The ‘Cave of Altamira and Paleolithic Cave Art of Northern Spain’ feature drawings and polychrome rock paintings of wild mammals and human hands.
The site consists of the famous Altamira Cave, with its Chamber of the paintings (‘Sistine Chapel of Prehistory’), and 17 other caves in Northern Spain.
The first Homo sapiens arrived by small groups in northern Spain around 35,000 BP. They cohabited for a time with the last of the Neanderthals, and then developed a significant culture known as Upper Palaeolithic, from 30,000 to 25,000 BP, producing bone projectiles and stone blade tools, and producing the first artistic artefacts and the first decorated walls (La Peña de Candamo).
The last Ice Age then began to make its influence felt, ending in around 18,000 BP. During this period cave art developed in the eastern part of Cantabria, producing an individual style (Altamira, La Peña del Candamo, El Castillo, Las Pasiega, El Pendo, La Garma, Chufin and El Pendo).
The artistic apogee, known as Magdalenian, corresponds to the end of the Ice Age, from 17,000 to 13,000 BP. This was the period of the major works in the decorated caves, with a great variety of motifs and techniques of representation. This was one of the key moments of the history of art, as seen for example in the polychrome figures of Altamira and El Castillo, the combination of engraving and painting, the use of the rock forms themselves, and realistic detail in the animal figures in most of the nominated caves.
From 13,000 to 10,000 BP, the climate became warmer (Holocene), causing a profound transformation in human lifestyles, together with a decline in cave art. Las Monedas is an example of late cave art, and there is no evidence of cave art later than 11,000 BP.