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Europe declares Day of Prehistoric Rock Art, with Altamira as benchmark

Monday 7 October 2019

9 October has been chosen by the Council of Europe and the European Commission as the European Day of Prehistoric Rock Art - a date of significant importance in the history of the Altamira Cave. On that day 117 years ago, Émile Cartailhac (one of the highest authorities in the international scientific community) sent a letter expressing the first official acceptance of the claims made by Marcelino Sanz de Sautuola in "Breves apuntes sobre algunos objetos prehistóricos de la provincia de Santander" - published in 1880 - on the intellectual capabilities of prehistoric humans and the existence of prehistoric cave art by early Europeans dating the cave paintings in Altamira to the Palaeolithic period. In his letter, Émile Cartailhac described the Altamira Cave as "the most beautiful, strangest and most interesting of all caverns with paintings".

The European Day of Prehistoric Rock Art will now join the list of events forming the list of European Heritage Days. Various celebrations will take place at all the sites belonging to the Prehistoric Rock Art Trails Association, certified as a Cultural Route of the Council of Europe in 2010 - one of the largest networks of archaeological sites (161 in total), including museums and research centres, visitors' centres, sites with prehistoric cave art, etc.

Design and recreation of the paintings and engravings in the Neocave based on the original cave narrated by Pedro Saura

'The Art of Altamira and its Recreation' will be the chosen subject for a conference to be organised at the Pedro Saura Altamira Museum. Pedro Saura and Matilde Múzquiz were commissioned to reproduce the art conserved inside the Altamira Cave in the Neocave, culminating a museum project that was designed to reproduce the original as a special room forming part of the permanent exhibition at the museum. The Neocave is therefore a tool for communication; an open book with little text and a great deal of scientific information thanks to a unique illustration in three dimensions - real, not virtual, dimensions - into which visitors can enter and lose themselves.

Ministerio de Cultura y DeporteWhile maintaining absolute respect for their prehistoric painter "colleagues", Pedro Saura and Matilde Múzquiz tackled their reproduction of the figures by trying to put themselves in the shoes of the original artists, analysing their movements, the direction of their brush strokes and intensity of the colours used. Pedro Saura believes that "through rigorous study of the process followed by the various artists who left their art on the roof of the Polychrome Hall, we managed to get closer - albeit ever so slightly - to the way they thought, the thoughts that controlled their mind and their hands to achieve results that bear witness to extraordinary skill".

In his talk, he will speak about the history and discovery of the cave, and how to look for signature details in the various hands that worked on the ceiling of the Polychrome Hall because, according to Pedro Saura, "we are talking about specific artists, unique people, who enable us to identify hallmarks in certain figures by examining traits".

Guided tour of the exhibition entitled 'The Art of Reproducing Art'

The events organised around the European Day of Prehistoric Rock Art will conclude with a visit to the exhibition entitled 'The Art of Reproducing Art. Wall, Pigment, Pixel'. Carmen de las Heras, Deputy Director of the Altamira Museum and curator of the exhibition, will be the narrator who guides visitors through one of the cultural resources currently undergoing development - the reproduction of the caves with prehistoric cave art "understood not has a conservation project but rather as a 'large book' created and written with museological, communicative and scientific rigour, using physically and intellectually accessible language for all. Without forgetting that it is an attractive, motivating and stimulating, even emotional, resource", explained the exhibition curator.

Since the new National Altamira Museum and Research Centre was opened in 2001, the Neocave has been visited by 250,000 people per year on average, making this space one of the highest-rated by the public.

Non official translation