Visitors view the main panel at Tito Bustillo, which features almost 100 representations of animals.

The astonishing—and accidental—Ice Age discovery made by Spanish spelunkers

Discovered by chance in 1968, the Tito Bustillo Cave was occupied for 26,000 years by Paleolithic peoples who covered its twisting passageways and rocky walls with hundreds of vivid artworks.

The main panel at Tito Bustillo features almost 100 stunning representations of animals, many in color. Most of the images depict the deer, horses, and reindeer of the region during the Magdalenian period, between 17,000 and 10,000 years ago.
Alberto Morante/EFE

The Ardines massif on Spain’s northern coast is riddled with limestone caves. It lies a few miles from some of the most famous sites of Paleolithic cave art in the world, includ­ing Altamira, discovered in 1868, and El Castillo, discov­ered in 1903. In spring 1968 young cavers exploring the massif were about to find an­other one.

Equipped with only basic gear, the group was spelunk­ing in a cavern known locally as Pozu’l Ramu. On their way into the cave, they stopped at a subterranean spring, but one of them wandered a little farther forward from the group. “Paintings!” they suddenly heard him shout. As the cavers pressed forward, the light from their lamps caught an animal’s leg painted on the wall. Despite not being archaeologists, they could tell this find was significant and alerted the authorities the next day.

Shortly after the discovery, one of the cavers, Celestino “Tito” Fernández Bustillo, was killed in an accident, and so it was decided to name the cave after him. After decades of research a plethora of paint­ings, engravings, and sculp­ture found in the Tito Bustil­lo Cave stand among the ear­liest examples of human ar­tistic expression in Europe, and vividly reflect changing subjects and techniques during the Ice Age.

Read This Next

U.S. nuclear testing's devastating legacy lingers 30 years later
An astonishing—and accidental—Ice Age cave discovery
The first Black Marines tell their stories—before it's too late

Go Further

Subscriber Exclusive Content

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet