The Archaeology of Altamira Cave


'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


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 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
Like us on Facebook & Follow us on Twitter to receive news & updates:
Support our work & become a
Friend of the Foundation
Bradshaw Foundation Twitter @BrashawFND
Homepage About the Foundation Contact Us Facebook News Articles Twitter List of Research Papers Professor Stephen Oppenheimer Travel Index About the Expeditions Forthcoming Expeditions Bespoke Expeditions Enquire Practical Information History of Exploration Welcome to the iShop Film Downloads DVD's Sculpture Prints Clothing Messenger Bag eBooks INORA Downloads About iLecture Films Shipping & Handling iLectures In Conversation Video Stories Travel Films Read the reviews Privacy Policy Bradshaw Foundation Facebook Friends of the Foundation Archive Index World's Oldest Rock Art Africa Documentary Films South Africa RARI Giraffe Carvings Niger Namibia Western Central Africa Africa Paintings Gallery Tanzania The Tuareg People Tuareg Salt Caravans Gilf Kebir Birnin Kudu Rock Art Center Archive Index San Rock Art Paintings San Bushman San Rock Art Film Origins Centre Johannesburg Archive Index Arizona Baja California Baja California Film Coso Range Talking Stone Film Nevada Oregon Territory Moab, Utah Clovis First Australia Archive Index Introduction Bradshaw Paintings Kimberley Region The Unambal Hugh Brown Leif Thiele Gallery Dan Clark Grahame Walsh Bradshaws / Gwion Gwion Archive Index Introduction Origins of the British Avebury Stonehenge Sounds of Stonehenge The British Museum British Isles Megaliths Gower Peninsula Rock Art Mendip Hills Prehistory Northumberland Rock Art Red Lady of Paviland Stone Age Mammoth Abattoir Archive Index Introduction Peterborough Petroglyphs Western Canadian Rock Art Writing-On-Stone Wuikinuxv Territory Dinosaur Provincial Park Archive Index Huashan Rock Art Yinchuan Museum Rock Art Festival Field Trip Gallery Itinerant Creeds Inner Mongolia & Ningxia Vanishing Civilization Life in Rock Art (PDF) Tibet Tibet Photographs Dazu Rock Carvings Tiger Motif Archive Index Chauvet Cave Lascaux Cave Niaux Cave Cosquer Cave Rouffignac Cave Portable Art Defining Rock Art Tuc d'Audoubert Bison Dr. Jean Clottes Index UNESCO World Heritage Introduction Cave Paintings Gallery Visiting the Chauvet Cave Return to Chauvet Cave Investigating the Cave Venus & Sorcerer Werner Herzog Film Chauvet Publications India Archive Index Rock Art Central India Pachmarhi Hills India Rock Art Gallery Preservation & Education Dr. V. S. Wakankar Articles on India Rock Art Contemporary Art Middle East Archive Index Middle East Inroduction Rock Art of Iran Rock Art of Saudi Arabia United Arab Emirates Rock Art Ancient Geometry Middle East Colonisation Scandinavian Rock Art Archive Scandinavian Introduction Alta Rock Art Norway Rock Art in Finland Tanum Rock Art Sweden Thor Heyerdahl Archive Index Introduction America's Oldest Art? Pedra Furada Bolivian Rock Art Campeche Island - Brazil Checta Petroglyphs - Peru Cueva de las Manos Santa Catarina Island - Brazil Rock Art in Britain Campeche Rock Art Petroglyphs El Salvador - Corinto Cave Hand Rock Art Paintings Tibetan Rock Art United Arab Emirates Uzbekistan Yinchuan Rock Art Museum Introduction Ice Age Art Gallery Claire Artemyz Jill Cook Interview Cycladic Introduction Cycladic Gallery Introduction Geometric Signs Chart Research Methodology Geometric Signs in France Sign Types/Countries/Regions Bibliography Ancient Symbols in Rock Art Newsletter Archive Download Issues Introduction Genetic Map Professor Stephen Oppenheimer Further Reading Origins of the British BBC Documentary Origins Index Origins Overview 13 Big Questions Stanley Ambrose Homo Floresiensis Herto Skulls Homo Dmanisi Liujiang Skull Introduction Sentinels in Stone Easter Island Rock Art Birdman Cult / Motif Sea & Marine Creatures Design & Motifs Dr Georgia Lee Easter Island Map Contemporary Art Glossary Conclusion Thor Heyerdahl Introduction When & Who Built It? How Was It Built? The Area Sounds of Stonehenge Meaning of a Pyramid Pyramid Studies Pyramid Superstructure Pyramid Substructure Pyramid Preparations Pyramid Building Saqqara Nabil Swelim Temples of Malta and Gozo Research in the Caucasus The Keselo Foundation Homo Dmanisi Ancient Toolmakers Index Introduction Descent into the Cave The Decorated Caves Shamanistic Experience Spring Initiation Rites Summary Page 1 Page 2 Page 3 Page 4 Professor John P. Miller Motif: Eternal Index Banksy Han Meilin Bruce Radke Christian Tuki Gordon Ellis-Brown Site Map Search the Website Glossary of Terms & Definition Podcast on iTunes Other Websites Contact the Foundation