The Cave of Hands: An important example of prehistoric art believed to have been created around 9,000 to 13,000 years ago

David Goran
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Located in Río Pinturas in the province of Santa Cruz, Argentina, this cave contains an exceptional assembly of cave art, made somewhere between 13,000 and 9,500 years ago.

The cave is known as the “Cueva de las Manos” which literally means, “the Cave of Hands”.

Located at the valley of the Pinturas River in Patagonia, Argentina. Photo Credit

Located in the valley of the Pinturas River in Patagonia, Argentina. Photo Credit

Hands prints at the Cuevas de las Manos. Photo Credit

Hands prints at the Cuevas de las Manos. Photo Credit

The cave was a home to the first hunter-gatherers living in southern Argentina. Photo Credit

The cave was a home to the first hunter-gatherers living in southern Argentina. Photo Credit

The region where the cave is located has been an area of major focus for archaeological research for more than 25 years.

Archaeologists speculate that the small handprints etched on the cave walls belonged to the predecessors of the Tehuelche tribe, a group of indigenous peoples of Patagonia with a history of over 14,500 years.

Several waves of people occupied the cave, and early artwork has been carbon-dated to ca. 9300 BP. Photo Credit

Several waves of people occupied the cave, and early artwork has been carbon-dated to ca. 9300 BP. Photo Credit

Made by the first dwellers of the area, a pre Tehuelche civilization. Photo Credit

Made by the first dwellers of the area, a pre-Tehuelche civilization. Photo Credit

Representation of a hunting scene. Photo Credit

Representation of a hunting scene. Photo Credit

The hunting scenes are naturalistic portrayals of a variety of hunting techniques, including the use of “bolas“ – а throwing weapon made of rounded stones at the end of interconnected crude leather straps, which was designed to capture animals by entangling their legs.

Rhea paws among human hands. Photo Credit

Rhea paws among human hands. Photo Credit

The hand imprints were made using different techniques.

The most ancient and famous are overlapped negative images, made by placing the hand on the rock face and creating an outline by blowing pigments through a tube.

Of the 829 handprints, most are male, and only 31 are right-handed. Photo Credit

Of the 829 handprints, most are male, and only 31 are right-handed. Photo Credit

In addition to the hand stenciled-outlines, there are also highly accurate representations of animals and human silhouettes, and geometric signs such as circles, stars, curved and spiral layouts.

The paints were made from vegetation (roots, bark, etc.) and the hues managed were black, purplish red, yellow, white, purple and very rarely green.

The cave is not very big in size, so probably people came here to relax after hunting and conducted various rituals.

An exceptional assemblage of cave art. Photo Credit

An exceptional assemblage of cave art. Photo Credit

Canyon at the Pinturas River, view from the caves. Photo Credit

Canyon at the Pinturas River, view from the caves. Photo Credit

Declared World Cultural Heritage Site by UNESCO. Photo Credit

Declared World Cultural Heritage Site by UNESCO. Photo Credit

The site has been declared a National Historic Monument and World Heritage Site (UNESCO) in 1999, not only for its artistic magnificence but as one of the main testimonies of prehistoric hunters that occupied the area.