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The Cave of Altamira Hardcover – 4 Oct 1999

5.0 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 180 pages
  • Publisher: Harry N. Abrams, Inc.; 01 edition (4 Oct. 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0810919893
  • ISBN-13: 978-0810919891
  • Product Dimensions: 26.7 x 1.9 x 31.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,313,205 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover
Prior to Darwin, there was relatively little interest in prehistoric art. Then the theory of evolution and the discovery of many wonderful caves jammed with art, almost like museums, conspired to change all of that. Altamira's art dates back around 15,500 years (due to radioactive dating techniques), but it originally drew little attention because it was too wonderful to be real. The psychology of disbelief stall led all but a few scholars to dismiss this gem. It took almost 20 years for its authenticity to be established, and subsequent evidence has only strengthened its claims. Many people feel that Altamira is the most wonderful collection of prehistoric art in existence. The other famous cave is Lescaux in France. In between these caves geographically, many other caves with drawings have been found.
After being initially ignored after its discovery in 1879, it soon experienced a crush of visitors (eventually approaching 200,000 in a single year). But cave art isn't going to last with that much extra heat and humidity, so the caves have now been closed except to the occasional scholar. The good news is that this cave (located near the seacoast in Spain) is being reproduced so that one can visit and get a sense of the place without harming the art.
Altamira is an extensive series of caves (about 270 yards long) with many different sections. The entrances and exits have mysterious masks. In one section with a low-hung ceiling are many wonderful large paintings of bison (many of these you will recognize). Another area features engravings in the soft stone that are remarkable in their detail and delicacy. Yet other areas have different features.
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Format: Hardcover
Closure of a number of palaeolithic cave art sites has produced a wave of books depicting the art by photography. These efforts are of varying quality, but this one on Altamira is one of the more noteworthy examples. In addition to the photographs, Saura Ramos has enlisted several cave art scholars to add informative essays on history of the discovery, descriptions of the cave and the paintings and the problems of conservation and protection. Particularly useful is an article on the methods used to produce the cave graphics. The reader is nearly alongside the artist as the charcoal or ochre stick applied to render the image. It's an effective means of "personalising" the renderings.

