Spain’s Remarkable Cave Paintings

Fourteen years after he died they officially apologized. The experts thought he just made it all up. Accused him of forgery. But till his dying day, Marcelino Sanz de Sautuola maintained his integrity.

Led by his eight-year-old daughter, Sautuola discovered the polychrome cave drawings of Altamira, Spain in 1879. He enlisted the help of Juan Vilanova y Piera from the University of Madrid and they published their findings to much acclaim in 1880. Then came the criticism and accusations of forgery.

No one had ever seen such paintings before so the experts, led by French specialists Gabriel de Mortillet and Emile Cartailhac, adamantly denied Sautuola and Piera’s claims. They insisted that our prehistoric ancestors could not have produced artwork of such quality and, if they had, the artwork could not have survived for thousands of years as Sautuola and Piera claimed.

Then, as is so often the case, the experts were presented with evidence that vindicated Sautuola and Piera. Hundreds of other cave paintings of similar age and quality were discovered elsewhere in Spain and France.


There is no scientific agreement on the dating of the cave paintings. Their best guess is 14-40,000 years ago.


In order to preserve the paintings of Altamira they have been closed to the public. But it is possible to view and photograph replicas of them at the Museo Arqueologico National in Madrid.


This is what Sautuola’s original publication of his findings looked like.

Original Altamira

Finally, in 1902, 14 years after Sautuola had died, Emille Cartailhac emphatically admitted his mistake in an article entitled, “Mea culpa d’un sceptique”, published in the journal L’Anthropologie.

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