Natural ventilation of the Paintings Room in the Altamira cave

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Abstract

The Altamira cave (Santillana del Mar, Santander, Spain) is famous for the ceiling of one of its chambers, the Paintings Room, which is decorated with palaeolithic paintings. However, the massive influx of visitors resulted in deterioration of these rupestrian paintings and the cave was closed in 1977 to determine both the causes and the maximum number of visitors that could visit the cave without putting the paintings at risk1–3. The natural ventilation of the Paintings Room is one of the most important factors in formulating the maximum occupational index for visitors to the cave. The emission of carbon dioxide and water vapour by visitors inside the chamber is directly proportional to the number of visitors and the time spent in the room. By ventilating the room, these components should be removed from the air within a short period of time, thus returning the chamber to the prevailing conditions before visitors were allowed in. We report here variations in the 222Rn concentration in the air of the Paintings Room which we use as a quantitative index of the natural ventilation existing in this chamber. We carried out parallel studies of the temperature at different points in the cave and the evolution of the carbon dioxide concentration in the air of the Paintings Room, and hence established the maximum number of people per hour that should be allowed to visit this chamber.

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References

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Fernández, P., Gutierrez, I., Quindós, L. et al. Natural ventilation of the Paintings Room in the Altamira cave. Nature 321, 586–588 (1986) doi:10.1038/321586a0

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