Top Ten Cave/Rock Paintings

Top Ten Cave/Rock Paintings

  1. Altamira Cave, Spain (16,500–12,000 BC)

    Considered by many as the “Sistine Chapel” of Cave Art, Altamira (Spanish for ‘high view’) is a cave in Spain famous for its Upper Paleolithic drawings and polychrome rock paintings of wild mammals and human hands. Its special relevance comes from the fact it was the first cave in which prehistoric cave paintings were discovered, leading to a controversy during the late 19th century because many people did not believe prehistoric man had the intellectual capacity to produce any kind of artistic expression. It is located near the town of Santillana del Mar in Cantabria, Spain, 30 km west of the city of Santander.
    Links: Top Ten Spanish Attractions, Top Ten European Cave/Rock Paintings, Top 100 Spanish Paintings,,
  2. Lascaux, France (15,000 BC)

    Lascaux is the setting of a complex of caves in southwestern France famous for its Paleolithic cave paintings. The original caves are located near the village of Montignac, in the Dordogne département. They contain some of the best-known Upper Paleolithic art. These paintings are estimated to be 17,000 years old. They primarily consist of realistic images of large animals, most of which are known from fossil evidence to have lived in the area at the time.
    Links: Top Ten French Attractions, Top Ten European Cave/Rock Paintings, Top 100 French Paintings,,
  3. Chauvet Cave, France

    The Chauvet Cave or Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc Cave is a cave in the Ardèche department of southern France that contains the earliest known cave paintings, as well as other evidence of Upper Paleolithic life. It is located near the commune of Vallon-Pont-d’Arc on a limestone cliff above the former bed of the Ardèche River. Discovered in 1994, it is considered one of the most significant prehistoric art sites. The cave was first explored on December 18, 1994 by a trio of speleologists: Eliette Brunel Deschamps, Christian Hillaire, and Jean-Marie Chauvet, for whom it was named. On top of the paintings and other human evidence they also discovered fossilized remains, prints, and markings from a variety of animals, some of which are now extinct. Further study by French archaeologist Jean Clottes has revealed much about the site, though the dating has been the matter of some dispute.
    Links: Top Ten French Attractions, Top Ten European Cave/Rock Paintings,,
  4. Font de Gaume, France (17,000 BC)

    Font de Gaume is a cave in southwestern France near Les Eyzies. The cave houses a collection of prehistoric polychrome cave paintings and is a popular site for tourists. Prehistoric people living in the Dordogne Valley first settled in the mouth of Font de Gaume around 25,000 BC. The cave mouth was inhabited at least sporadically for the next several thousand years. However, after the original prehistoric inhabitants left, the cave was forgotten until the nineteenth century when local people again began to visit the cave. In 1901, Denis Peyrony, a school teacher from Les Eyzies, discovered the paintings inside Font de Gaume. The paintings date from the Magdalénien period. The cave’s most famous painting, a frieze of five bison was discovered accidentally in 1966 while scientists were cleaning the cave. Font de Gaume holds over 200 polychrome paintings and is considered the best example of polychrome painting other than Lascaux, which is now closed to the public. The paintings in Font de Gaume include depictions of more than 80 bison, approximately 40 horse depictions, and more than 20 mammoth depictions.
    Links: Top Ten French Attractions, Top Ten European Cave/Rock Paintings,,
  5. Wandjina Cave Paintings, Australia

