Museo Altamira

Archaeology of the cave

The cave of Altamira contains the remains of the daily activities of its inhabitants who lived in the cave between 22,000 and 14,000 before the present. The archaeological site is situated inside, in the area around the current entrance, although a large part of it is buried under a thick flowstone or concealed by artificial walls built in the 20th century. Recent research has made it possible to locate the archaeological site underneath the collapse that destroyed the entrance, currently outside the cave.

In 1879 Marcelino Sanz de Sautuola carried out searches in the hallway, discovering many objects made from silex, bone and horn, the remains of fauna, and shells that were used to determine the Palaeolithic age of the famous polychrome paintings.

The first to undertake deep and extensive excavations was Hermilio Alcalde del Río, director of the Torrelavega School of Arts and Trades from 1903. He described two consecutive levels, the lower, older level, from the Solutrean period and the upper, from the more recent the Magdalenian period. This sequence was confirmed by the work of Hugo Obermaier (1924 and 1925). In their 1980/81 excavation, Joaquín González Echegaray and Leslie Gordon Freeman noted the increased complexity of the archaeological record, subsequently confirmed by modern excavations.

In 2006, the study of the sections conserved in the hall and C14AMS dating made it possible to redefine the human occupation of the cave and distinguish eight levels, from the Middle Magdalenian age through to the Gravettian age, 22,000 years ago. The new age explains why part of the rock art at Altamira possesses artistic features that correspond to ancient stages of Palaeolithic art.

Between 2008 and 2010, excavation work was undertaken on the site below the collapse, discovering a Lower Magdalenian level and a unique object of portable art: a shoulder blade engraved with a deers head. This work also made it possible to reconstruct the shape and dimensions of the cave prior to the collapse.



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