The specific case of Altamira is a great example on how knowledge and science progress. Who was “right” in 1880: Sautuola or Cartailhac. From our perspective today, Sautuola of course. But from the perspective of science of 1880, of course Cartailhac!! He used the best scientific knowledge of his time, even if only that! Sautuola perceived the future, beyond the existing academic basis, but he was not “ahead of his time” because it is impossible to do so. And the academic world remained sceptic (because this is what a researcher must be) but also open to pursue unforeseen leads (this is why the academic understanding of prehistoric rock art change in just two decades!).  

1880 is also a second lesson: it is not possible to change all at the same time, and that was the congress to recognise that shell middens could be anthropic, and not just natural features. In that sense, the Congress of Lisbon could not be the congress of Muge and of Altamira at the same time. 

We face similar debates today. For example when some expected the Côa valley issue would become a new paradigm of heritage and landscape management, not understanding it was already a new paradigm in understanding Palaeolithic societies (hence, a too big shift to accommodate a second one), or when some think the essence of rock art is only the laboratory work and the associated rock art field techniques, forgetting that it may only be understood as part of wider cultural contexts (History and Anthropology) and within even wider fundamental interrogations (emerging from Philosophy). Rock Art was, already in the 1880’s, a crossroad of earth, natural and human sciences, which can only be assessed if one considers the “roads” and not only the roundabout ahead (which, itself, can only drive us in circles). 

In the age of the fashion of “multi”, “inter” and “trans” things, it is therefore useful to keep the strength of the different roads (disciplines), avoiding disciplinary arrogance but, also, naïf superficial depreciation of academic research. 

1902 is a nice name for this forum, since it is a date that illustrates how science and society interact, and how best science can embrace other forms of knowledge without destroying its epistemological coherence.  

Luiz Oosterbeek

Secretary-General of the International Council for Philosophy and Human Sciences. Professor at the Polytechnic Institute of Tomar. President of ITM and Director of the Prehistoric Rock Art and the Sacred Tagus Valley Museum (Mação). Vice-President of HERITY. Principal investigator of the Quaternary and Human adaptations cluster of Geosciences Centre of Coimbra University. Former SG of UISPP. UNESCO chair holder “Humanities and Cultural Integrated Landscape Management”.

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