I was reading a book about prehistoric art, and a map with dots indicating locations of caves and deposits shown a lot of concentration around the norther area of Spain and also southern region of France.

What's the explanation for this? Is is something like climate or physical characteristics (I'm just guessing) or is it a matter of more research around that area?

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    There are (at least) a couple significant issues to consider. First, the existence of the conditions for the art to be created in the first place (such as accessible caves, access to pigments, etc.). Secondly, the continuous existence of the right conditions to preserve the art up to now (climate, geology, etc.).
    – Steve Bird
    Commented Mar 4, 2023 at 9:10
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    @T.E.D. - that presumes that caves are readily available everywhere. The limestone geology in those areas helps a lot.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Mar 4, 2023 at 15:24
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    Plus where populations were during the ice age.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Mar 4, 2023 at 15:55
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    @JonCuster - True. There likely won't be any such finds in Scandanavia for the very simple reason that any such caves it contained were under like a mile of ice.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Mar 4, 2023 at 16:58
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    Like finding graffiti on skyscrapers in Manhattan and being surprised not to find either in the Adirondacks.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Mar 4, 2023 at 18:11

5 Answers 5


The Franco-Cantabrian region appears to have had a series of early cultures that valued art. It has also been continuously inhabited for far longer than most parts of Europe, having apparently been a refuge for humans, animals and plants during the Last Glacial Maximum. There was time for a lot of art to be created, and conditions have been right since then for it to be preserved.

Once it became clear that there were multiple caves with art in the region, checking all known caves for more art would be natural for modern cultures.

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    Your answer is particularly wrong. What you say is true for the whole southern European belt, so it does not explain the SP-FR thing. The Spain and France bias is because in other countries researcher's have higher language barriers, lack of funding and a shorter archeological tradition.
    – James
    Commented Mar 14, 2023 at 14:45

Note that for all prehistoric findings there is a significant selection bias related to where archeologists searched for it. Western Europe has been checked and searched for prehistoric evidence of human settlements considerably more thoroughly than any other region of the world. This effect is slowly getting less and less important as archeologists are searching more and more places on earth in ever greater detail but to a large extend the answer to 'Why are most findings of prehistoric art in Western Europe?' is simply 'Because that is where most people where searching for it.'

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    Has Western Europe been checked more thoroughly than the Middle East? I don't disagree with your point, but it would be interesting to attach some numbers to the assertions.
    – MCW
    Commented Mar 9, 2023 at 13:28
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    @MCW I think that depends on the time cutoff for 'prehistoric'. A lot of the early civilizations (Uruk, Mesopotamia, Ancient Egypt) where in the Middle East and the Middle East has been searched for that. Evidence from earlier times of purely hunter-gatherer societies was mostly searched for in Western Europe.
    – quarague
    Commented Mar 9, 2023 at 13:57
  • Correct answer, plus add lack of funding to publish results, and publish them in English.
    – James
    Commented Mar 14, 2023 at 14:47

The first reason is one needs an environment where caves exist. Call this either geology or topology. The larger the caves the better because they can offer greater protection to greater numbers of people (hominids) against weather and predators and they provide easier access.

The nature/geology of the cave walls would also be a factor. Walls whose surface would be permanent or little compromised over time are required to retain artworks on them. Walls that are friable and prone to flaking will either not take a sharp image and they will not keep the artwork on them, as over time the artwork will fall off with constant renewal of the surface of the walls.

The third reason is the region needs to be frequented by people/hominids. Access to pigments helps, but these can be brought in from where ever they were at the time.

Access to food and water would also be a factor as this wold enable the creators of the art to be settled for a period. External climate would be another factor; anything under an ice sheet cannot be accessed. An external climate that is too hot or too cold would be too hostile.

The internal climate within the caves would also be important. The absence of ultraviolet radiation from the Sun would be needed to protect the artwork. Similarly, humidity within the caves needs to be constant within a specific range to prevent artwork from becoming either too moist or too dry and falling off as a result of either condition.

Caves with entrances that are obscured so they are not easily noticed would also help, as this would limit the access to such sites over time and the subsequent potential for damage to the artwork by people just being there over time and touching things.


There is not more prehistoric art in Spain and France.

This is because prehistoric studies were started on France, plus add a language barrier and a huge archeological search bias.

There is plenty of prehistoric art in the Balkans, as well as Morocco, Libya... and other non-developed, poor, second-tier language countries in southern Europe that have no funding for historical research, nor to pay for translations for you to read in English. Italy and Greece have as much prehistoric art as France and Spain, but they get less butget for it because other historical periods are preferred to get tourists atracted.

All these countries have caves. Caves are everywhere, it's not a preservation bias, although certain caves preserve better than others and have a local bias, it's not something exclusive of Spanish and French regions.

Also, it's not a prehistoric cultural thing, there was nothing different in Upper Paleolithic Cantabria compared with say, Romania, both were of Aurignacian culture.

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    I thought the Spain archeological preservation was one of the best in the world? There's more Roman architecture preserved in Spain than in Italy, and not just because of landmass. Then as well, Arabia has had its own history of erasure of early cultural sites that did not match the local preferred school of islam. Commented Mar 31, 2023 at 13:52
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    There's not more Roman architecture preserved in Spain than Italy, by any means.
    – James
    Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 6:53

Here's a bit of theory, with the next paragraph being a bit more near fact. Pretend that the map you had has some geography in it. Notice that the area of Northern Spain and Southern France is the Pyrenees mountain range. During the time of prehistory , having high ground was prefered because it was a strategy to score easy kills on Woolly mammoths. So I believe that the mountains would provide a sort of "camp" so that they could go near the foot of the mountain to hunt any mammoths that happen to come by.

It is very likely that humans hunted cave lions and bears according to fossil evidence. This means that ancient humans might have liked to go to caves, which are very common at the mountains.


hunted cave lions

hunted cave bears

how mammoths were hunted

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