"Papa! Look up, oxen!..." Exploring an opening in a hill made by aftershocks from mining in the region, Spanish archaeologist Marcelino Sanz de Sautuloa and his young daughter Maria cautiously entered a cave and started digging hoping to discover prehistoric bones or tools. Maria wondered off to explore on her own. It was not long before she said her now famous words that startled her father, and later the world. It was Autumn of 1879, Maria had just become the first modern human to set eyes on the first gallery of prehistoric paintings ever to be discovered.
The Altamira cave discovery was made public in 1880, and it led to a bitter public controversy between experts which continued into the early 20th century. Many of them did not believe prehistoric man had the intellectual capacity to produce any kind of artistic expression. The Spanish Church refuted the claims of early men since it did not go along with the creationist worldview. The acknowledgement of the authenticity of the paintings wouldn't come until 1902, forever changing the perception of prehistoric human beings. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site by UNESCO, the Altamira cave discovery created a paradigm shift that totally altered our understanding of prehistoric civilizations.
Now, over 100 years later, the leading researchers of Altamira hope do the same paradigm shifting break though for Paraguayan rock art, and we will make this information freely available for the public. After learning about the groundbreaking explorations and research done by the Altamira Museum archaeologist in Paraguay, I knew I had to go and get them in our project. After extensive contacts by email and skype, I travelled to Spain with my camera to interview Dr. Lasheras, the director of the Altamira museum.
Lasheras works from the Altamira museum located in the village of Santillana del Mar. If you think of a remote rural village in Spain, with its ancient churches, cobblestones street, neighbors lazily gossiping away, green fields with low fences made of rocks, where cows graze... Santillana del Mar, will not be that far from what you imaged. As the sun sets in old brick walls, on the town square a group of old man's sit in a bench gazing at some pilgrims doing the road of Compostella.
The peace and quiet is periodically broken by other tourist in tour buses on tours across Spain and Europe. Every morning in my visit to Santinalla del Mar, I would leave the bed and breakfast where I was staying, and hike up the hill, where almost at the top, the Altamira Cave outstandingly high tech museum waited. Comparable to the Smithsonian in Washington, it houses a high quality reproduction of the original cave, which was closed to the public in the 1970's as visitors change the temperature of the cave damaging the original rock art.
I was greeted by the friendly staff who showed me and revealed many secrets of the images left in the cave. Yet I was there to speak to one man, Jose Lasheras, the director of the museum, who a couple years back, got his team invited by the spiritual and moral leaders of the Pai tavytera indians to go to their most sacred sites to study the ancient Paraguayan rock art.
Lasheras is very knowledgeable and I was thankful that he took the time to talk to me and do the interview.I learned a lot with him, about rock art, prehistoric men, art in general. I enjoyed him sharing his experiences in Paraguay with the indians, such as some interesting anecdotes of being visited by a jaguar in his archaeological digging site, or a shaman asking the rain to subdue so they could continue his work.
I was able to get some really good interviews for the documentary since Lasheras is the world's leading expert in the Paraguayan rock art. His testimony is a key part of our film, as we have scientific backing and information to share with the rest of the world as part of the mission of our project to make this information freely and easily accessible. Among the information, we finally are able to get a scientific date of the Paraguayan work art, estimated to be around 5 thousand years old.
"The principal risk of conservation" Lasheras said, "is to someone to go over and paint over it, or write on top of it. Or the fire from burning the pastures to reach the wall where the rock art is, and causing the rock to burst, as has happened. Or removing the trees that give shade to the rock art, giving it full light that will create fungi and vegetation in the rock."
Lasheras spoke about the importance of preserving the rock art, not only for the Indians, Paraguayans, and citizens of the world, as an invaluable part of our human heritage, and how he plans to return to Paraguay and study more once he is able to get some grants. I hope our documentary can help him with that.
I started the transcript of his interviews, and now wait for the return of our videographer James from Paraguay in the end of the month, where he has a full external hard drive full of interviews and footages so we can start editing and have a rough trailer to share with you all. James is also bringing the rest of the kickstarter rewards here to the United States. We will send those rewards to our project backers by the postal service here in U.S. to send the rewards that still need to be sent since its more reliable.
Photos by Fernado Allen -INVENTARIO DEL ARTE RUPESTRE DEL PARAGUAY