Art is images, art is creation, art is form and function. Ever since it appeared in the Palaeolithic period, rock art has reflected the human capacity to symbolically express abstract ideas, important thoughts that are transcendent to the community in which it was and is created. Palaeolithic cave art is the First Art, the start of human creativity, a symbolic form of artistic expression which we have maintained over the course of millennia on all continents, with a vast diversity of techniques, themes and styles.
Rock art, which is universal in time and space, is a visual book illustrating our history, our way of understanding the world around us, but it is not solely past history since it is also part of our identity, of what we are today. And we cannot forget that even today it is an art which is still alive among numerous indigenous communities, which is part of their stories; it comprises the images of their lore and plays an essential cultural role in the community’s identity. Thus, the oldest and newest cave art makes sense within its context meant in the broadest sense, as landscape, society and culture.
Understanding this should spur us to value the extraordinary importance of this cultural expression and the need to preserve not only its physical integrity through protective and conservation measures but also its associated values. Only optimal management, which should be comprehensive and include its documentation, research, preservation and dissemination, will guarantee its preservation and value within our society today and thus ensure that it will be bequeathed to future generations. For this reason, the managing administrations as well as the technicians who work for rock art must provide our most steadfast commitment to this unique cultural heritage which is part of our past, present and future.
Director, National Museum and Research Center of Altamira, Spain.