The Archaeology of Altamira Cave

THE TIMES OF ALTAMIRA

 
 
'The Times of Altamira' was a research program initiated by the Museum in 2003 to thoroughly examine the archaeology of Altamira, both inside and out. The program succeeded in reconstructing the history of the cave and consolidating the documentation of its artefact collections. Consequently, research on the archaeological deposit and new dates for the art has contributed towards a new understanding of the Cave of Altamira.
 
Of the many artefacts discovered, two in particular merit attention.
Spear Cave Altamira Spain Archaeology
Spear from the
cave of Altamira

© Museo de Altamira. Photo P. Saura
Solutrean point Cave Altamira Spain Archaeology
Solutrean point from
the cave of Altamira

© Museo de Altamira. Photo P. Saura

A PALAEOLITHIC AIRBRUSH

 
Airbrushes bird bone Altamira Spain Archaeology
Airbrushes on bird bone from the cave of Altamira
© Museo de Altamira.
Photo P. Saura
These airbrushes had gone unnoticed because they were initially catalogued as pendants by Hermilio Alcalde del Río.
 
The airbrushes were made from three segments of bones from the leg or wing of a large bird (a raptor or a wading bird). They display de-fleshing and cut marks in the form of transverse grooves. Two of the pieces are now understood to fit together because they are part of the same bone.
 
Because they exhibit traces of pigment on both outer and inner surfaces, researchers believe them to be tools used to apply red liquid paint. The bone pieces would have been placed at right angles to each other; by blowing through one section, the other section would absorb the paint and spray it outwards.
 
Alcalde del Río found these artefacts in crevices in the cave passage, and thus the lack of further stratigraphic context prevents any precise dating at this time.

RED DEER SCAPULA

 
Red deer scapula with two finely-engraved superimposed heads of hinds
Scapulae engraved hind Altamira Spain Archaeology
Scapulae with
engraved hind

© Museo de Altamira
archaeological excavation entrance cave Altamira Spain Archaeology
Archaeological excavation on the
entrance of the cave of Altamira

© Museo de Altamira
 
In 2008-2009, an excavation was conducted in the modern entrance of the cave to determine whether part of the archaeological deposit existed in the area that is now outside the entrance beneath the collapse that blocked it. The end of an archaeological level measuring 20cm thick was located in the outer limit of the collapse, preserved from the erosive processes that had removed the level in the area next to it. It yielded numerous shells, faunal remains, lithic and bone objects, and a red deer scapula with two finely-engraved superimposed heads of hinds.
 
This type of engraving is of the same type as those found by Alcalde del Río from 1903 to 1905. The three dates for this level under the collapse place it between 15,370 +/- 60 and 15,610 +/- 80 BP, coinciding with Levels 2 to 4 in the interior deposit, in the Lower Magdalenian.
 
These dates refer to a very precise time, and are of special interest for Altamira as they make the striated engravings of hinds in the cave passages contemporaneous with the polychrome bison on the ceiling in the Hall of the Paintings. It is not possible to determine in which order the two kinds of depictions were produced.
 
The Cave of Altamira
Bradshaw Foundation
 
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