, and sculpted humanoid masks.

The cave was discovered in 1868 by Modesto Cubillos; the paintings were identified in the 1879s. It was declared a World Heritage site in 1985. The most recent work on the cave have been attempts to fend off natural and cultural environmental damage to the cave's paintings.


This glossary entry is part of the About.com Guide to Prehistoric Cave Art, the Guide to the Upper Paleolithic and the Dictionary of Archaeology.

Conkey, Margaret W. 1980 The identification of prehistoric hunter-gatherer sites: The case of Alta-Mira. Current Anthropology 21:609-630.

Sánchez, Miguel A., Alberto Foyo, Carmen Tomillo, and Eneko Iriarte 2007 Geological risk assessment of the area surrounding Altamira Cave: A proposed Natural Risk Index and Safety Factor for protection of prehistoric caves. Engineering Geology 94(3-4):180-200.

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