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(Re)Living the Upper Palaeolithic

European Archaeology Days 2021

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The Museum of Altamira is once again joining the European Archaeology Days organised by the National Institute of Preventive Archaeological Research (INRAP) in France. Entitled (Re)Living the Upper Palaeolithic, three informative videos show how archaeology and palaeontology are allowing us to reconstruct the environment, technology and lifestyles of the Upper Palaeolithic human groups from different perspectives.

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Pedro Castaños is presenting the key finds of the research at the palaeontological site of Kiputz (Mutriku, Gipuzkoa) and the archaeology site of the cave of Altamira, which have provided further information on the fauna of the Cantabrian region around 180,000 years ago.

Back when we were hunter-gatherers, nature was the means by which we obtained everything we needed to live. Reconstructing the ecosystems from that period is essential to understanding our lifestyle during the Palaeolithic.

Pedro Castaños is the researcher in charge of the Vertebrate Palaeontology Laboratory of the Aranzadi Sciences Society and curator of the temporary exhibition at the Museum of Altamira, Kiputz. A Prehistoric Abyss.

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Bone industry

The Upper Palaeolithic peoples managed to adapt to their environment and develop refined technology based on the use of animal resources.

Daniel Garrido Pimentel, coordinator of Prehistoric Caves of Cantabria, will speak about the advent of new hunting tools, like the spear, and he’ll tell how it was made, how it was used and what its benefits were. Thanks to experimental archaeology, we can see the different steps in the spear operating chain from the Magdalenian period, as well as those from the cave of Altamira.

The experimental programme and the study of archaeological matter conducted by Garrido have enabled him to identify and describe the marks made on the surface of bone instruments, as well as the continuity, disappearance or incorporation of patterns in the Cantabrian sites studied. His study entitled ‘Clasificación tipológica y cadena operative del instrumental óseo durante el Paleolítico superior cantábrico: el modelo de Aitzbitarte IV y Bolinkoba' [Typological Classification and Operating Chain of Bone Instruments during the Upper Palaeolithic in Cantabria: The Model of Aitzbitarte IV and Bolinkoba] has been published by the Ministry of Culture and Sport in Monograph 27 issued by the Museum of Altamira.

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Déborah Ordás and Lucía Díaz, members of the Museum of Altamira Research Department, guide us through the cave’s stratigraphy, revealing the different occupation periods and lifestyles of its inhabitants.

From the traditional interpretation to the latest discoveries, in this video we’ll trace a route through the fauna hunted and consumed, the use of animal resources for different purposes, and through the objects found at the site, such as bone industry, stone industry, portable art and objects for personal adornment.

The new dates from the occupation site have provided a solid foundation for reviving the idea of the long tradition of painting cave art in the cave of Altamira. Thus, today we know that the polychrome ceiling of Altamira a palimpsest of more than 20,000 years of artistic creation. Likewise, the extensive occupation of the site reinforces the idea that Altamira was inhabited for at least 10,000 years.


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