Deep in the caves, deep in our past

See Telegraph article cited below
We've been traveling, just got back to Madrid from Cantabria (region on the north coast of Spain). Our main interest was to see the caves where our ancestors made such amazing paintings 12, 20 and even 40 thousand years ago. We got into a major one called El Castillo, a small number of people with a guide — just stunning, to see the paintings of giant bisons, deer, horses and, in one remote spot, a little fox. The best paintings are deep in the interior, where no sunlight at all penetrates, and sometimes in spaces so small that only a fery few people could have entered; there are no remains of smoke around the figures, so paleontologists infer that they used smokeless tallow lamps (they've even found the remains of bowls that may have been for such lamps). Also stunning and amazing is the nearby Cueva de las Monedas, too small for clan habitation but a fantastic temple of stalactites and crystals, with a few exquisite paleolithic paintings tucked into remote crevices.

From The Ballroom Blog
One has to wonder what those works meant to their artists and to the rest of the clan. Were they summoning the spirits of those sacred animals? Except for the deer, most of the animals they painted were not part of their diet, so must have had some other importance to them.

The most famous cave of all, Altamira, has been closed to the public since the 1970s; the crowds were destroying it, not by vandalism but just by their presence, changing the temperature and humidity that had preserved those marvelous paintings. To compensate, the authorities have built a life-size "neocave" millimetric replica of the main chambers, reproducing every crack and bulge of the rock and ever handprint (both positives — paint smeared on the palm of the hand and pressed against the rock — and negatives — paint blown over the back of the hand pressed on the rock), every charcoal or iron oxide figure, every engraving etched with some sharp stone.  It was disappointing not to see the real thing, but still well worth the visit, because of the attached museum, with clear and vivid explanations of all the history and "prehistory", including the geological formation.  At some future date, they plan to again admit very small numbers of people for limited visits. The other caves inhabited tens of thousands of years ago remain accessible (there are many, besides the two we visited, in Cantabria and southern France). Now for the first time I feel a desire to read Jean Auel's The Clan of the Cave Bear, her famous re-imagination of the age when Neanderthals and Homo sapiens cohabited the planet.

For more, see Spain to reopen Altamira Caves despite risk of destroying prehistoric paintings - Telegraph

No comments: