Public Viewing Closed To Altamira Caves

Public viewing is closed to Altamira Caves in an effort to protect the fragile Altamira caves with their irreplaceable Paleolithic era cave art, Madrid’s Prehistory Department at the Complutense University. The country wants to immediately close the caves to visitors. The public was given access to the cave paintings a year ago in the form of once a week visits from small groups of viewers to the ancient artwork.

Altamira Caves are a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in the north of Spain in Cantabria. The cave art in them is said to be very fragile and a letter demanding their closure to the public was signed with the names of 17 scholars, as well as 70 scientists who are members of History Institute of Spanish Resource Council, also giving their support to the desire for the caves to close to tourists or other visitors who travel to the area.

In 1977, the Altamira caves were temporarily closed for public viewing because it was seen that the visits were causing damage. It stayed closed until 1980, when it opened once again, only to reclose in 2002. Once again, they were reopened in 2014 when a survey determined it would not hurt the cave art to let small groups inside to view it.

However, the Spanish National Research Council made their own report, saying that the visitors could potentially cause destruction to the Paleolithic cave images. They argued that it is unnecessary to have them travel to see the real caves, as there is an exact replica of it available for viewing at the Altamira museum, which started in 2001.

Now, over the next several weeks, Altamira authorities must make up their minds whether or not to continue to let people view the cave art or to close it up once again to public viewings. Similar caves were closed in France, where the Chauvet and Lascaux caves are at, which also feature art from the Paleolithic era. There as well, there are exact replicas available for tourists to travel to and see what the cave art looks like.

In the past, experiments have been done by cave experts such as Sergio Sanchez Moral and Cesareo Saiz Jimnez, which portrayed the danger of letting too many people travel to the caves over the years and how this could eventually lead to their loss and destruction. Their report was printed in the 2011 issue of Science journal.

Currently, visitors who are allowed to go inside the caves do it in groups of five people and stay inside for 37 minutes, along with their guide. Now, a decision must be made by the Altamira board of trustees to decide whether or not to keep allowing these tours, however, no date has been set for a board meeting as of this article writing.