Altamira cave dating
Siega Verde, on Spain’s border with Portugal, and Côa Valley, in Portugal, offered greater accessibility than any cave we visited.
There we saw small and large animal figures carved in stone that rivaled anything we saw in caves. Originally, Siega Verde was not high on our list of places to visit, and we didn’t even know about the Côa Valley.
He collected the entry fee of 3 euros each and handed out a few more lanterns.
Then he told us the rules: No photos once we left the shop area — the flash is bad for the art, and the sensors are bad for the bats, he said, and no touching anything (standard rules in such caves). Water dripped from stalactites formed over thousands of years.
The next day, we drove to the rural village of Benaojan, where a small sign directed us up a dirt road to La Pileta, one of the few privately owned, open-to-the-public caves with paintings in Spain.
We parked in a dirt lot with a few other cars and walked up a steep trail and stone steps that ended by the mouth of the cave.
“If you are interested in the very origins of artistic expression, this is where you need to be,” said Ian Tattersall, a specialist in Spanish cave art and a former curator at New York’s American Museum of Natural History.
Sturdy shoes are a must; if flashlights are required, the staff will provide them.
Reservations can be made on the Internet or by calling the cave’s visitors office (knowing basic Spanish is helpful).
A short walk from the mammoth were half a dozen well-drawn paintings of deer, horses, bison and a fish.
There were also bunches of vertical lines and dots, perhaps denoting the passage of time, but whose significance is still being debated by experts and may never be known. For aficionados of early human art like my husband and me, Spain may be the best destination in Europe (some say the world) to see all kinds of prehistoric art, up close.
They were followed by the cave’s guardian and tour guide, Tomas Bullon, the great-grandson of Jose Bullon, who discovered the cave in 1905.