Part of an area being scanned by scientists at Los Murciélagos, a cave in Cantabria, Spain.

New Technology Finds Barely Visible 28,000-year- old Cave Paintings in Spain

(Read the article on one page)

Just because we cannot see it, does not mean it cannot exist. Non-intrusive technology using photometric techniques has aided a team of researchers in uncovering four new sets of designs painted on the walls of Spanish caves thousands of years ago. The oldest of the paintings is nearly 30,000 years old –one of the oldest examples of prehistoric art found to date. The discoveries open a world of possibilities in identifying and analyzing paleolithic cave art.

IBTimes UK reports  that researchers in Cantabria, Spain were tipped off to the possible existence of the cave art by a speleologist 20 years ago. However, it is only recently that sufficiently advanced technology has become available to confirm those claims.

Some of the paintings recently identified on the walls of one of the caves in Cantabria, Spain.

Some of the paintings recently identified on the walls of one of the caves in Cantabria, Spain. ( Roberto Ontañón/MUPAC )

Cantabria is the home to one of the highest known concentrations of prehistoric cave paintings in the world. Project leader, Spanish prehistorian  Roberto Ontañón explained to El País : “It was a very good place to live during the Ice Age. The Cantabrian Sea warmed up the climate and vast herds of wild animals such as horses passed through that narrow strip between the sea and the mountains.”

According to El País, the researchers have used a range of photographic techniques, lasers, and 3D scanners while searching four caves – El Rejo, Las Graciosas, Los Murciélagos, and Solviejo. They captured a series of images under different lighting and angles and have identified several geometric designs and a few drawings of deer. The team reproduced the prehistoric paintings as high-definition images on a computer. Measurements of brush and tool marks were also attained in the process.

An image of a deer created through photometric techniques from the El Rejo cave in Cantabria.

An image of a deer created through photometric techniques from the El Rejo cave in Cantabria.  (Museo de Prehistoria y Arqueología de Cantabria )

Ontañón told IBTimes UK : “These technologies allow you to detect colors beyond the range of the visible spectrum (infrared to ultraviolet) and, in this way, 'reveal' paintings that at first sight are imperceptible or difficult to distinguish.”

The researchers estimate  the paintings were created between 22,000 and 28,000 years ago, thus they are older than the  famous paintings of Altamira , which are dated to the Magdalenian occupation (circa 16500 – 14000 years ago). The artists who made the Altamira paintings used ochre, hematite, and charcoal to draw bison, horses, boar, and an impressive doe.

Just because we cannot see it, does not mean it cannot exist. Non-intrusive technology using photometric techniques has aided a team of researchers in uncovering four new sets of designs painted on the walls of Spanish caves thousands of years ago.

Bison from Magdalenian occupation of Altamira Cave. In black charcoal, c. 16500 – 14000 years ago. ( CC BY SA 3.0)

The oldest known cave drawings in the world are also found in Cantabria at a site  known as El Castillo . Those paintings include more than 100 images on walls and ceilings made in charcoal and red ochre. There are representations of animals, club-shaped figures, and numerous hand stencils and red disks. It is estimated that those images were made more than 40,000 years ago.

That date is controversial, suggesting that modern humans were in the area earlier than mainstream research suggests, or that the paintings were made by Neanderthals. Although it is certainly possible, if Neanderthals created the cave paintings at El Castillo, that also goes against the general belief that Neanderthals didn’t create symbolic art, or raises the question as to why they seemed to have “suddenly” begun the practice around 40,000 years ago.

Cro-Magnon artists painting woolly mammoths in Font-de-Gaume, AMNH.

Cro-Magnon artists painting woolly mammoths in Font-de-Gaume, AMNH. ( Public Domain )

More discoveries in the area may help shed light on the origins of the oldest cave paintings. According to Ontañón, there are at least 70 caves in the Cantabrian mountain range with paintings. Ontañón told El País his team plans to continue searching for them:

“Our goal is to visit the caves and use the latest technology to uncover walls that have been painted or decorated but where these marks cannot be seen with the naked eye. These discoveries will add to the map of art in this area.”

The project is being funded by the regional government of Cantabria.

General view of cave walls in Cantabria, Spain.

General view of cave walls in Cantabria, Spain. ( El Comercio )

Top Image: Part of an area being scanned by scientists at Los Murciélagos, a cave in Cantabria, Spain. Source:  Museo de Prehistoria y Arqueología de Cantabria

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Myths & Legends

Open Book Photo
A legend is a tale regarded as historical even though it has not been proven, and the term “myth” can refer to common yet false ideas. Many myths and legends describe our history, but they are often treated skeptically. This is because many of them, while explaining a phenomenon, involve divine or supernatural beings.

Human Origins

Noah's Sacrifice - watercolor circa 1896–1902 by James Tissot
The imperfect state of archaeological researches in the Near East impedes any definite identification of the original race or races that created the earliest civilizations of Mesopotamia and Egypt. According to Gordon Childe, however, the predominant racial element in the earliest graves in the region from Elam to the Danube is the ‘Mediterranean’.

Ancient Technology

Ancient Places

Google Earth image of manmade stone structures in Saudi Arabia
Deep in the heart of Saudi Arabia, 400 peculiar stone structures have been found, dating back thousands of years ago. These stone features were discovered by archaeologists with the use of satellite imagery, identifying what they call stone "gates" in an extremely unwelcome and harsh area of the Arabian Peninsula.

Opinion

The ancient and mysterious Sphinx, Giza, Egypt.
In 1995, NBC televised a prime-time documentary hosted by actor Charlton Heston and directed by Bill Cote, called Mystery of the Sphinx. The program centered on the research and writings of John Anthony West, a (non-academic) Egyptologist, who, along with Dr. Robert Schoch, a professor of Geology at Boston University, made an astounding discovery on the Great Sphinx of Giza in Egypt.

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article