Ancient Cave Paintings Described As “Most Striking” Ever Found

Among the etchings are images of horses, bison and even lions. HO/Diputacion Foral de Bizkaia/AFP

A prehistoric masterpiece has been discovered deep inside a cave in the Basque region of northern Spain, with experts hailing the finding as the most impressive example of cave art ever seen in the region.

That’s quite a compliment, given some of the other ancient drawings to have been etched into the walls of Spanish caves. The Altamira Cave in Cantabria, for instance, is celebrated by paleontologists the world over for its iconic paintings of bison, dating back to between 14,000 and 18,500 years ago.

Yet Biscay deputy general Unai Rementeria insists that the latest discovery, which was made in May but has only just been announced, surpasses even Altamira in aesthetic beauty and scientific value, describing it as "the most spectacular and striking" collection of ancient etchings anywhere in the Iberian peninsula.

Hidden some 50 meters (165 feet) inside the Armintxe Cave – which actually begins in the town Lekeitio – is a 15-meter (50 foot) panel covered in etchings of animals and other shapes. Together with those found on two side panels, the drawings number around 50, about 30 of which feature animals.

The drawings are thought to be between 12,000 and 14,500 years old, placing their date of creation at the very end of the Upper Paleolithic Period, which is considered to be a time of significant cultural development among humans.

Like those found in other Iberian caves, the depictions include the likes of bison, horses, and goats, although somewhat surprisingly, researchers also discovered two drawings of what appear to be lions. Given that cave paintings of lions are more commonly seen in the French Pyrenees, archaeologists are now suggesting that groups of hunter-gatherers in these two regions may have been in communication with one another.

This idea is backed up by the fact that several of the abstract lines and shapes seen in the Armintxe cave were identical to those found in the Pyrenees, as was the technique used to etch these images into the rock face.

The drawings are also notable for their size, with one etching of a horse measuring 1.5 meters (5 feet) in length. In general, cave paintings in Iberia tend to be less than a third of this size.

With the findings set to be discussed at a congress later this month, it looks as though the bar has just been raised for ancient cave artists.

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