Palaeolithic Art, Part I

Jacquetta Hawkes explains how, at an unpromising period in human history, a sudden upsurge of creative power produced the earliest masterpieces of European art.

Like most other learned or scientific subjects, archaeology has its traditional lore centering upon famous events and personalities in its history. One of the best loved of all these tales is the one about Don Marcelino de Sautuola and his young daughter and their discovery of the Altamira cave paintings—the first important group of Palaeolithic paintings to be made known.

Everyone has heard how, while her father was busy excavating the cave floor, the girl, with the ignorant and therefore quick eyes of childhood, saw the great bison paintings on the roof and ran to her father crying, Toros! Toros! Not so much is said about the unhappy sequence to this happy discovery.

Don Marcelino was savagely attacked by the learned world, led by the eminent French archaeologist Cartailhac, and was even accused of having the paintings faked by a dumb artist whom he had befriended. The pride of a Spanish nobleman prevented him from fighting back as Boucher de Perthes and many other pioneers had to do, and he died with the authenticity of this wonderful painted cave still in doubt.

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