Engravings, charcoal drawings
Human-like figures: 34,000 BC
The Spanish cave of Tito Bustillo is a major site of paleolithic art, located in Asturias on Spain's northern coastline.
According to the latest evidence, its oldest cave art was created during the Aurignacian culture, about 34,000 BC, although some paintings and engravings were made during the later Magdalenian culture.
This means that Tito Bustillo's rock art has evolved over a period of about 20,000 years.
In 2008, the cave became part of the UNESCO World Heritage site, centred on the famous Altamira Cave, in Cantabria.
The cave of Tito Bustillo is part of a string of paleolithic caves and rock shelters, which lie along the northern coast of Spain - one of the migratory pathways used by modern humans arriving in Europe, from 54,000 BC onwards.
The route led from the east coast of Africa, north to the Mediterranean then west along the coast of North Africa, across the Straits of Gibraltar and through Spain into France.
As a result, the provinces of Northern Spain are especially rich in prehistoric art of all kinds.
For more, see Famous Paleolithic Caves in Northern Spain.
Tito Bustillo was discovered in the Spring of 1968 by a group of potholers from the Torreblanca Speleological Society. The cave was named after their leader Celestino Fernandez Bustillo, who subsequently lost his life in a mountaineering accident.
Since then, excavations of the cave and its rock art have been conducted by Jose Javier Alcolea, Alfonso Moure Romanillo and Rodrigo de Balbin Behrmann.
Entry to the cave is through a newly built tunnel, since the original entrance remains blocked by the landslide which sealed the cave back in 6,000 BC.
Archaeological investigations around the original entrance have yielded significant deposits dating back to 14,000 BC, including fossils, stone tools, and other artifacts.
The cave of Tito Bustillo is located within the municipality of Ribadesella in the Principality of Asturias.
It sits in limestone rock, close to the left bank of the Sella River just before it enters the Bay of Biscay.
To augment the site, the Spanish Ministry of Culture has built a new Centre of Rock Art (Centro de Arte Rupestre), 200 metres from the cave entrance. The centre has numerous displays, videos and replicas of the cave art.
As well as this, the cave's floors and ceilings are at times studded with magnificent stalagmites and stalactites.
There are charcoal drawings, red paintings, and images with a mixture of red, black and violet ochre pigments, reminiscent of Altamira's "Ceiling of the Bison". Some of them are marked with clumps of abstract signs, like parallel lines, in red or black.
Some petroglyphs are combined with paint, while some are marked with finely incised markings.
Subjects and themes vary with location. The iconography of the western half of the cave, for instance, includes stags and does, reindeer and horses, bison, ibex and aurochs, but in the eastern half, stags and does predominate.
In addition, archaeologists have uncovered nine phases of decoration, which accounts for the large amount of superimposed imagery, which has been added over the centuries.
During the last phase, a number of large-scale images of horses and reindeer were produced in violet and black - a combination rarely seen in cave art. See: Stone Age Colour Palette.
The lines of these huge images of horses and reindeer (which resemble those at Las Monedas at Monte Castillo) are also engraved for extra definition.
The most famous decorated spaces at Tito Bustillo include:
Scientists have long disagreed about the date of Tito Bustillo's prehistoric art.
Some assign it to the era of Magdalenian art (15,000-10,000 BC), while others are certain it was created over a longer period, probably beginning during the preceding era of Solutrean art (20,000-15,000 BC), or even as far back as the era of Aurignacian art, around 30,000 BC.
Now, thanks to a study conducted by Dr. Alistair Pike and a team of researchers, using Uranium/Thorium (U/Th) dating methods, we know the answer.
The oldest art in the cave is one of the human-like figures, whose red pigment dates to 34,000 BC. (See: World's Oldest Art.)
These caves together provide a complete range of Upper Paleolithic art from the Aurignacian to the Magdalenian.
They are part of the tradition of Franco-Cantabrian art, which grew up during the Ice Age, and served as the foundation of Stone Age culture in Europe, before fading into the darkness during the Neolithic revolution.
Other major examples of Stone Age art on the Iberian peninsula, include: the outdoor Siega Verde Rock Art (18,000 BC) in Salamanca, and the Coa Valley Rock Art (22,000 BC) across the border in Portugal.
(1) "The Paleolithic art of Tito Bustillo: hunters and artists in the Pozu'l Ramu cave." (1st ed.) Miguel Polledo González. (2011). Pola Siero, Asturias: Ménsula. pp. 112, 114. ISBN 9788461499397.
(2) "U-Series Dating of Paleolithic Art in 11 Caves in Spain". Pike, A. W. G.; Hoffmann, D. L.; Garcia-Diez, M.; Pettitt, P. B.; Alcolea, J.; De Balbin, R.; Gonzalez-Sainz, C.; de las Heras, C.; Lasheras, J. A.; Montes, R.; Zilhao, J. (14 June 2012). Science. 336 (6087): 1409–1413.