Painted Caves

A replica at the Deutsches Museum (German Museum), Munich, Germany.
Franco-Cantabrian Painted Caves. grey: modern land, light grey: dry land through lower sea level, white: glaciers, red dot: painet cave. Public Domain.

Despite the naive assumption of caves being wet and dripping with water, there are many dry places in natural caves. Dry walls inside caves are very good places for paintings: they are porous or at least coarse, so the colour sticks very good, they are protected against the weather outside, and they have a cool but never freezing climate. Ideal conditions for the conservation of the colour. As a matter of fact we do not know if Stone Age man used only caves for his paintings, he may as well have painted on leather, on rocks, cliff faces and on trees. Unfortunately all those things are destroyed after so many years. We have some areas without caves, where many paintings and engravings can be found on cliffs or rocks. But the most importants artistic remains of our ancestors were found in caves.

Cave paintings can be found all over the world. But the most important and also the oldest paintings have been found in central France and northern Spain. The names Lascaux and Altamira are widely known. There are paintings in the Sahara desert, in South Africa and in the Ural mountains in Russia. There are paintings in northern America and in India. Rather strange is, we do not have a single cave painting in Germany, although we know for sure that it was inhabited at the same time and by the same people as central France. This is a great enigma.

Caves are used for painting and writing until today. There are historic writings which are scientifically explored, like the remains of Wolfgang von Goethe or the Austro-Hungariab naturalist Joseph Anton Nagel. Some tell us about the earliest cave tourism, often with an exact date. And the youngest are generally called graffiti and feared, because they tend to cover and destroy older paintings. There was even a case in southern France were a group of boy scouts cleaned a cave from modern graffiti and accidentally also removed Palaeolithic graffiti.