From the cave to the virtual museum: accessibility and democratisation of Franco-Cantabrian Palaeolithic art




virtual museum, virtual exhibition, Palaeolithic art, parietal art, portable art, photogrammetry


Palaeolithic art is a cultural manifestation of great importance to understanding the early history of our species. Through this artistic phenomenon, one can study aspects such as long-distance contacts, evidence of learning or the perception with which Palaeolithic humans were able to execute and memorise such precise details. However, there are few virtual repertoires that offer collections of Palaeolithic art. Accessibility to this type of archaeological remains is even more difficult considering conservation is prioritised over tourist visits. For these reasons, Palaeolithic art is today a type of cultural asset that is largely unknown to the population. The project "PaleoArt-3D: regreso al pasado" was created with the aim of democratising this heritage and making it more accessible. To this end, a virtual museum has been developed to exhibit digital models of parietal and portable art with complementary annotations for each one. The methodology includes a first stage dedicated to digitising examples of Palaeolithic art in caves or open-air stations and exhibited in Spanish and French museums. Next, the necessary infrastructure was designed to house the exhibition using specific software such as Blender. Post-processing tasks were carried out to reducing the number of polygons without losing quality. Finally, the museum has been uploaded to the Sketchfab platform to make it freely available online. It is hoped that this virtual museum will contribute to promoting and creating a more significant number of digital resources related to Palaeolithic art that are easily accessible to the public.


  • Despite being a transcendental cultural manifestation in the history of humanity, there are hardly any open-access virtual repertoires of Palaeolithic art.
  • The numerous photogrammetric studies carried out in successive archaeological campaigns to answer scientific questions can be used in educational and dissemination projects.
  • In the framework of the authors’ outreach project called "PaleoArt-3D: regreso al pasado" a virtual museum has been created to make Palaeolithic art a more accessible and democratic heritage.


Download data is not yet available.

Author Biographies

Miguel García-Bustos, University of Salamanca

Miguel García-Bustos is a PhD student in the Department of Prehistory, Ancient History and Archaeology and a member of the Laboratorio de Tecnología Prehistórica (LabTec). His line of research focuses on the study of the iconography, composition and formalisms of Magdalenian Palaeolithic art by means of data analysis, advanced statistics and geometric morphometry.

Olivia Rivero, University of Salamanca

Olivia Rivero Vila is Lecturer at the Department of Prehistory, Ancient History and Archaeology and director of the Laboratorio de Tecnología Prehistórica (LabTec). Her lines of research include the technological study of European Upper Palaeolithic portable and parietal art, microscopic analysis for the reconstruction of artists' gestures, and the application of statistical analysis methods for the study of the characteristics of Palaeolithic artistic production.

Paula García Bustos, University of Barcelona

Paula García Bustos is a PhD student in the Department of History and Archaeology and is part of the LArcHer project ERC team. Her line of research focuses on using Levantine Rock Art as a reference to raise new questions of global interest on the evolution of creative thought and human cognition (birth of anthropocentrism and visual narratives in the history of prehistoric art).

Ana María Mateo-Pellitero, University of Salamanca

Ana María Mateo-Pellitero is a technician at the Laboratorio de Tecnología Prehistórica (LabTec). She specialises in photogrammetric restitution, database management and analysis of archaeological material. She is currently developing photogrammetric work for the study of Palaeolithic rock art.


Abbott, D., Bale, K., Gowigati, R., Pritchard, D., & Chapman, P. (2011). Empire 3D: A collaborative semantic annotation tool for virtual environments. In Proceedings of the 2011 International Conference on Modeling, Simulation & Visualization Methods (pp. 121–128). Las Vegas, United States.

Albus, P., Vogt, A., & Seufert, T. (2021). Signaling in virtual reality influences learning outcome and cognitive load. Computers & Education, 166, 104154.

Bandelli, A. (1999). Virtual spaces and museums. Journal of Museum Education, 24(1-2), 20-22.

Banfi, F., Brumana, R., & Stanga, C. (2019). Extended reality and informative models for the architectural heritage: from scan-to-BIM process to virtual and augmented reality. Virtual Archaeology Review, 10(21), 14–30.

Benjamin, W. (1936). The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. In H. Arendt (Ed.) (1985), Illuminations. Walter Benjamin - Essays and Reflections (pp. 217-251). New York: Schocken.

Bourdier, C., Fuentes, O., & Pinçon, G (2015). Contribution of 3D technologies to the analysis of form in late palaeolithic rock carvings: The case of the Roc-aux-Sorciers rock-shelter (Anglés-sur-l’Anglin, France). Digital Applications in Archaeology and Cultural Heritage, 2(2-3), 140-154.

Cardozo, T. M. & Papadopoulos, C. (2021). Heritage Artefacts in the COVID-19 Era: The Aura and Authenticity of 3D Models. Open Archaeology, 7(1), 519-539.

Champion, E. & Rahaman, H. (2020). Survey of 3D digital heritage repositories and platforms. Virtual Archaeology Review, 11(23), 1–15.

