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First discovered in 1868, though not fully appreciated until the 1900s, Altamira was the first of the great caches of prehistoric art to be discovered, and despite other exciting finds in Cantabria and southern France, Altamira's paintings of bisons and other wild mammals are still the most vividly coloured and visually powerful examples of Paleolithic art and culture to be found on the continent of Europe.

As usual, archeologists remain undecided about when Altamira's parietal art was first created.

To everyone's astonishment, they found that certain artworks were created between 23,000 and 33,000 BCE.

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The general style at Altamira remains that of Franco-Cantabrian cave art, as characterised by the pronounced realism of the figures represented.

Indeed, Altamira's artists are renowned for how they used the natural contours of the cave to make their animal figures seem extra-real.

It was closed for conservation purposes in 1977 (reopened 1982), and again in 2002.

Today, the cave is only accessible to scientists and a handful of visitors chosen by lottery.

It is one of seventeen such caves unearthed along the mountains of North Spain near the Atlantic coast, on the main migratory route from the Middle East, which followed the North African coast, crossed the sea at Gibraltar and led through Spain into France.

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