martes, 2 de octubre de 2007

The Altamira Caves

The Sistine Chapel of Palaeolithic Art

The cave is 270 meters long, and consists of a series of twisting passages and chambers. The main passage varies from two to six meters high. The cave was formed through collapses following early karstic phenomena in the calcerous rock of Mount Vispieres.
Archaeological excavations in the cave floor found rich deposits of Upper Solutrean (c. 18,500 years ago) and Lower Magdalenean (between c. 16,500 and 14,000 years ago) artifacts. The cave was occupied only by wild animals in the long period between these two occupations. The site was well positioned to take advantage of the rich wildlife that grazed in the valleys of the surrounding mountains as well as permitting the occupants to supplement their diet with food from nearby coastal areas. Around 13,000 years ago a rockfall sealed the cave's entrance preserving its contents until its eventual discovery which was caused by a nearby tree falling and disturbing the fallen rocks.
Human occupation was limited to the cave mouth although paintings were created throughout the length of the cave. The artists used charcoal and ochre or haematite to create the images, often scratching or diluting these dyes to produce variances in intensity and creating an impression of chiaroscuro. They also exploited the natural contours in the cave walls to give a three-dimensional effect to their subjects. The Polychrome Ceiling is the most impressive feature showing a herd of bison in different poses, two horses, a large doe and a possible wild boar.
This art is dated to the Magdelenean occupation and as well as animal subjects also included abstract shapes. Solutrean images include images of horses, goats and handprints created from the artist placing his hand on the cave wall in spraying paint over it leaving a negative image of his palm. Numerous other caves in northern Spain contain Palaeolithic art but none is as advanced or well-populated as Altamira.During the 1960s and 1970s, the paintings were being damaged by the damp breath of large numbers of visitors. Altamira was completely closed to the public in 1977, and reopened to limited access in 1982. Very few visitors are allowed in per day, resulting in a three-year waiting list. A replica cave and museum were built nearby and completed in 2001 by Manuel Franquelo and Sven Nebel, reproducing the cave and its art. The replica allows a more comfortable view of the polychrome paintings of the main hall of the cave, as well as a selection of minor works. It also includes some sculptures of human faces that are not visitable in the real cave.[1]
There are other replicas in the National Archaeological Museum of Spain (Madrid), in the Deutsche Museum in Munich (completed 1964), and in Japan (completed 1993).

Several painters were influenced by the Altamira cave paintings. After a visit, Picasso famously exclaimed "after Altamira, all is decadence".
Some of the polychrome paintings at Altamira Cave are well known in Spanish popular culture. The logo used by the autonomous government of Cantabria to promote tourism to the region is based on one of the bisons in this cave. Bisonte (Spanish for 'Bison'), a Spanish brand of cigarettes of the 20th century, also used a Paleolithic style bison figure along with its logo.
The Spanish comic character and series Altamiro de la Cueva, created in 1965, are a clear consequence of the fame of Altamira Cave. The comic series depicts the adventures of a group of prehistoric cavemen, shown as modern people, but dressed in pieces of fur, a bit like the Flintstones.
The rock band Steely Dan wrote the song "The Caves of Altamira" for their 1976 album, The Royal Scam

(With information from Wikipedia)

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