Prehistoric cave art discovered in Transylvania

A group of speleologists exploring a cave in the Apuseni Nature Park in Transylvania, Romania, have discovered what could be Central Europe’s oldest cave art. Paintings of now-extinct species rhinoceros and cat were found next to images of bison, a horse, a bear’s head, and a female torso.

While dating cave art is difficult, based on the style archaeologists believe the figures are anywhere from 23,000 to 35,000 years old. No cave art this old has ever been found in Central Europe.

Coliboaia cave, where the art was discovered, is one of hundreds of caves in the Bihorului Mountains. Many have yet to be explored and there are likely to be more archaeological surprises in the future.

The question remains of what to do with the cave. There will be a temptation to open it to the public, but with the controversial reopening of Altamira in Spain, and the problems over preserving the paintings of Lascaux in France, the debate over how best to preserve humanity’s oldest art is growing louder than ever.

Lascaux image courtesy Sevela.p via Wikimedia Commons.

Altamira prehistoric painted cave to reopen

One of Europe’s most breathtaking examples of prehistoric art will soon be accessible to the public.

The Paleolithic cave art at Altamira, in the Cantabria region of northern Spain, will soon be open to visitors. Altamira’s paintings of bison, deer, and other animals date from 14,000 to 20,000 years ago and are some of the best preserved of all prehistoric cave art. Even more intriguing are the hand prints by the artists themselves.

Cantabria’s Culture Ministry and Altamira’s board of directors have decided to reopen the site sometime next year. Access will be limited and they did not release details as to the number of people who will be allowed into the cave. Altamira has been closed since 2002 because even the few visitors allowed at that time affected the delicate environment that had preserved the paintings for so many millennia. Like at the famous Paleolithic cave of Lascaux in France, mold has started growing on some of the paintings. The circulation of air from people coming and going changes the temperature, and their breath changes the humidity.

Some archaeologists have criticized the move, saying that allowing visitors will increase the damage already done. If the plans to reopen Altamira go through, it could lead to a controversy similar to the one surrounding Lascaux, which has seen a group of scientists called the International Committee for the Preservation of Lascaux call for an independent investigation into how the cave is managed.

Photo of Altamira reproduction at Madrid’s Museo Arqueológico Nacional de España courtesy José-Manuel Benito.

Scotland promoting archaeological tourism

Forget kilts, haggis, and caber tossing, Scotland’s tourism board wants you to delve into the country’s past.

Tony Robinson, star of Blackadder and Time Team, is the poster boy for Visit Scotland‘s new push for archaeological tourism. The tourism board has developed several five-day itineraries visitors can follow to explore Scotland’s 10,000 year heritage.

Scotland is an archaeological wonderland with stone circles, mysterious prehistoric forts, and medieval monasteries. Visit Scotland’s trails focus on the country’s northern and western islands. Despite their rough climates, island chains like the Orkneys, Shetlands, and Hebrides preserve evidence of advanced cultures. One of the most important sites is Skara Brae, pictured above, on Mainland (actually an island) in the Orkneys off the north coast of Scotland. This remarkably complete Neolithic village was founded about 5,000 years ago and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Built from local stone, the little homes are sunk into the earth to protect them from the elements. The interiors have shelves, hearths, and even stone furniture built into them. One even has a toilet with a drain.

The itineraries go beyond simply describing a series of sites. They also give information on how to get there and back, suggestions on where to eat, and historic hotels and B&Bs to stay in.

And don’t worry, you can still eat sheep’s hearts, wear man-skirts, and throw telephone poles.

Photo courtesy Dr. John F. Burka via Wikimedia Commons.