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20 Unique Destinations Where We Can Go Back In Time And See Cave Paintings

Some people like traveling to beaches to soak up the sun, others like going to hot spots frequented by celebrities, and then there are those who want to experience something completely different, like discovering more about lost civilizations through prehistoric rock art.

The world is filled with canyons and caves that depict images of the peoples who once lived there, and the animals they hunted, and these paintings and etchings help us learn more about human history. From Cueva De Las Manos (Cave of the Hands), which is filled with simple stencils of hands, to the longest gallery in the world, Nine Mile Canyon, that is home to etchings that date back to the Fremont and Ute peoples who existed between A.D. 600 and 1300. But it’s not just the artwork that is of interest, but also the materials that were used to create them, whether it was ochre or natural ingredients like bat excrement.

These destinations are fascinating, and they give us clues into what life would have been like as much as 40,000 years ago. Below are 20 of these destinations, which are celebrated for their archeological importance, and are a great way to get a glimpse into the past.

20 Cueva De Las Manos Is An Impressive Collection Of Hand Stencils

The name Cueva De Las Manos (Cave of the Hands) is descriptive of what is located in the cave because the site is filled with stenciled images of hands. According to CBS Sacramento, this cave is located the southern Argentine province of Santa Cruz, and is now one of the most famous sites for prehistoric cave paintings in South America.

The site was first discovered in 1941, and then in 1999, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its historical importance. The art is believed to date back 9,500 to 13,000 years.

19 If You Want To See High-Quality Works Then Visit The Cave Of Altamira

The historically important Cave of Altamira dates back 35,600 years ago and according to Oldest, the site, located in Northern Spain, was found in the 19th Century. What makes this cave so important is that it is filled with high-quality work including handprints, bison, and horses, and these drawings are so impressive that some even believe that that they were forged by the discoverer -- CBS Sacramento claims that the site was first discovered in 1879 by a non-professional archeologist.

18 Kakadu National Park Is Home To Intricate Rock Art That Included Internal Organs

The Kakadu National Park is located in Australia’s Northern Territory, and according to Smithsonian, is one of the largest concentrations of Aboriginal people rock art, dating back around 20,000 years. The figures found here are rather intricate, and according to All Women's Talk, the drawings do not just depict outlines of the figures but also the bones and internal organs.

Smithsonian notes that to visit this impressive art, you need to get a pass for the park which is valid for around two weeks.

17 The Coso Rock Art District Can Be Found In The Middle Of A Desert

California is also a destination where you can see rock art, and the Coso Rock Art District is well-known for the sheer number of drawings that it contains, which according to Matador Network is estimated to be around 100,000.

The publication reports that the rock art dates back around 16,000 years ago, and can be found in the in the Mojave desert, within the U.S. Navy’s premier weapons testing area. So, if you’re looking to see one of the biggest petroglyphs locations in the Western Hemisphere, this is the place to go.

16 The Work In The Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc Cave Is One Of The Earliest Forms Of Human Artistic Expression

The Cave of Pont d’Arc, known as Grotte Chauvet-Pont d’Arc, in Southern France was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2014, and was only discovered 20 years earlier. The reason why this destination is a recommended spot to see rock art is in part because it's believed to be one of the first examples of human artistic expression, and also because it's exceptional.

According to Britannica, the cave was home to many bears, thousands of years before humans inhabited it, and 195 bear skulls have been found in the cave. However, the first humans, the Aurignacians, are believed to have moved into the cave about 36,000 years ago and are responsible for most of the art.

15 The Drakensberg Is Where You Can Learn More About The San Peoples

The Drakensberg mountains in South Africa are a popular location for San cave art, and according to About Drakensberg, the mountain caves and overhangs in this region are home to 35 percent of South Africa’s San rock art sites. In fact, this area is of so much cultural significance that the Ukhahlamba-Drakensberg Park was declared a World Heritage Site in 2000. This site, according to Zulu, is a fundamental monument to the peoples who lived there until the 19th Century.

14 Horseshoe Canyon Has Remarkable Life-Size Paintings Of Ghostly Figures

Located in Utah’s Canyonlands National Park is Horseshoe Canyon, previously called Barrier Canyon, where the best-known spot is referred to as the Great Gallery. It’s a destination where visitors are able to marvel at life-size humanoid figures (without arms or legs) painted on a rock overhang, Fodor reports, and some people feel these paintings look like ghosts.

According to National Park Service, the canyon can be accessed via a hike on uneven terrain, horseback riding on an old four-wheel-drive road, or via car, although weather conditions are often unpredictable and two-wheel drive cars may struggle.

13 Bulgaria's Magura Cave Has Over 700 Drawings Created From Bat Excrement

The Magura Cave, located in Northeastern Bulgaria, dates back to 6300 BC – 3000 BC, and according to Oldest, it's one of the oldest cave art sites in the world. Here you will find 700 drawings created using bat excrement, which depict the figures of dancing and hunting men, as well as animals.

Bulgaria Travel notes that this is one of the oldest and most majestic caves in Bulgaria and a popular tourist destination during the summer months. Interestingly, the cave is reportedly 12 degrees Centigrade, year-round.

12 Laas Gaal Is The Location Of Some Of The Earliest African Cave Art

Located in Somalia, the Laas Gaal cave (also spelled Laas Geel) was first found by a French archaeological team, Oldest reports. This location is responsible for some of the earliest African rock art, dating back around 11,000 to 5,000 years old, and has been well preserved because of the granite overhangs of the rock shelters.

The paintings here are of cattle and humans, with some of the cattle depicted in ceremonial robes, Fodors reports. The publication also notes that what’s interesting about this artwork is it shows that this land, which is now desert, was once high-yielding enough to support cattle.

