Research Paper

The Boars from Altamira: Solving an Identity Crisis



Most scholars of prehistoric European cave art would regard correct species identification of depicted animals as the first step toward explaining the presence of animals in prehistoric imagery. Whether one is attempting explanation via quantitative or qualitative means, via inductive or deductive methods, knowing the relative proportions of animals depicted in single caves or in all caves is a logical starting point, since the vast majority of identifiable images in cave art are of animals. But inventories of animals in caves differ from expert to expert due to numbers of images involved, and because the lack of preservation or poor technical rendition make identification difficult in many cases. Using the most recent counts is no indication of accuracy. The reluctance of governments to allow surveys to be made by any but their own nationals has complicated the issue, with the results that most scholars must use the counts of others, inevitably reinforcing errors. The underlying message remains clear: we can explain only as accurately as our data allow. It is with this in mind that I question part of the recent reinterpretation of the Altamira ceiling by Leslie Freeman (1987). I do not question his goal of reinventorying the animal images; he is to be applauded for this venture. I do, however, question his conclusion that the three animals identified by Breuil in 1935 as 'wild boars' are bison (1987:81).

Keywords: petroglyphs, rock art, cave art

How to Cite: Rice, P. (1992) “The Boars from Altamira: Solving an Identity Crisis”, Papers from the Institute of Archaeology. 3(0). doi: