Prehistoric cave art
There are about 350 caves in northern Spain and southern France, containing samples of rock paintings dating from 32,000 to the most recent 15,000 years ago. The cave art expression mysteriously disappears 10,000 years ago.
The paintings are mostly about animals. There are very few examples of human figures: humans mainly appear as traces of hands.
The most relevant sites are:
- Les Combarelles
- Les Trois-Freres
The colors used in all the caves were always the same. Manganese or carbon dioxide was used to make the black color. Iron oxide was used to make the red pigment. They sometimes used charcoal crayons or brushes made out of animal hair.
The similarity in all the paintings shows that the artists obeyed a cultural tradition that survived more than 20,000 years. Artists taught their apprentices generation after generation, always the same techniques. If younger generations learned how to paint, they most probably mastered other artistic expressions such as music. There are several archeological sites from the Ice Age where researchers have found flutes and whistles made out of hollow bones.
Caves containing prehistoric paintings were known and visited for centuries. No one understood who had painted them or what they meant. In the 15th century, Pope Callistus III, who was originally from Valencia, condemned the Spaniards who lived in the mountains of northern Spain, for worshipping and performing rites “in the caves with the horse paintings.” The Pope’s comment suggests that the religions from the ice ages have survived until that time.