11 Valcamonica In Northern Italy Is One Of The Oldest UNESCO Sites

If you ever find yourself in the Lombardy region of Northern Italy, you should probably visit Valcamonica because it is a location that is highly regarded for its prehistoric rock engravings. According to TripSavvy, the site was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979, and has artwork that was created over a period of 8,000 years.

Not only is this site one of Italy’s oldest UNESCO listings, but according to Italia, it is also one of the most extensive petroglyphic collections.

10 Côa Valley In Portugal Is A Fantastic Place To See Paleolithic Rock Art

Located east of the city of Porto, the Côa Valley in Portugal is a place of great importance because of the Paleolithic rock art that is located there. According to National Geographic, you are able to go on a 4x4 tour in the area, which will allow viewers to see hundreds of artwork on the rock faces.

According to Center Of Portugal, the valley has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1998 because of its importance, and the rock art is believed to date back some 25.000 years ago.

9 Cueva De El Castillo Has A Wide Range Of Paintings, From Mammoths To Dogs

As mentioned above, the Cave of Altamira in northern Spain is an important site for Upper Paleolithic cave paintings, but located just 15 miles from this cave is Cueva de El Castillo (Cave of the Castle), CBS Sacramento reports. This impressive site is, according to the publication, 40,800 years old and there are more than 150 paintings depicting various things, including animals such as mammoths and dogs.

According to Anthropology, the paintings located here are thought to be the oldest in Europe and date back 40,800 years.

8 Serra Da Capivara National Park Is an Indication Of The Earliest Human Inhabitants On The Americas

A trip to the Serra da Capivara National Park in Brazil would be an educational experience because according to All Women's Talk, the paintings found here are believed to date back 25,000 years. UNESCO has also listed this cave as World Heritage site since 1991, and the park is filled with sites of archaeological importance, including evidence of the presence of the oldest human inhabitants on the American continent, who may have settled in the area around 50,000 years ago.

7 Bhimbetka Is An Interesting Representation Of The Peoples Who Lived In The Cave During This Time

Bhopal, a city in India, is the location of the rock shelters of Bhimbetka. These natural shelters were declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2003, and is filled with prehistoric rock paintings. According to Oldest, some of the earliest works are believed to date back 12,000 years ago and represent the people who were living there during the time. Some of the work includes animals like tigers, lions, and crocodiles, while other paintings show human figures riding horses and hunting.

6 Cave Of Swimmers Makes Researches Think That Lakes Once Existed In The Sahara Desert

Cave of Swimmers has one of the most interesting names on this list, and it’s named this because the cave art looks to depict swimmers. Painted around 7,000 years ago, what is remarkable about these "swimmers" is the location of this cave is in the Sahara Desert in Southwest Egypt, which is not exactly known to be a swimming spot, although, it may once have been!

Fodors reports that scientists believe the now waterless area was once filled with lakes and grasslands.

5 The Lascaux Paintings Are Detailed And Of Exceptional Quality

The Lascaux Cave is a complex of caves located in the Dordogne region of southwestern France, and according to CBS Sacramento, it was discovered during Nazi occupation in 1940; four teenagers stumbled upon the site during the German occupation of France. The publication also notes that site is the location of hundreds of paintings and around 1500 engravings which are believed to be from the Upper Paleolithic period and are around 15,000 to 17,000 years old.

According to the Bradshaw Foundation, these paintings are of exceptional quality and mostly depict large animals which were native to the area.

4 The Saimaluu Tash Destination Is Spread Over 200 Km

If you want to see one of the world’s largest open-air petroglyphs, then a trip to Saimaluu Tash may be the place you’ve been looking for. According to Silk Road Explore, the petroglyphs vary in date, and while some are believed to be from the Middle Ages, others are around 4,000 years old and are spread out over 200 km in the Jalal-Abad Province, Kyrgyzstan.

However, those interested in seeing this artwork are only allowed to travel in summer because in the winter the roads are not passable and everything is covered in snow.

3 Indonesia's Maros Pangkep Is Not As Well Known As Some Of The European Hand Stencils, But No Less Spectacular

The ochre hand stencils found in Indonesia’s Maros Pangkep date back 40,000 years ago, and according to Atlas Obscura, they are even older than the European hand art found in Spain (for example the Cave of Altamira), and France.

Although the reason for the rock art remains unclear, the publication claims that it is believed to a be a ceremonial site -- although this has not been confirmed and there are several other theories surrounding the purpose of the handprints.

2 Nine Mile Canyon Is Actually The Longest Gallery In The World

Nine Mile Canyon is, according to Fodor’s, referred to as the longest gallery in the world because despite the name “nine mile,” it actually covers a stretch of 40 miles and has at least 1,000 rock art sites. The etchings, which depict various animals from dogs to owls, were created by the Fremont and Ute peoples, which the publication reports existed between A.D. 600 and 1300. According to Smithsonian, the most recognized of these works is the Hunter Panel, which features figures of the Fremont Indians hunting sheep.

1 Fumane Cave Dates Back 30,000 Years Before The Birth Of The Roman Empire

According to CBS Sacramento, Fumane Cave is not as well-known as some of the other caves found in Europe, but it is of historical importance because the cave art found in this location dates back to 30,000 years before the birth of the Roman Empire.

However, it’s not just its age of these creations (which are located near Verona in northern Italy), that makes this cave of interest, but also the artifacts found here. Plus, it’s a cave that’s open to the public, although you would have to drive a car to reach it.

References: CBS SacramentoSmithsonian, All Women's Talk, Matador Network, BritannicaNational Geographic

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