Spanish Cave Paintings Discovered to be Some of the Oldest in Europe

cave paintings
Image courtesy GipuzkoaKultura

Cave paintings at the Altxerri cave system in the Basque region of northern Spain are about 39,000 years old, making them some of the oldest in Europe, Popular Archaeology reports.

A team of French and Spanish scientists analyzed the paintings, which include images such as the bison shown here, as well as finger marks, a feline, a bear, an unidentified animal head and more abstract markings. This early dating of these images puts them in the Aurignacian Period, believed by most archaeologists to be the first flowering of modern humans in the region, although whether or not there were still Neanderthals in the area at this time is an open question.

A later set of paintings in another part of the cave system, which has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, date from “only” 29,000-35,000 years ago.

By comparison, the art at Cauvet Cave in France is about 31,000 years old, although it is of a much higher quality. The beautiful paintings there were the subject of Herzog’s breathtaking 3D documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams.

A full report on the cave paintings can be found in the latest issue of the Journal of Human Evolution.

Archaeologists Discover Nearly 5000 Cave Paintings In Mexico

Mexican Cave Paintings could be more than 40,000 years old
Mexican National Institute of Anthropology

Archaeologists have made a startling discovery in a remote region of Mexico that could have an impact on what we’ve previously known about early inhabitants in North America. While exploring numerous sites in the northeastern region of Burgos, researchers have come across nearly 5000 cave paintings, which would be a remarkable find at any time. But these paintings seem to pre-date any kind of settlement by Hispanic people in the region, possibly revealing the presence of previously unknown inhabitants in the San Carlos mountain range.

All told, there are 4926 paintings spread out across 11 different archaeological sites. Of those, 1550 are found in a single location whose walls are extremely covered in the artwork. Using simple red, yellow, black and white paints, the artists left behind primitive images of humans, animals, insects and other abstract items in a place that was not previously believed to have been inhabited by any type of organized cultures. The paintings suggest that as many as three groups may have lived in the region, however, which adds yet another layer to the mystery.

At the moment, there is little known about the ancient cultures that made these paintings. The scenes splayed out on the walls indicate that it was a nomadic tribe of hunters and gatherers who used rudimentary tools to aid in their work. No such tools have been found at any of the sites, however, leaving researchers to speculate about the level of sophistication the tribes possessed. Scientists hope to chemically analyze the paint used in the art to determine its age, but at the moment they estimate that the cave paintings were done some 40,000 years ago. If that is accurate, it would put them amongst the oldest known artwork in history.

VIDEO: Prehistoric Art Of Panther Cave Reproduced In 3D


Panther Cave in Seminole Canyon, Texas, has some of the country’s best-preserved prehistoric cave paintings. A colorful frieze of leaping panthers, feathered shamans and strange abstract shapes have puzzled researchers for decades. It appears to be telling a story of some sort, but what does that story say?

Now this new 3D video allows you to study it for yourself. Color enhancement brings out details hard to see with the naked eye. It also brings the cave (really a rock shelter) to the general public. Panther Cave is only visible from the opposite bank of the river or by a specially scheduled boat trip with a park ranger.

The paintings date to the Archaic period, a vague label stretching from 7,000 B.C. to 600 A.D. Judging from the condition of the paintings and the relatively shallow depth of the rock shelter, this former archaeologist thinks they must date to the last few centuries of that period. Take that with a grain of salt; my specialty was the Anglo-Saxon migration period.

The site is managed by Seminole Canyon State Park & Historic Site and Amistad National Recreation Area. Sadly, Past Horizons reports that the site is now endangered by flooding related to the construction of Amistad Reservoir. As prehistoric art across the nation falls prey to “development,” vandalism and time, these detailed videos become important records of our past.

For a look at some cave paintings from the opposite side of the globe, check out my post on the painted caves of Laas Geel in Somaliland.