Into the Depths

May 07, 2014 | Art, Food, France, Spain, Wine
In my previous post I said that Cesar, our local guide, summed up the problem with the (otherwise excellent) replica cave in Altamira by saying: “The real cave has a presence that the replica does not.” Having previously seen a cave with paintings I felt that to be true, but now I have 24 other TravelQuest travelers who agree.

Today we reached two real caves. The first, El Pindal, is set into the cliffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, though when the paintings were made, the sea was farther away. (Since no photos are permitted inside any cave, the image above shows part of our group entering El Pindal.) We made our way to the single gallery that’s open to the public and immediately saw the red outline of a female deer on a wall. Painted on a thin vertical rock ledge hanging above and in front of the doe are several vertical red lines that looked (to me) like an attempt to render a three-dimensional image of a deer in a forest. Gaze at the animal, move your head sideways, and the foreground lines shift, creating an impression that the deer is moving behind the “red-trunked trees.” There are other paintings here, including a red mammoth, that are not well preserved. It’s estimated that the art was created between 14,000 and 20,000 years ago.

The second cave was Tito Bustillo. There are many more paintings here than in El Pindal, though again we saw only one gallery. But what a gallery — the so-called Main Panel is a wall of horses and deer, mostly in red. But slightly above the red wall is an incredibly realistic sketch, in charcoal, of a horse’s head, neck, and mane. Oddly, this horse head stares one way, while the other horses on the rest of the wall gaze in the opposite direction.

Archaeologists think that the paintings were executed in several stages during a span of some 25,000 years, with the charcoal horse head being the youngest at roughly 12,000 years. However, there is also a horse and reindeer that were created at the same time. How do we know? Because the deer’s muzzle covers the front leg muscle of the horse, while the horse’s throat hides the tip of the reindeer’s front horn — it sure looks like planned perspective.

So how did the TravelQuest group describe these two caves? Amazing. Spectacular. Provocative. Stunning. There’s nothing like the real thing. It has a mood Altamira lacks.

And it’s not just the reality of actually seeing 15,000-year-old (or older) cave paintings. There is a certain ambiance about the real caves — the cool, humid air; the wetness of everything; the smell of damp; the sound of water dripping — that Altamira lacks. Altamira was an education. El Pindal and Tito Bustillo were experiences.

Written by: Paul Deans – TQ Editor

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