Spanish scholars on various topics author all the essays comprising the body of the text. From a beginning of the history of the discovery of the Altamira graphics, the cave's local environment is examined. A diagram of the cave is shown, although lacking any measurement scale. The art and artists in the time of the paintings' creation is given with an explanation of the timescale involved. The images and artefacts were approximately dated in the era preceding radiometric dating methods employed today. Forms and styles of the work are set in the general scope of "Ages" then in use by scholars. The painters spread their work throughout the cave system where space and useful rock forms were available. A very useful addition, often overlooked in accounts of other cave or rock art, is the size of the image. This is handy to have and useful to keep in mind as you view the image reproductions. There is also a discussion of paintings versus engravings that appear at Altamira.
Read more ›
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By Peter Uys HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on 8 May 2004
Format: Hardcover
This beautiful book explores the cave of Altamira in Spain, called "The Sistine Chapel of Quaternary Art" for the splendour of its drawings, engravings and paintings. The cave was first occupied 18 450 years ago and its early history ended about 13 000 years ago when the entrance vault collapsed. It was discovered again in 1879.
The text comprises an introduction by Antonio Beltrán and various articles: The Cave And Surroundings by José Lasheras Corruchaga; Altamira: Art, Artists And Times by Federico de Quirós; Techniques Individual Artists And Artistic Concepts by Matilde Pérez-Seoane; Photographing Altamira by Pedro Ramos; Conservation Problems by Corruchaga and a Conclusion: The Future by Beltrán.
This great monument to prehistoric art is documented by impressive colour and black and white photographs of the area, the artworks and the tools found in the caves, including a portrait of the discoverer Sautuola. There are maps of the cave, a bibliography, notes and an index.
This magnificent book offers an exhaustive study of the wonderful and mysterious cave complex of Altamira and also deals with a number of theories about cave art around the world that casts some light on our ancient ancestors.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 4.9 out of 5 stars 7 reviews
28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning Photos and Essays of Great Prehistoric Cave Art 26 July 2000
By Donald Mitchell - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Prior to Darwin, there was relatively little interest in prehistoric art. Then the theory of evolution and the discovery of many wonderful caves jammed with art, almost like museums, conspired to change all of that. Altamira's art dates back around 15,500 years (due to radioactive dating techniques), but it originally drew little attention because it was too wonderful to be real. The psychology of disbelief stall led all but a few scholars to dismiss this gem. It took almost 20 years for its authenticity to be established, and subsequent evidence has only strengthened its claims. Many people feel that Altamira is the most wonderful collection of prehistoric art in existence. The other famous cave is Lescaux in France. In between these caves geographically, many other caves with drawings have been found.
After being initially ignored after its discovery in 1879, it soon experienced a crush of visitors (eventually approaching 200,000 in a single year). But cave art isn't going to last with that much extra heat and humidity, so the caves have now been closed except to the occasional scholar. The good news is that this cave (located near the seacoast in Spain) is being reproduced so that one can visit and get a sense of the place without harming the art.
Altamira is an extensive series of caves (about 270 yards long) with many different sections. The entrances and exits have mysterious masks. In one section with a low-hung ceiling are many wonderful large paintings of bison (many of these you will recognize). Another area features engravings in the soft stone that are remarkable in their detail and delicacy. Yet other areas have different features. The photographs are magnificent and capture both the beauty of the individual images as well as giving a sense of the part of the cave they are in.
The essays in the book are remarkably complete. They describe the history of the cave, the evolution of theories about what the art means, descriptions of how the art was probably created, and the difficulties of preserving and recording the cave's contents. The only drawback was that the discussions of the theories were somewhat redundant, and would have benefited from a stronger editorial hand or more preplanning.
Anyone who loves art, is interested in prehistoric life, or is fascinated by cave art would love this book. Anyone who loves a good mystery will, too.
Open your mind to the possibilities that exist, and use this book as an excellent example of how often we underestimate the potential of what is in front of us.
24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful photographs, interesting essays about an old cave. 17 Aug. 2002
By Dianne Foster - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
THE CAVE OF ALTAMIRA, edited by Antonio Beltran, tells the story of the famous paintings found in a cave in Spain in 1879. The book indicates the Altamira paintings date from the Solutrean period of the Paleolithic. Recent radiocarbon dating shows art in the Polychrome Chamber to be between 18,000 and 19,000 years old, placing it around 16,500 B.C. Pedro Saura Ramos, the photographer has a distinguished reputation. A number of prominent art historians have contributed interesting essays.
From the high elevation of the Altamira cave, one can see the `Picos de Europa' - a range of mountain peaks which must have appeared awesome to Paleolithic humans. Judging by the remains of creatures found in pits in the cave chambers as well as portraits of animals on cave walls, the countryside around Altamira must have been a virtual Eden. Evidence shows that great park-like settings near the cave held deer, roebuck, and wild boar, while open areas favored large bovines like horses and bison, rocky areas provided shelter for goats and chamois, and the nearby sea and fresh water lakes and streams were filled with shellfish and other marine life. Charcoal used in the wall paintings and found around the hearths reveal a coastal ecology where willow, juniper, chestnut and pine grew. The discarded bones indicate the cave was probably used as a gathering place for a relatively large number of people.
Pedro Sauro Ramos says it is impossible to convey the impression one receives standing on the cave floor looking up at the wall and it's illustrations. His photos are unusual in that he has held the camera in non-conventional ways and shot angles not normally seen in print. He provides wide-angled, then close-up shots of many of the animals so the reader can see detail revealed at close range. He notes that artists often took advantage surface features when creating an animal. Natural bosses were used to round out forms. A ledge provided the line of a deer jaw. Cracks and crevices highlighted horns and hinds.
As is the case with Lascaux, many of the paintings have been damaged by exposure to human bacteria and some of the photographs reveal black fungus. In addition, ceilings and walls have been reinforced to support badly damaged sections of the cave. In some cases the human supports interfere with the lighting or alter the appearance. For example, natural lighting from the cave entrance that once illuminated the numerous bovines of the famous "Great Panel" and that would have been seen on entering the chamber have been blocked by a concrete wall. For his photographs, Saura Ramos provided natural lighting to show how the painting would have appeared to Paleolithic humans.
The text includes reasonably good essays by a number of noted experts. My favorite is entitled, "Techniques, Individual Artists, and Artistic Concepts in the Painting of Altamira", by Matilda Muzquiz Perez-Seoane. In this essay, Perez-Seoane explains how bone marrow was used to illuminate the areas of the wall the artist painted in the dark interior recesses. Apparently, animal knee caps were filled with marrow which was lighted and provided a flame which illuminated without filling the chamber with smoke and choking the artist and/or blackening the ceiling or walls.
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Photos, Excellent Text 19 May 2000
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I ordered the book as a present for my wife, an anthropologist and artist. But, when it arrived, I couldn't help but sit down and read it immediately. Beautifully done photos of the cave images, together with a series of excellent essays on the history, layout, content, and "meaning" of the cave. A lovely production, an excellent book.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The rocks come alive 11 Dec. 2006
By Stephen A. Haines - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Closure of a number of palaeolithic cave art sites has produced a wave of books depicting the art by photography. These efforts are of varying quality, but this one on Altamira is one of the more noteworthy examples. In addition to the photographs, Saura Ramos has enlisted several cave art scholars to add informative essays on history of the discovery, descriptions of the cave and the paintings and the problems of conservation and protection. Particularly useful is an article on the methods used to produce the cave graphics. The reader is nearly alongside the artist as the charcoal or ochre stick applied to render the image. It's an effective means of "personalising" the renderings.

