New Project Launched to Document the Cave Art of Altamira

Today, Spain's Ministry of Culture and Sport signed a collaboration agreement with World Monuments Fund Spain and Stuart Weitzman’s Fundación de Las Cuevas de Cantabria for the creation of new high-resolution digital documentation of the Cave of Altamira.

The Altamira National Museum and Research Center, whose main mission is to generate scientific knowledge about the Cave of Altamira, has been delving into the documentation of the site’s artistic representations for decades. With the signing of this agreement, this work will be facilitated by implementing technologies that will allow for a greater degree of precision.

The main objective of this institutional collaboration is to provide the Altamira Museum with state-of-the-art technological tools that will allow it to expand the scientific documentation of the Cave of Altamira, contributing to the conservation, knowledge, and dissemination of its artistic representations, as well as increasing the management capacity of the institution.

To accomplish this, a photogrammetric survey of the walls and ceiling of the entire cave will be carried out, from the entrance to the Final Gallery, with a resolution of 200-250 microns for the general areas and 50 microns for the panels with rock art. In the Polychrome Hall, the best-known part of the Cave of Altamira where its iconic bison are located, new orthoimagery will be created through the combined use of laser scanning and photogrammetry. Thanks to this technology, at least 25,000 photographs will be generated for the entire surface of the Great Ceiling—in other words, about 160 photographs per square meter. Knowledge of the pigments used and the different stages of the technical process will be increased through multispectral analysis techniques and the application of algorithms.

The project will also allow for the expansion of the documentation of the cave’s vicinity. In its most immediate surroundings, and within the grounds of the Altamira Museum, a geophysical exploration campaign will be carried out to discover the morphology of the cave before ancient collapses occurred. Other caves close to Altamira, such as La Castañera, will be topographically examined and digitized in 3D to understand the precise relationship between them and determine if these caves are connected to each other.

Documenting to Conserve

The signing of this agreement will be a boost of vital importance for the conservation of the Cave of Altamira. With up-to-date and state-of-the-art documentation, the time spent by the technical staff of the Altamira Museum dedicated to research inside the cave will be reduced to a minimum.

At the same time, comparison of the new orthoimagery with that carried out in 2013 will provide a frame of reference against which to objectively measure the changes that might have occurred in the conservation of the paintings. In addition, these new technologies will make it possible to locate, quantify, and document physical and microbiological changes.

In this way, the results will allow for a more precise evaluation of the state of conservation of the paintings and improve the monitoring of their status, thus ensuring the future protection of the cave art of Altamira.

Institutional collaboration

The Altamira National Museum and Research Center will supervise the development of the works as well as the results. To do this, it will establish a working model based on the Cave of Altamira’s Preventive Conservation Plan, respecting the length of stay and load capacity guidelines indicated therein. In this way, the institution's technicians will be present inside the cave for the duration of the field work.

For its part, World Monuments Fund Spain and Stuart Weitzman’s Fundación de Las Cuevas de Cantabria will be in charge of financing and contracting the necessary works, valued at a maximum contribution of €30,000, which can be increased to as much as €150,000 in subsequent phases. Thanks to their contribution, the Cave of Altamira will have state-of-the-art technological tools that will improve the documentation of both its cave art and its conservation.