C A N T A B R I A   U N I V E R S I T Y
Altamira (Santillana del Mar)  
    Marcelino Sanz de Sutuola   Altamira has been designated by some investigators as "The Sixtine Chappell of Quaternary art". It is the first cave in which palaeolithic rupestrian decorations were found. The cave was accidentaly found in 1868 by Modesto Cubillas, co-owner of Mr. Marcelino Sanz de Sautuola, who was told about the discovery. During the course of one exploration made by Saoutuola in 1879, the famous researcher´s daughter saw the bisons represented in the polichromathics room. The next year Sautuola published the "Breves apuntes sobre algunos objetos prehistóricos de la provincia de Santander" (Brief notes about some prehistoric objects of the Santander province) , where he expounded the arguments to demonstrate that the paintings were prehistoric. This gave rise to a strong controversy, because most of the investigators rejected Sautuola´s proposal. It was not until 1902 when the prehistoric chronology of the Altamira paintings was recognized.

The Altamira cave is located 30 kilometers West of Santander, in the village of Santillana del Mar. By the entrance to the cave, the polycromathics room gets open, here we find one of the most beautiful panels of Pleistocene art. On this room ceiling figures of animals, in an apparent mess, turn up. These figures were drawn in diifferent periods and with the use of different techniques. The first figures represented on this ceiling seem to be the red ones, over which several black paintings, polychromaticcs and finally, some black figures were subsequently added. The bison , the most represented animal on this ceiling, shows up surrounded by other figures such as the hind and the horse . In addition, signs and figures of anthropomorphist, also appear.

The rest of the cave is formed by nine other galleries or rooms. In Altamira´s central galleries, engraved or black painted bisons, goats , aurochs , horses , deers , hinds ... have been documented. Besides the figures of animals, it is worth a special mention for the rectangular, conical, claviforms and stairs-shaped signs, negative hands and "macarroni" . The "macarroni" consists on series of parallel lines made by palaeolithic artists running their hands through a clayey wall, and it is possibly the most ancient decoration in the Altamira cave.

The terminal gallery is known as the "Cola de caballo" (Horse tail). It is a very narrow passageway 50 meters long in which walls you discover a whole catalogue of signs, different black traces and engraved or black painted animals such as horses, goats, deers, bisons and mask, similar to the ones in Castillo and La Garma.

Thanks to the fact that te cave was blocked by a natural collapse at the end of the Upper Palaeolithic, the parietal evidences and the Altamira cave deposit got to be conserved. During the last years, different studies to determine the chronology of the paintings have been made applying the most modern systems to directly date pigments by the 14C-AMS techniques . The first ones were made in 1991 obtaining from three of the polychromatic figures three spaced out dates between 14.330 ± 190 and 13570±190 BP. These dates confirmed the Magdalenien chronology traditionally atributed to these paintings, but they are incompatible with the idea that these figures could have been made in the same moment. On the other hand, these dates pose some metodological problems, because the obtained dates about the humic fraction are not compatible in 1996 new measurings of the samples taken 5 years before, could be made in the proyect called "Documentación del arte rupestre en el sector central de la costa cantabrica. Una evaluacion de tecnicas de trabajo" leaded by A. Moure Romanillo, C. González Sainz, V. Cabrera Valdés y F. Bernaldo de Quirós. This time the obtained dates have been: 13130±120, 14800±150 and 14820±130.

This proyect, dates of the black paintings of the interior galleries have been studied, obtaining a date from 14650±140 for a black trace bellow a hind engraved with fluting bands, and from 15050±180 for a hind on a black trace. On the other hand, the gathered sample of one of the quadrilateral signs of the horse tail gave a date of 15440±200 BP.

In this study, they cloncluded that a good part of the group of representations was made between 14800 and 14400 BP in the middle Magdalenien, but in the cavern, parietal representations previous and later to this date are located. It can be said that the cave was decorated since the Solutrean until the final Magdalenien, date when the natural collapse that closed the entrance to Altamira occurred.

Brief notes about some prehistoric objects of the Santander province.
Hind in "black trace"
Quadrilateral sign
14C-AMS tecniques
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