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Bison Cave Painting From Altamira (Wikimedia)

Spain's Prehistoric Cave Paintings Open to the Public for the First Time in Twelve Years

Today, five people were selected at random to visit the cave at Altamira for the first time in 12 years

smithsonian.com

When you think of cave paintings, you probably think of something like the painting above. It’s a depiction of a bison from the cave of Altamira in Spain, painted during the paleolithic period, around 22,000 years ago. 

The paintings in Altamira were discovered in the 1880s and became a huge tourist attraction once they were shown to be real. But the presence of so many tourists in the narrow confines of the cave system (or more specifically, the carbon dioxide in the tourist’s breath) damaged the paintings. The damage led authorities to close the caves to visitors in 1977, reopening to limited visitors from 1982-2002, when the cave closed down again. Since then, visitors have been able to see replicas of the paintings in a nearby museum, but haven’t been allowed inside the cave. Until today. 

Today, five visitors to the museum were selected at random to visit the cave, instead of the replicas. This is the first time members of the public were allowed inside the cave in 12 years—and it's the first step towards potentially reopening the cave in the future. They will only be allowed inside a short time, less than 40 minutes.

From the BBC

During the visit, dozen of sensors will monitor changes in the cave's temperature and humidity, to see if more visitors can be allowed in in future, our correspondent says....

Despite the historic nature of the viewing, taking pictures will not be allowed. Nor will visitors be allowed to touch the rock.

They will be also dressed in protective clothing, to help prevent contamination of the site.

If this experiment goes well, it'll continue—once a week, on a random day, five museum visitors will get to vist the caves, until August. It's not exactly good enough odds to plan a trip to Spain around, but anyone who would want to visit the museum replica regardless can keep their fingers crossed that maybe they'll get a chance to see the real thing.

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