           In Aboriginal mythology, the Wondjina (or Wandjina) were cloud and rain spirits who, during the Dream time, created or influenced the landscape and its inhabitants. When they found the place they would die, they painted their images on cave walls and entered a nearby waterhole. The Wondjina style dates from around 1,800 BC, following the end of a millennium long drought that gave way to a wetter climate characterized by regular monsoons. Today, certain Aboriginal people of the Mowanjum tribes repaint the images to ensure the continuity of the Wondjina’s presence. Annual repainting in December or January also ensures the arrival of the monsoon rains, according to Mowanjum belief. Repainting has occurred so often that at one site the paint is over 40 layers deep. The painting style evolves during this process: the figures of recent years are stockier and some now possess eyelashes. The Wondjina paintings have common colors of black, red and yellow on a white background. They appear alone or in groups, vertically or horizontally depending on the dimensions of the rock, and can be depicted with figures and objects like the Rainbow Serpent or yams. Common composition is with large upper bodies and heads that show eyes and nose, but typically no mouth. Two explanations have been given for this: they are so powerful they do not require speech and if they had mouths, the rain would never cease. Around the heads of Wondjina are lines or blocks of color, depicting lightning, clouds or rain. The Wondjina can punish those who break the law with floods, lightning and cyclones. The paintings are still believed to possess these powers and therefore are to be approached and treated respectfully. Each site and painting has a name. In 2007, graffiti depictions of Wandjina appeared in Perth, Western Australia. Styles ranged from stencil-work to a spray painted Wondjina driving a pink car. Using flickr and blogs, several people engaged in ‘Wondjina watching,’ documenting the Wondjina graffiti they found. These ‘wandering Wondjina’ angered and upset Aboriginals who said that only certain of their people are permitted to depict the Wondjina. A short film, Who Paintin’ Dis Wandjina, discussed the Aboriginal reaction.
    Links: Top Ten Australian Attractions, Top Ten Oceanic Cave/Rock Paintings,,
  6. Tassili-n-Ajjer Rock Painting, Algeria (6,000-4,000 BC)

    This rock paintings found in Tassili-n-Ajjer, modern day Algeria, depict dance performances, and wildlife and are attributed to the Saharan period of Neolithic hunters.
    Links: Top Ten Algerian Attractions, Top Ten African Cave/Rock Paintings,
  7. Sego Canyon, Utah, USA (5,500 BC)

    Evidence of human habitation or use of the Thompson Springs area can be dated back to the Archaic Period who left beautiful Pictographs in Sego Canyon. Subsequent Anazazi, Fremont, and Ute tribes have also left their mark upon the area. Thompson Springs is also the site of some fabulous rock art left by early Native Americans. The Fremont culture thrived from 600 to 1,250 AD and was a contemporary with the Anasazi culture of the Four Corners area. There is also rock art from the Archaic period dating from 7,000 BC, the Barrier Canyon period from around 2,000 BC, and the Ute tribe dating from 1,300 AD.
    Links: Top Ten US Attractions, Top Ten North American Cave/Rock Paintings,_Utah,
  8. Bhimbetka Rock Art, India (28,000 BC)

    The Bhimbetka rock shelters are an archaeological World Heritage site located in Raisen District in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. The Bhimbetka shelters exhibit the earliest traces of human life in India; a number of analyses suggest that at least some of these shelters were inhabited by man for in excess of 100,000 years. Some of the Stone Age rock paintings found among the Bhimbetka rock shelters are approximately 30,000 years old. The name Bhimbetka is associated with Bhima, a hero-deity renowned for his immense strength, from the epic Mahabharata. The word Bhimbetka is said to derive from Bhimbaithka, meaning “sitting place of Bhima.”
    Links: Top Ten Indian Attractions, Top Ten Asian Cave/Rock Paintings,,
  9. Cueva de Las Manos, Argentina (10,000-550 BC)

    Cueva de las Manos (Spanish for Cave of the Hands) is a cave located in the province of Santa Cruz, Argentina, 163 km (101 mi) south from the town of Perito Moreno, within the borders of the Francisco P. Moreno National Park, which includes many sites of archaeological and paleontogical importance.
    Links: Top Ten Argentinian Attractions, Top Ten South American Cave/Rock Paintings,,
  10. Cave of the Men Eatresses, Easter Island

    Links: Top Ten Easter Island Attractions, Islands, Top Ten Oceanic Cave/Rock Paintings, Sculptures, Top 100 Sculptures, Top 100 Oceanic Sculptures,,
  11. Bonus: Val Camonica, Italy (10,000 BC)

    The ancient history of Valle Camonica begins with the end of last ice age, around 15,000 years ago when the glacier, melting, creates the valley. The inhabitants, who had begun to visit the valley already in epipaleolithic, settled from the Neolithic. They were called by Romans the Camunni, people of uncertain origin, famous for stone carvings: in Val Camonica they left about 300,000 petroglyphs, which made the area the largest center of rock art in Europe. Towards the end of the first century BC Valle Camonica is attached to Roman Empire and founded the city of Cividate Camuno, with spas, theater and amphitheater and a sanctuary of Minerva, among the largest in the Alps.
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