10 Amazing Collections of Cave Paintings

10 Amazing Collections of Cave Paintings

Art in the Prehistoric World

I read about the discovery of some ancient carvings in a cave in Gibraltar that are thought to have been made by Neanderthals about 39,000 years ago. If this turns out to be true, it adds more compelling evidence to the idea that Neanderthals weren’t really the dumb, primitive savages we think they were: they practiced art, they had burial rituals, they adorned their bodies. This also made me want to check out other caves with beautiful and significant paintings displayed on their walls.

1. White Shaman Rock

Photo Credit: Peter Faris @ RockArtBlog via Blogspot

Photo Credit: Peter Faris @ RockArtBlog via Blogspot

This ancient painting is in Lower Pecos in Texas and it’s thought to be about 4,000 years old. The giant artwork that covers a 12-foot high (3.5 m) wall shows a prominent central figure surrounded by others engaging in various activities. Archaeologists weren’t really sure what the paintings meant apart from the fact that they had something to do with shamanism since the main figure is most likely a shaman. However, White Shaman Rock is currently embroiled in a little controversy as one archaeologist, Carolyn Boyd, claims to have deciphered the meaning of the paintings which give insight into a forgotten, ancient religion.

2. Kakadu Park

Photo Credit: Thomas Schoch via Wiki Commons

Photo Credit: Thomas Schoch via Wiki Commons

Kakadu National Park might be one of the most fascinating places to visit in Australia. Prized for its rich cultural heritage, it has the most impressive collection of aboriginal art displayed among multiple art sites such as Nanguluwu and Ubirr. A very good reason why Kakadu National Park was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Some of these paintings are almost 20,000 years old and many of the sites are open to the public so you should probably check them out if you’re ever near Darwin.

3. Chauvet Cave

Photo Credit: Thomas T. via Wiki Commons

Photo Credit: Thomas T. via Wiki Commons

We are looking at another UNESCO World Heritage Site, this time in the south of France. Chauvet Cave has over 1,000 different images, most of them of animals and anthropomorphic figures. These are actually the oldest figurative drawings we have ever discovered, dating back to 30,000 to 32,000 BP. Best of all, they have been kept in remarkable condition. About 20,000 years ago, the cave was sealed off by a rock fall and remained preserved until 20 years ago when we unsealed it and discovered the cultural treasures it had to offer.

4. Cueva de El Castillo

Photo Credit: Nabiha Abdul Rehman via Pinterest

Photo Credit: Nabiha Abdul Rehman via Pinterest

We’re going to Spain to see the Cave of the Castle, another heritage site. This cave features the oldest paintings in Europe, outdoing the previous best by over 4,000 years. Most of the images features hand stencils and simple geometric shapes, although there is the odd animal image here and there. One particular drawing, a simple red disc, is considered to be older than 40,800 years. In fact, it has even been suggested that the drawings weren’t done by modern humans, but actually Neanderthals.

5. Laas Geel

Photo Credit: Abdullah Geelah via Wiki Commons

Photo Credit: Abdullah Geelah via Wiki Commons

This time we are travelling to Africa to see some of the best cave paintings on the continent. Even though they are only around 5,000 to 12,000 years old, these paintings in the Laas Geel cave complex are incredibly well-preserved. They depict mostly humans and animals, especially cows which are actually showed wearing ceremonial robes and having various adornments. Unfortunately, this wonderful cultural site cannot receive World Heritage status because it is located in an area with diplomatic problems. It is in Somaliland, a self-declared republic which isn’t recognized internationally and is still considered to be part of Somalia, a region which also has its fair share of political turmoil.

6. Bhimbetka Rock Shelters

Photo Credit: LRBurdak via Wiki Commons

Photo Credit: LRBurdak via Wiki Commons

The rock shelters at Bhimbetka represent some of the earliest traces of human life on the Indian subcontinent, with rock paintings that are about 30,000 years old. They have been declared a Heritage Site in 2003 and the rock art has been dated to several historical periods, all the way from the Paleolithic era up until medieval times. They depict animals and humans engaged in standard activities for that time such as hunting, religious rituals and, interestingly enough, dancing.

7. Magura Cave

Magura_-_drawings

We’re going back to Europe for this one, this time in Bulgaria. The drawings featured in Magura Cave are not very old – between 4,000 and 8,000 years old. However, what is interesting is the material used: guano (bat poop). Moreover, the cave itself is millions of years old and other archaeological artifacts have been found there such as bones from extinct animals like the cave bear.

8. Cueva de las Manos

Photo Credit: Mariano via Wiki Commons

Photo Credit: Mariano via Wiki Commons

The Cave of the Hands, found in Argentina, is renowned for its extensive collection of hand stencils from which it gets its name. The rock art dates from 13,000 to 9,000 years ago, but the cave (better yet, system of caves) remained in use by ancient people as late as 1,500 years ago. Interestingly enough, it doesn’t just feature hand images, but also prints from various animals like the rhea. Other images include various geometrical shapes and depictions of hunting.

9. Cave of Altamira

AltamiraBison

The paintings featured in Altamira Cave in Spain are considered to be a masterpiece of ancient culture. The paintings are between 14,000 and 20,000 years old, but they are in exceptional condition. Like Chauvet Cave, a rock fall closed off the entrance to the cave about 13,000 years ago and ensured that the images weren’t exposed to the elements. In fact, the drawings are so well done that when they were first discovered in the 19th century, people thought they were fake. It took a long time until technology allowed us to confirm that they were, indeed, genuine. Since then, the cave has proven to be so popular with tourists that it had to be closed off in the late 70s. The large quantities of carbon dioxide from the breath of the visitors were damaging the paintings. This is a heated ongoing debate between Spanish scientists who want it closed and the local government of Cantabria that wants it open.

10. Lascaux Caves

Photo Credit: Prof Saxx via Wiki Commons

Photo Credit: Prof Saxx via Wiki Commons

This is definitely the most famous and most significant collection of cave art in the world. You don’t get to be named “the prehistoric Sistine Chapel” for nothing. This system of caves in France features some of the most beautiful 17,000-year old paintings in the world. They are very intricate, very well-done and also well-preserved. It has a famous area called the Great Hall of the Bulls. It depicts various images of animals such as bulls, deer and horses, but one bull image, called the Great Black Bull, is 17 feet (5.2 m) long. Unfortunately, the site has been closed off to the public for 50 years, again due to carbon dioxide and heat levels damaging the artwork. Visitors will have to settle for the replica cave built right next to the real thing.