Maria de Sautuola and the cave paintings of Altamira

In short...

Themes: Inspirational children; curiosity; having the courage to ask questions.

Summary: This assembly focuses on the extraordinary discovery made by Maria de Sautuola when she was just eight years old and the curiosity she needed to make it.

Resources: The framework to download / print (pdf), a reproduction of an image of a bison from the Altamira cave, and a map showing the location of Altamira in northern Spain.

The video

Maria was a young girl who lived in Altamira, Spain. She belonged to a wealthy land-owning family and her father was an archaeologist. When he went exploring for artefacts Maria would often go with him.

The land near Maria's home included a number of caves, which she had been warned never to go into alone. One day her father decided to explore inside one particular cave and Maria accompanied him. Maria explored deep inside the cave using just a candle to light her way. Then, holding her candle aloft, she discovered something that no-one had seen for a very, very long time...paintings on the ceiling of the cave that dated from pre-history.

Duration: 4' 52"

End of speech: '...until a girl called Maria de Sautuola went exploring.'

Video questions

  • Maria’s father is an archaeologist. What would you like to find if you were an archaeologist?
  • Maria was told that the caves were dangerous. What might have happened to her if she’d gone inside on her own?
  • Why do you think she gripped her candle very tightly?
  • How do you think Maria felt when she first saw inside the cave? Why do you think a shiver went down her spine?
  • How do you think she felt when she found the paintings? Who do you think might have painted the paintings?
  • Maria discovered something that no-one had ever seen before. How does it feel to learn something new?
  • What made Maria a good explorer?

Key links

Assembly framework (pdf)
document
Image: a bison from the Altamira Cave
image
Image: map showing location of Altamira
image

Suggested framework

1. Entry
You could play the instrumental version of one of the suggested songs.

2. Introduction

  • Display the image of the bison cave painting. What do pupils think it shows? What animal is it? Can they say anything about where it is painted or the surface it is painted on?
  • Discuss with pupils what an explorer does. If they could go exploring, where would they like to go? What would they like to discover?
  • Who? What? Why? Where? When? These are all good words to help us explore!
  • Display the map image showing the location of Altamira within Europe. Tell the assembly that they are going to watch a short video about a young girl - just 8 years old - who made a famous discovery, because she had the curiosity to ask 'Who? What? Why? Where? When?'

3. The video
Play the video. The duration is 4' 52" and the final words are: '...until a girl called Maria de Sautuola went exploring.'

4. After the video - Time to talk
Talk about the story:

  • Maria’s father was an archaeologist. What would you like to find if you were an archaeologist?
  • Maria was told that the caves were dangerous. What might have happened to her if she’d gone inside on her own?
  • Why do you think Maria gripped her candle very tightly?
  • How do you think Maria felt when she first saw inside the cave? Why do you think a shiver went down her spine?
  • How do you think she felt when she found the paintings? Who do you think might have created the paintings?
  • Maria discovered something that no-one had ever seen before. How does it feel to learn something new?
  • What made Maria a good explorer?

5. Opportunity to sing
There are suggestions for a song to include from BBC collections below.

6. Opportunity to reflect
We've heard today about Maria de Sautuola...a young girl who made an extraordinary discovery...
Maria was a good explorer because she had curiosity and liked to ask questions...questions that begin with 'Who? What? Why? Where? When?'
There is so much in the world around us to explore...new places...new people...new things to learn...
How will you be a good explorer like Maria today..? What will you seek to discover..?

7. Opportunity for prayer
Use your usual form of address ('Dear God' etc) and:
Thank you for the wonderful places and things that we can discover.
Thank you for the people who help us make discoveries and learn new things.
Help us to share what we learn with other.
Amen.

Suggested songs

Song: 'While we live we learn' (All about our school, no 3. Vocal version)

Song: 'Give me oil in my lamp' (Come and Praise, no 43. Vocal version)