Spanish scholars on various topics author all the essays comprising the body of the text. From a beginning of the history of the discovery of the Altamira graphics, the cave's local environment is examined. A diagram of the cave is shown, although lacking any measurement scale. The art and artists in the time of the paintings' creation is given with an explanation of the timescale involved. The images and artefacts were approximately dated in the era preceding radiometric dating methods employed today. Forms and styles of the work are set in the general scope of "Ages" then in use by scholars. The painters spread their work throughout the cave system where space and useful rock forms were available. A very useful addition, often overlooked in accounts of other cave or rock art, is the size of the image. This is handy to have and useful to keep in mind as you view the image reproductions. There is also a discussion of paintings versus engravings that appear at Altamira.

Of major importance, and almost unique in cave art books, is the discussion of the artistic concepts and painting styles used to make the images. Some very precise analytical techniques have been applied to these paintings during the last generation. The layers of strokes, the application of colours and the forms of natural rock formations that underlie many of the images have been closely scrutinised. The author of this essay, Matilde Muzquiz Perez-Seoane has compiled a detailed set of examples of the rendering process. Given the conditions that prevailed in the time of the painters, their powers of observation and application were exceptional. It's not for nothing that Picasso declared "We've learned nothing in thousands of years".

It is the photographs, of course, that render this book valuable and captivating. Saura A Ramon's work is exquisite in portraying how the paintings would be seen were you to visit the site. His professional use of light and shadow, although unable to duplicate the wavering illumination provided by oil lamps and torches, still depicts the scenes as closely as the artists might have seen them. Bulging rock transformed into bison or other animals nearly jump out at the reader's view. Cracks formed backbones, heads and other anatomy, giving the images a sense of life. Only a film using equally effective techniques could offer improvement over the images in this book. It's a superb effort in giving us a sense of what the artists and the people originally viewing these paintings might have felt. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Our mysterious ancestors 4 April 2004
By Peter Uys - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This beautiful book explores the cave of Altamira in Spain, called "The Sistine Chapel of Quaternary Art" for the splendour of its drawings, engravings and paintings. The cave was first occupied 18 450 years ago and its early history ended about 13 000 years ago when the entrance vault collapsed. It was discovered again in 1879.
The text comprises an introduction by Antonio Beltrán and various articles: The Cave And Surroundings by José Lasheras Corruchaga; Altamira: Art, Artists And Times by Federico de Quirós; Techniques Individual Artists And Artistic Concepts by Matilde Pérez-Seoane; Photographing Altamira by Pedro Ramos; Conservation Problems by Corruchaga and a Conclusion: The Future by Beltrán.
This great monument to prehistoric art is documented by impressive color and black and white photographs of the area, the artworks and the tools found in the caves, including a portrait of the discoverer Sautuola. There are maps of the cave, a bibliography, notes and an index.
This magnificent book offers an exhaustive study of the wonderful and mysterious cave complex of Altamira and also deals with a number of theories about cave art around the world that casts some light on our ancient ancestors.
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