Tag Archives: Howard Carter

I’ve Met the Flintstones

Altimira cave painting

30th September 1960 was the first broadcast of the TV show the Flintstones but I have had a much more authentic Stone Age encounter.

In 2008 we visited Cantabria in Northern Spain and on dreary damp day headed towards Santillana Del Mar and then followed signposts to the Altamira museum on the edge of the town.   I wasn’t expecting a great deal to be honest so was surprised to find a very big car park and a large building built into the hills.  I was about to learn about something else that I was completely unaware of – Cantabria is the richest region in the world in archaeological sites from the Upper Paleolithic period (that’s the stone age to you and me).  The most significant cave painting site is the cave of Altamira, dating from about 16,000 to 9000 BC and declared, with another nine Cantabrian caves, World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.

Around 13,000 years ago a rockfall sealed the cave’s entrance preserving its contents until its eventual discovery which was caused by a nearby tree falling and disturbing the fallen rocks.  The really good bit about the story is that it wasn’t discovered by Howard Carter, Tony Robinson or Indiana Jones but by a nine year old girl who came across them while playing in the hills above the town in 1879.

Her father was an amateur archaeologist called Marcelino Sanz de Sautuola and he was led by his daughter to discover the cave’s drawings. The cave was excavated by Sautuola and archaeologist Juan Vilanova y Piera from the University of Madrid, resulting in a much acclaimed publication in 1880 which interpreted the paintings as Paleolithic in origin.  So well preserved were the paintings however that there ensued an argument about authenticity and some believed the whole thing to be a hoax and it was’t until 1902 that they were accepted as genuine.

We paid the modest entrance fee of €2.40 and went into the museum, which turned out to be a real treasure with interesting displays about the Stone Age, or the Paleolithic period if you prefer, with the highlight of the visit being a full size recreation of the original cave and its precious paintings.

Today it is only possible to see this copy because the actual cave is now closed to vistors.  During the 1960s and 1970s, the paintings were being damaged by the damp breath of large numbers of visitors and Altamira was completely closed to the public in 1977, and reopened with only very limited access in 1982. Very few visitors are allowed in per day, resulting in a three-year waiting list.  It would be nice to go into the actual cave but actually the replica allows a more comfortable view of the polychrome paintings of the main hall of the cave, as well as a selection of minor works and also includes some sculptures of human faces that cannot be accessed in the real thing.

And, let me tell you, these people were good painters.  The artists used charcoal and ochre or haematite to create the images, often scratching or diluting these dyes to produce variances in intensity and creating an impression of remarkable and sophisticated contrasts and they also exploited the natural contours in the cave walls to give a three-dimensional effect to their subjects. The painted ceiling is the most impressive feature showing a herd of bison in different poses, two horses, a large doe and a wild boar.  Other images include horses, goats and handprints created from the artist placing his hand on the cave wall and spraying paint over it leaving a negative image of his palm. Numerous other caves in northern Spain contain palaeolithic art but none is as advanced or as famous as Altamira.

This place came as a real surprise and we spent most of the morning exploring it.  It was a good job we did because outside it was still raining and was quite damp so after we had walked to see the actual opening to the cave (it wasn’t very exciting I have to say) we debated our options and after some indecision decided to go west again to where it seemed a little brighter.

A Life in a Year – 30th September, Meet The Flintstones!

Altimira cave painting

30th September 1960 was the first broadcast of the TV show the Flintstones but I have had a much more authentic Stone Age encounter.

In 2008 we visited Cantabria in Northern Spain and on dreary damp day headed towards Santillana Del Mar and then followed signposts to the Altamira museum on the edge of the town.   I wasn’t expecting a great deal to be honest so was surprised to find a very big car park and a large building built into the hills.  I was about to learn about something else that I was completely unaware of – Cantabria is the richest region in the world in archaeological sites from the Upper Paleolithic period (that’s the stone age to you and me).  The most significant cave painting site is the cave of Altamira, dating from about 16,000 to 9000 BC and declared, with another nine Cantabrian caves, World Heritage Sites by UNESCO. 

Around 13,000 years ago a rockfall sealed the cave’s entrance preserving its contents until its eventual discovery which was caused by a nearby tree falling and disturbing the fallen rocks.  The really good bit about the story is that it wasn’t discovered by Howard Carter, Tony Robinson or Indiana Jones but by a nine year old girl who came across them while playing in the hills above the town in 1879.  Her father was an amateur archaeologist called Marcelino Sanz de Sautuola and he was led by his daughter to discover the cave’s drawings. The cave was excavated by Sautuola and archaeologist Juan Vilanova y Piera from the University of Madrid, resulting in a much acclaimed publication in 1880 which interpreted the paintings as Paleolithic in origin.  So well preserved were the paintings however that there ensued an argument about authenticity and some believed the whole thing to be a hoax and it was’t until 1902 that they were accepted as genuine.