Christou, C. (2010). Virtual Reality in Education. In A. Tzanavari & N. Tsapatsoulis (Eds.), Affective, Interactive and Cognitive Methods for E-Learning Design: Creating an Optimal Education Experience (pp. 228–243). IGI Global.

Corchón, M. S., Garate, D., & Rivero, R. (2017). La Caverna de la Peña de Candamo (Asturias). 100 años después de su descubrimiento. Salamanca: Ediciones Universidad de Salamanca.

Dickey, M. D. (2005). Three-dimensional virtual worlds and distance learning: two case studies of Active Worlds as a medium for distance education. British Journal of Educational Technology, 36(3), 439-451.

Domingo, I., Villaverde, V., López, E., Lerma, J. L., & Cabrelles, M. (2013). Reflexiones sobre las técnicas de documentación digital del arte rupestre: la restitución bidimensional (2D) versus la tridimensional (3D), Cuadernos de arte rupestre, 6, 21-32.

Dueholm, J. & Smed, K. M. (2014). Heritage authenticities – a case study of authenticity perceptions at a Danish heritage site. Journal of Heritage Tourism, 9(4), 285–298.

El-Said, O. & Aziz, H. (2021). Virtual Tours a Means to an End: An Analysis of Virtual Tours’ Role in Tourism Recovery Post COVID-19. Journal of Travel Research, 61(3), 528-548.

Elmqaddem, N. (2019). Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality in Education. Myth or Reality?. International Journal of Emerging Technologies in Learning, 14(3), 234-242.

Fabola, A. & Miller, A. (2016). Virtual Reality for Early Education: A Study. In C. Allison, L. Morgado, J. Pirker, D. Beck, J. Richter & C. Gütl (Eds.), Immersive Learning Research Network. Cham: Springer.

Falk, H. J. & Dierking, D. L. (2000). Learning from museums. Visitor experiences and the making of meaning. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Garate, D. & Rivero, O. (2015). La “Galería de los Bisontes”: un nuevo sector decorado en la cueva de Alkerdi (Urdazubi/Urdax, Navarra). Zephyrus, 75, 17-39.

Garate, D., Rivero, O., Rios-Garaizar, J., Arriolabengoa, M., Intxaurbe, I., & Salazar, S. (2020). Redefining shared symbolic networks during the Gravettian in Western Europe: New data from the rock art findings in Aitzbitarte caves (Northern Spain). PloS one, 15(10), e0240481.

García Bustos, P. (2018). La fotogrametría digital como herramienta de estudio del arte rupestre paleolítico: aplicación al yacimiento de Domingo García, Segovia (Degree’s thesis). Universidad de Salamanca, Spain.

García Bustos, P. (2019). Aplicación de la microfotogrametría para el estudio de la traceología del grabado. El caso de la Cueva de Atxurra (Vizcaya). In G. García-Atienzar & V. Barciela-González (Eds.), Sociedades prehistóricas y manifestaciones artísticas: Imágenes, nuevas propuestas e interpretaciones (pp. 271–274). Alicante: Instituto Universitario de Investigación en Arqueología y Patrimonio Histórico.

Güth, A. (2012). Using 3D scanning in the investigation of Upper Paleolithic engravings: first results of a pilot study. Journal of Archaeological Science, 39(10), 3105-3114.

Gutiérrez Alonso, A., Farjas Abadía, M., & Domínguez Gómez, J. A. (2014). Engineering at the service of history: Paleolithic invisible images. Virtual Archaeology Review, 5(11), 14–19.

Gutowski, P., & Kłos-Adamkiewicz, Z. (2020). Development of e-service virtual museum tours in Poland during the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. Procedia computer science, 176, 2375-2383.

Huhtamo, E. (2010). On the origins of the virtual museum. In R. Parry (Ed.), Museums in a digital age (pp.121-136). London: Routledge.

ICOM (2007). Museum Definition. Retrieved May 1, 2022, from

Itani, O. S. & Hollebeek, L. D. (2021). Light at the end of the tunnel: Visitors' virtual reality (versus in-person) attraction site tour-related behavioral intentions during and post-COVID-19. Tourism Management, 84, 104290.

Jeffrey, S. (2015). Challenging Heritage Visualisation: Beauty, Aura and Democratisation. Open Archaeology, 1(1), 144-152.

Kavanagh, S., Luxton-Reilly, A., Wuensche, B., & Plimmer, B. (2017). A systematic review of Virtual Reality in education. Themes in Science and Technology Education, 10(2), 85-119.

Kim, M. J., Lee, C., & Jung, T. (2020). Exploring consumer behavior in virtual reality tourism using an extended stimulus-organism-response model. Journal of Travel Research, 59(1), 69–89.

Latham, K. F. & Simmons, J. E. (2014). Foundations of Museum Studies: Evolving Systems of Knowledge. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

Lloyd, J. (2016). Contextualizing 3D Cultural Heritage. In M. Ioannides, E. Fink, A. Moropoulou, M. Hagedorn-Saupe, A. Fresa, G. Liestøl, V. Rajcic & P. Grussenmeyer (Eds.), Digital Heritage. Progress in Cultural Heritage: Documentation, Preservation, and Protection (pp. 859-868). Cham: Springer.

