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Summary of “The Splendid Cave at Altamira Suffers From Its Popularity” by John Darnton

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Altamira, cave in northern Spain famous for its magnificent prehistoric paintings and engravings. It is situated 19 miles (30 km) west of the port city of Santander, in Cantabria provincia. Altamira was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1985.

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Altamira is a Paleolithic cave located in Santillana del Mar (Cantabria region), in the north of Spain, and was declared World Heritage Site by the UNESCO in 1985. The cave was inhabited for millennia and, so it contains remains of the daily activities of the population. Nowadays, the cave is 270 m long and the archaeological site can be found inside the cave, near the entrance, however, there are also remains in the outside since the original entrance fell down. The cave can be divided into three sections: the entrance, the great room or polychrome room and the gallery. First, the entrance is the part where people used to live; archaeologists found there remains of animals bones, ashes belonging to continuous fireplaces and flint objects such as knives, axes, and flint fragments, indicating human activity in this part of the cave. Given the fact that archaeologists have found this type of remains located in different layers of sediments, it seems reasonable to assume that the cave was inhabited for long periods of time. The so-called polychrome or great room, painted in several colors, can be found in the inner part of the cave, where there is no natural light. The entrance and the polychrome room form a great hall, but since the cave is a narrow gallery there is little room for large spaces, except for the larger chamber. The end of the cave is a narrow gallery with difficult access, but it also contains paintings and engravings.

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In brief, the specter of Lascaux, where prehistoric paintings discovered in 1940 were closed down altogether to tourists by the French Government in 1963 to preserve them, hovers over Altamira. This year the French opened a painstakingly created replica, a Lascaux II, next to the original and it has begun drawing people back to the nearby town of Montignac. But Spaniards find it difficult to work up enthusiasm for a similar project here. ''This cave belongs to humanity, to all of us,'' said one member of the investigating team. ''We can't close it down. What good is it if it remains there and we can't see the real thing?''

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