IN 1868 A HUNTER in the open country near Santillana, not far from the charming little town of Torrelavega in the northern Spanish province of Santander, discovered the blocked entrance to a cave, which was later given the name of Altamira. The lord of the manor of Santillana, Don Marcellino de Sautuola, a keen local antiquarian, began systematic excavation at Altamira in 1879. One day he took his five-year-old daughter with him to the place. The little girl had no need to stoop in the low-roofed cave. She caught sight of some coloured pictures of animals in the rock overhead and her cries of delight at this discovery attracted her father's attention. In the candle-light, he saw to his amazement a number of lifelike paintings of bison, boar, wild horses and female red deer, all faithfully depicted (ill. p. 105). The unknown artists had mixed charcoal and earth-colours -- different tones of ochre, red chalk and black manganese ore -- with fat or white of egg, painting the walls and roof with the resulting pigments, which had eaten deep into the rock. The lucky finder knew that no one except a few hunters had entered the cave since it had been opened up. As his excavations had brought to light certain stone and bone tools, shaped for human use, which dated from the Ice Age, he deduced that the pictures must be of the same period. The initial enthusiasm aroused by this sensational discovery, however, turned to general scepticism when the genuineness of the paintings was called in question by the learned world.
Ever since the sixth and seventh decades of the 19th century not only tools but also pictures of animals engraved on bone and rock, and even miniature works of art, had been found. Finally, in 1901, two caves in the Dordogne, in southern France, were unearthed, Font-de-Gaume and Les Combarelles, which were both adorned with paintings. In the former, two hundred masterly pictures of animals were found and in the second no less than three hundred, which included representations of human ritual dancers and trappers. The pictures at Altamira were then remembered and subjected to thoroughgoing investigation. To-day thousands of Ice Age paintings, in many caves, are known, which afford evidence of stylistic development.
During the long Early and Middle Stone Ages, when Man subsisted on the proceeds of hunting and food-gathering expeditions, there had not been any representative art. Nevertheless, the flint knives that date from the Old Acheulean Age already reveal, in their definite shape and careful polishing -- which exceed purely utilitarian requirements, -- a primitive pleasure in modelling and visual beauty.