Scientists Protest Opening of Spain’s Altamira Cave

March 23, 2015 / Spain, Europe
Bison Art in Spain's famed Altamira Cave.

Bison Art in Spain’s famed Altamira Cave.

Following a year-long experiment that allowed small number of visitors to enter Spain’s famed Altamira Cave, a decision is now pending on the future of visitation at the important world heritage site.

The cave, known for its Upper Paleolithic cave paintings of wild mammals and human hands, was first in closed the late 1970s due to a microbial infestation, before it reopened it in 1982 to limited numbers of visitors. Unfortunately the limit wasn’t enough to keep the cave’s delicate ecosystem in balance and the cave was again closed to the public in 2002.

Despite criticism, groups of five tourists, plus a guide, began being permitted to visit the cave on an experimental basis in 2014. To limit the damage caused to the art each visit was limited to only 37 minutes. By the time the program ended in February 2015, 250 tourists had been allowed to enter.

Now plans to open the cave up to visitors on a more permanent basis are in the works, and the protest continues.

El Pais reported last week that the that the Madrid’s Complutense University’s Pre-History Department had sent a letter to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) criticizing the cave management and saying that ”the new program of the Spanish culture ministry, a plan that entails the opening of the cave to visitors, raises important questions about conservation and puts fragile heritage that is enormously important for the understanding of Paleolithic society at risk.”

The letter, signed by 17 professors, was also backed by the History Institute of the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), a body which includes 70 researchers.

[via El Pais]

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