Don Marcelino Sanz de Sautuola
or Marcelino de Sautuola
(1831, Santander, Cantabria
The port city of Santander is the capital of the autonomous community and historical region of Cantabria situated on the north coast of Spain. Located east of Gijón and west of Bilbao, the city has a population of 183,446 .-History:...
– 1888) was a Spanish jurist
A jurist or jurisconsult is a professional who studies, develops, applies, or otherwise deals with the law. The term is widely used in American English, but in the United Kingdom and many Commonwealth countries it has only historical and specialist usage...
and amateur archaeologist, who owned the land where the Altamira
Altamira is a cave in Spain famous for its Upper Paleolithic cave paintings featuring drawings and polychrome rock paintings of wild mammals and human hands....
cave was found.
The Altamira cave, now famous for its unique collection of prehistoric art
In the history of art, prehistoric art is all art produced in preliterate, prehistorical cultures beginning somewhere in very late geological history, and generally continuing until that culture either develops writing or other methods of record-keeping, or it makes significant contact with another...
, was well known to local people, but had not been given much attention until in 1868 it was "discovered" by the hunter Modesto Peres.
Sautuola then started exploring the caves in 1875. He did however not become aware of the paintings until 1879, when his daughter Maria, nine years old at the time, incidentally noticed that the ceiling was covered by images of bisons. Sautuola, having seen similar images engraved on Paleolithic objects displayed at the World Exposition in Paris
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...
the year before, rightly assumed that also the paintings might be dating from the stone-age. He therefore engaged an archaeologist from the University of Madrid
The Complutense University of Madrid is a public university in Madrid, Spain, and one of the oldest universities in the world.The University of Madrid may also refer to:* The Autonomous University of Madrid, a public university founded in 1968...
to help him in his further work.
Professor Juan Vilanova y Piera supported Sautuola's assumptions, and they published their results in 1880, to much public acclaim. But the scientific society was reluctant to accept the presumed antiquity of the paintings. The French specialists, led by their guru Gabriel de Mortillet, were particularly adamant in rejecting the hypothesis of Sautuola and Piera and their findings were loudly ridiculed at the 1880 Prehistorical Congress in Lisbon
Lisbon is the capital city and largest city of Portugal with a population of 545,245 within its administrative limits on a land area of . The urban area of Lisbon extends beyond the administrative city limits with a population of 3 million on an area of , making it the 9th most populous urban...
. Due to the supreme artistic quality, and the exceptional state of conservation of the paintings, Sautuola was even accused of forgery. A fellow countryman maintained that the paintings had been produced by a contemporary artist, on Sautuola's orders.
It was not until 1902, when several other findings of prehistoric paintings had served to render the hypothesis of the extreme antiquity of the Altamira-paintings less offensive, that the scientific society retracted their opposition to the Spaniards. That year, the towering French archaeologist Emile Cartailhac
Émile Cartailhac was a French prehistorian, one of the founding fathers of the studies of the cave art. He is perhaps best remembered because of his involvement with the Altamira paintings....
, who had been one of the leading critics, emphatically admitted his mistake in the famous article, "Mea culpa d'un sceptique", published in the journal L'Anthropologie
Sautuola, had died 14 years earlier, did not live to enjoy the restitution of his honour, nor the later scientific confirmation of his premonitions. Modern dating techniques have since confirmed that the paintings of the Altamira cave were created over extended periods between 11,000 and 19,000 years ago. For the study of Paleolithic art Sautuola's discoverings must now be considered pivotal.
Sautuola's daughter later married within the Botín family of Cantabria
Cantabria is a Spanish historical region and autonomous community with Santander as its capital city. It is bordered on the east by the Basque Autonomous Community , on the south by Castile and León , on the west by the Principality of Asturias, and on the north by the Cantabrian Sea.Cantabria...
n bourgeoisie. The current owners of Banco Santander are Sautuola's descendants.