The first cultural manifestations of great importance date back to Prehistoric times. As far as the Paleolithic period, about 15,000 B.C., there existed a Franco-Cantabrian cave art culture that extended from the north of Spain through Europe to Asia. It was manifested by polycromed animal figures painted for magical or religious purposes in caves. The masterpiece is the big gallery of the Altamira caves in Cantabrica, called the Sistine Chapel of Quaternary period art, and of which there is an exact replica in Madrid's National Archaeological Museum.
In subsequent epoch the Mesolithic the paintings correspond to the Levantine school, of African origin, located in rock shelters extending from Lerida ( Catalunya ) to Albacete (Castilla-La Mancha). They depict the human figure. Certai critics have remarked upon the connection between the pictorial revolution promoted by Picasso and these artistic antecedents from Spanish pre-history.
In the first milenium before Christ, a culture of huge megalithic structures (navetas, taulas, talayots) arose, among which the Naveta dels Tudons, near Ciudadela (Menorca) stands out. At the same time, in the lower reaches of the Guadalquivir valley, the mythical culture of the Tartessians was developed, related to trade with the Phoenician colonies and, according to some specialists, to the myth of Atlantis. The Archeological Museum in Sevilla has on exhibit the splendid Carambolo treasures, an exceptional sample of this civilization. Also at this time, a culture was developing in Almeria, symbolized by the dolmens in covered galleries and circular burial chambers, covered by a false dome; the Menga cave near Antequera (Malaga) should be mentioned.
Among the first primitive peoples inhabiting the Peninsula were the Celts, whose culture was responsible for, according to all available evidence, the large animal sculptures, such as the Guisando bulls in Avila; and the Iberians, whose culture is a mixture of different Mediterranean influences, ilustrated by the three female sculptures on exhibit in Madrid's National Archaeological Musuem - the Ladies of Elche - from the hill of Los Santos (Montealegre, Albacete) and of Baza. The Greeks also founded colonies along the Mediterranean coasts, where they left an important artistic imprint in such places as Ampurias (Gerona).
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