Loaiza Carvajal, D. A., Morita, M. M., & Bilmes, G. M. (2020). Virtual museums. Captured reality and 3D modeling. Journal of Cultural Heritage, 45, 234-239.

Milosz, M., Skulimowski, S., Kęsik, J., & Montusiewicz, J. (2020). Virtual and interactive museum of archaeological artefacts from Afrasiyab – An ancient city on the silk road. Digital Applications in Archaeology and Cultural Heritage, 18, e00155.

Mintz, A. (1998). Media and museums: a museum perspective. In S. Thomas & A. Mintz (Eds.), The virtual and the real: the media and the museum (pp.19-34). Washington, D.C.: American Association of Museums.

Osuna, S. & López, J. (2015). Modelo de evaluación educomunicativa en la educación virtual. Opción: Revista de Ciencias Humanas y Sociales, 31(2), 832-853.

Pescarin, S., Cerato, I., & Romi, P. (2016). Virtual museums and social networks. In Proceedings of the 2016 IEEE 2nd International Forum on Research and Technologies for Society and Industry Leveraging a Better Tomorrow (pp. 1-6). Bologna, Italy.

Pierroux, P., Bäckström, M., Brenna, B., Gowlland, G., & Ween, G. B. (2020). Museums as Sites of Participatory Democracy and Design. In P. Hetland, P. Pierroux & L. Esborg (Eds.), A History of Participation in Museums and Archives. Traversing Citizen Science and Citizen Humanities (pp. 27-45). London: Routledge.

Plisson, H. & Zotkina, L. V. (2015). From 2D to 3D at macro and microscopic scale in rock art studies. Digital Applications in Archaeology and Cultural Heritage, 2(2-3), 102-119.

Rivero, O., Ruiz-López, J. F., Intxaurbe, I., Salazar, S., & Garate, D. (2019). On the limits of 3D capture: A new method to approach the photogrammetric recording of palaeolithic thin incised engravings in Atxurra Cave (northern Spain). Digital Applications in Archaeology and Cultural Heritage, 14, e00106.

Rivero, P., Navarro-Neri, I., García-Ceballos, S., & Aso, B. (2020). Spanish Archaeological Museums during COVID-19 (2020): An Edu-Communicative Analysis of Their Activity on Twitter through the Sustainable Development Goals. Sustainability, 12(19), 8224.

Sabbatini, M. (2004). Museos y centros de ciencia virtuales. Complementación y potenciación del aprendizaje de ciencias a través de experimentos virtuales (Doctoral dissertation, University of Salamanca). Retrieved from

Sarkady, D., Neuburger, L., & Egger, R. (2021). Virtual Reality as a Travel Substitution Tool During COVID-19. In W. Wörndl, C. Koo & J. L Stienmetz (Eds.), Information and Communication Technologies in Tourism (pp. 452-463). Cham: Springer.

Schweibenz, W. (2019). The virtual museum: An overview of its origins, concepts, and terminology. The Museum Review, 4(1), 1–29.

Sigala, M. (2020). Tourism and COVID-19: impacts and implications for advancing and resetting industry and research. Journal of Business Research, 117, 312-321.

Talwar, S., Kaur, P., Nunkoo, R., & Dhir, A. (2022). Digitalization and sustainability: virtual reality tourism in a post pandemic world. Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 1-28.

Trunfio, M., Lucia, M. D., Campana, S., & Magnelli, A. (2022). Innovating the cultural heritage museum service model through virtual reality and augmented reality: The effects on the overall visitor experience and satisfaction. Journal of Heritage Tourism, 17(1), 1-19.

Tsichritzis, D. & Gibbs, S. (1991). Virtual Museums and Virtual Realities. In Proceedings of the International Conference on Hypermedia and Interactivity in Museums (pp.17-25). Pittsburgh, United States.

Vayanou, M., Katifori, A., Chrysanthi, A., & Antoniou, A. (2020). Cultural Heritage and Social Experiences in the Times of COVID 19. In Proceedings of the Conference AVI2CH 2020 Advanced Visual Interfaces and Interactions in Cultural Heritage. Ischia, Italy.

Verma, S., Warrier, L. Bolia, B., & Mehta, S. (2022). Past, present, and future of virtual tourism-a literature review. International Journal of Information Management Data Insights, 2(2), 100085.

Wojciechowski, R., Walczak, K., White, M., & Cellary, W. (2004). Building virtual and augmented reality museum exhibitions. In Web3D'04: Proceedings of the Ninth International Conference on 3D Web Technology (pp. 135-186). Monterey, United States.

Zhang, S.-N., Li, Y.-Q., Ruan, W.-Q., & Liu, C.-H. (2022). Would you enjoy virtual travel? The characteristics and causes of virtual tourists’ sentiment under the influence of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tourism management, 88, 104429.




How to Cite

García-Bustos, M., Rivero, O., García Bustos, P., & Mateo-Pellitero, A. M. (2022). From the cave to the virtual museum: accessibility and democratisation of Franco-Cantabrian Palaeolithic art. Virtual Archaeology Review, 14(28), 54–64.




Funding data