We paid the modest entrance fee of €2.40 and went into the museum, which turned out to be a real treasure with interesting displays about the Stone Age, or the Paleolithic period if you prefer, with the highlight of the visit being a full size recreation of the original cave and its precious paintings.  Today it is only possible to see this copy because the actual cave is now closed to vistors.  During the 1960s and 1970s, the paintings were being damaged by the damp breath of large numbers of visitors and Altamira was completely closed to the public in 1977, and reopened with only very limited access in 1982. Very few visitors are allowed in per day, resulting in a three-year waiting list.  It would be nice to go into the actual cave but actually the replica allows a more comfortable view of the polychrome paintings of the main hall of the cave, as well as a selection of minor works and also includes some sculptures of human faces that cannot be accessed in the real thing.

And, let me tell you, these people were good painters.  The artists used charcoal and ochre or haematite to create the images, often scratching or diluting these dyes to produce variances in intensity and creating an impression of remarkable and sophisticated contrasts and they also exploited the natural contours in the cave walls to give a three-dimensional effect to their subjects. The painted ceiling is the most impressive feature showing a herd of bison in different poses, two horses, a large doe and a wild boar.  Other images include horses, goats and handprints created from the artist placing his hand on the cave wall and spraying paint over it leaving a negative image of his palm. Numerous other caves in northern Spain contain palaeolithic art but none is as advanced or as famous as Altamira.

This place came as a real surprise and we spent most of the morning exploring it.  It was a good job we did because outside it was still raining and was quite damp so after we had walked to see the actual opening to the cave (it wasn’t very exciting I have to say) we debated our options and after some indecision decided to go west again to where it seemed a little brighter.

A Life in a Year – 3rd January, the Curse of Tutankhamun and Pickles the Dog

On 3rd January 1922 the archaeologist Howard Carter discovered and entered the tomb of Tutankhamun and allegedly released an ancient curse that led to the deaths of many people associated with the discovery.

 But this is not the only story of a sinister curse and I will fast forward now to 1966.

The biggest story of this year of course was that the England football team won the World Cup when they beat West Germany 4-2 and Geoff Hurst famously scored the only world cup final hat trick ever.  The whole country went football mad that year and everyone knows all about the brilliant victory.  Sir Alf Ramsay’s England team however were not the only national footballing heroes of 1966. There was also Pickles the dog, without whom there may not have been a trophy for Bobby Moore and his teammates to lift on that glorious day in July.

World Cup Final, 1966. Wembley, England. 30th July, 1966 England 4 v West Germany 2. Englands captain Bobby Moore holds aloft the Jules Rimet World Cup trophy as he sits on the shoulders of his teammates after the match.

The solid gold Jules Rimet trophy was stolen while on public display at an exhibition in London and this led to a nationwide search and the Football Association Chairman, Joe Mears, receiving threatening demands for money to ensure its safe return.  Brazil, the then holders of the trophy were understandably outraged and accused the English FA of total incompetence.

No change there then and they were almost certainly right of course but by a delicious twist of fate the trophy was stolen again in 1983, this time in Rio de Janeiro and this time it was never ever recovered.  It is believed that it was melted down for the precious metal and it will almost certainly never be seen again.

Football World Cup

Back to 1966 and this is the point where the story becomes unbelievably weird or perhaps just plain unbelievable.  One evening a week after the theft, a man called David Corbett was out walking his mongrel dog Pickles, in south-east London, when the dog’s attention was caught by a package wrapped in newspaper lying under a bush in somebody’s front garden.

It was the World Cup, it was the solid gold Jules Rimet Tophy. I’ll say that again.  It was the World Cup, it was the solid gold Jules Rimet Tophy in a bush in someone’s front garden!

No one has ever satisfactorily explained what it was doing there wrapped in a copy of the Daily Mirror but David Corbett received a reward of £5,000, which was a huge sum, the equivalent of over £250,000 today and Pickles became an overnight national hero.  I am surprised that he wasn’t in the BBC top one hundred greatest Britons.

But some people said that the trophy was cursed and within weeks of the cup’s recovery, Joe Mears died of a heart attack having suffered severe angina after the stress of the hunt.

Pickles, in a remarkable instance of bad luck, choked to death by snagging his choke lead on a fallen tree while chasing a cat and the man accused of the theft David Bletchley served two years in prison for his part in the crime and was released, only to promptly die of emphysema.

Bobby Moore died aged just fifty-one from cancer.  Gosh, I remember that day as though it was yesterday!

That’s what I call a curse!