Dating prehistoric remains methods of validating a test instrument
For a comparison with early African painting, please see the animal images on the Apollo 11 Cave Stones (c.25,500 BCE).The cave was first discovered in 1868 by Modesto Peres, a local hunter searching for his dog, but it wasn't until 1879 that the murals on the ceiling of the cave were spotted by Marcelino Sanz de Sautuola a local nobleman and amateur archeologist, when excavating the cave floor for artifacts.As usual, archeologists remain undecided about when Altamira's parietal art was first created.Early investigations suggested that the most of it was created at the same time as the Lascaux cave paintings - that is, during the early period of Magdalenian art (15,000 BCE).Indeed, Altamira's artists are renowned for how they used the natural contours of the cave to make their animal figures seem extra-real.The actual subterranean complex itself consists of a 270-metre long series of twisting passages ranging from 2-6 metres (about 7-20 feet) in height, in which more than 100 animal figures are depicted.In 2008, UNESCO added 17 additional caves to the Altamira World Heritage Site.For details about how the cave murals of Altamira fit into the evolution of Stone Age culture, see: Prehistoric Art Timeline.
Meantime, the Spanish Ministry of Culture has opened a replica cave at the adjacent National Museum and Research Center of Altamira.
Sautuola examined the cave further along with Juan Vilanova y Piera, an archeologist from the University of Madrid, and the pair published a report (1880) stating that the cave's wall paintings and engravings belonged to the Palelithic era of prehistory.
Experts who read the report, notably the French scholars Gabriel de Mortillet and Emile Cartailhac, ridiculed its findings at the 1880 Prehistorical Congress in Lisbon, although eventually, in 1902, they and other scientists in the archeological establishment admitted their mistake and acknowledged the authenticity of the Altamira paintings.
Some 270-metres (890 feet) in length, the Altamira cave has three main galleries: the Chamber of the Frescoes ("Gran Sala de los Policromos" or "Sala de los Frescos"), the Chamber of the Hole/Basin ("Sala de la Hoya") and the end passage known as the Horse's Tail ("Cola de Caballo").
Originally the cave had a huge covered entrance, some 20 metres (66 feet) wide and 6 metres (40 feet) high.
Then, in 2008, British scientists dated the paintings using the Uranium/Thorium (U/Th) method.