High Five: Prehistoric Handprints In Cave Art Hint That Women Were The First Artists

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Like a plot line straight out of the Indiana Jones franchise, Archaeologist Dean Snow of Pennsylvania State University analyzed prehistoric handprints found in eight cave sites in France and Spain, and determined that 75% of them were female, overturning decades of archaeological canon that attributed the title of “First Artists” to men.

National Geographic reports that archaeologists have found hundreds of handprints (a.k.a hand stencils) on cave walls across the world – Argentina, Africa, Borneo, and Australia. But the most famous examples are from the 12,000 to 40,000 year old cave paintings in southern France and northern Spain. This is where Dr. Snow conducted his study, which centered on comparing the relative lengths of certain fingers on the ancient hand stencils he examined (women tend to have ring and index fingers of about the same length, whereas men’s ring fingers tend to be longer than their index fingers).

Because many of these early handprints accompany paintings of game animals – bison, reindeer, horses, woolly mammoths – many researchers have proposed that they were made by male hunters. Snow’s new research, which was supported by the National Geographic Society’s Committee for Research and Exploration, shows otherwise… handprints in prehistoric cave art most often belonged to women.

handprint turkeySome experts are skeptical of his findings, while others are more convinced by the new data. Nonetheless, the reason why these artists left handprints remains a mystery.

We find it all quite fascinating. So much so, that we’ve come up with a peripheral implication. It gives those handprint turkeys we all drew as kids more significant meaning… they’re like a genetically hardcoded connection to our artistic Paleolithic foremothers.

To read the full National Geographic article click here. Lead photo courtesy of Dean Snow.

  • gargouille

    So, man brought home the bison, woman fried it up in a pan–trying to make it taste good in 1000 different ways–and then left a picture of her hand for 40000 years of posterity, as though to say, “Yes, I handled this.” Or maybe she was the huntress. Or maybe the worshipper. Or simply overflowing with artistry and a need to leave a mark–an impulse attributed only to men by philosophers of aesthetics. Would rock the world to take this seriously. Thanks for the news, WYSK!

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