Researchers have discovered a set of cave paintings in Cantabria, northern Spain, the oldest of which was made nearly 30,000 years ago – making it one of the earliest known examples of prehistoric art in the world.
The team from the Museum of Prehistory of Cantabria, led by Spanish prehistorian Roberto Ontañón, used cutting-edge imaging techniques to identify the drawings.
Twenty years ago, a speleologist – a scientist who studies caves - had informed archaeologists of the possible existence of ancient paintings in various rock cavities in Cantabria. However, the techniques available at the time were not sufficient to confirm the existence of the art.
The paintings, like much prehistoric artwork, had degraded so much over time that they were difficult to identify with the naked eye, especially in the light conditions of the caves. To overcome this, Ontañón and his team used a 3D laser scanning method which reproduced the artwork on a computer, even if it could not clearly be seen on the walls.
The drawings are mostly of geometric patterns although there are some representations of animals, according to the team.
The artworks are estimated to have been made between 30,000 and 22,000 years ago, making them older than the famous bison drawings at the renowned UNESCO World Heritage Site at nearby Altamira – made around 16,000 years ago – but not as old as the earliest example in the region.
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That title goes to the cave drawings at El Castillo, also in Cantabria, which were made more than 40,000 years ago and are arguably the oldest in the world.
The region of Cantabria has some of the highest concentrations of prehistoric art anywhere on Earth.
"It was a very good place to live during the glacial periods", Ontañón told Spanish newspaper El Pais. "The Cantabrian Sea had a temperamental effect on the climate and through that narrow strip between the mountains and the sea passed herds of wild animals."
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