Earliest cave paintings were the result of female artists, researchers say
Analysis of ancient paintings show a distinct, feminine hand they say
According to a new study, prehistoric cave art paintings, which are long thought to have been made by male hunters to commemorate their kills may actually have been the work of women. This new assertion rattles the widely held archaeological belief that mankind's first artists were mostly men engaging in some sort of magical ritual.
Archaeologist Dean Snow of Pennsylvania State University began his study 10 years ago after discovering the work of John Manning, a British biologist who had found that men and women's fingers have different relative lengths. Snow dusted off a 40-year-old book about cave paintings and found a picture of a hand stencil from the famous Pech Merle cave in southern France.
"I looked at that thing and I thought, man, if Manning knows what he's talking about, then this is almost certainly a female hand," Snow said.
"There has been a male bias in the literature for a long time. People have made a lot of unwarranted assumptions about who made these things, and why."
Creating an algorithm using a reference set of hands from people of European descent, Snow's analysis determined that 75 percent of the cave art hands were female.
Snow's research suggests the woman's role in prehistoric society was much greater than previously thought.
The cave paintings were probably made using two techniques. Some individuals may have held their hands against the rock surface while holding a pigment filled tube in the other and blowing through the tube to spray the pigment, in an early example of "air brushing." Others may have spat the pigment directly from the mouth through pursed lips.
Hand stencils and hand prints have been found in 12-40,000 year old cave paintings in southern France and northern Spain, but they have also been found in Australia, Argentina, Africa and Borneo.
Snow's findings have not been universally accepted. Several years ago, evolutionary biologist R. Dale Guthrie performed a similar analysis of Paleolithic hand prints. Guthrie says the vast majority of hand prints came from adolescent boys.
Young boys would have explored caves for adventure, said Guthrie, an emeritus professor at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. "They drew what was on their mind, which is mainly two things: naked women and large, frightening mammals," he added.
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