Cave Paintings: Made by Men, Boys, or Artistic Women?
|December 27, 2013||Posted by Staff under Arts|
This 2013 excerpt of National Geographic, Oct 8, is by Virginia Hughes.
By comparing the relative lengths of certain fingers in eight cave sites in France and Spain, archaeologist Dean Snow determined that three-quarters of the handprints were female.
Because many early cave paintings showcase game animals —- bison, reindeer, horses, woolly mammoths —- many researchers have proposed that they were made by male hunters, perhaps to chronicle their kills or as some kind of “hunting magic” to improve success of an upcoming hunt.
“In most hunter-gatherer societies, it’s men that do the killing. But it’s often the women who haul the meat back to camp, and women are as concerned with the productivity of the hunt as the men are,” Snow said.
The hands in the caves were much more sexually dimorphic than modern hands, meaning that there was little overlap in the various hand measurements.
Several years ago, evolutionary biologist R. Dale Guthrie performed a similar analysis of Paleolithic handprints. His work—based mostly on differences in the width of the palm and the thumb. He found that the vast majority of handprints came from adolescent boys.
For adults, caves would have been dangerous and uninteresting, but young boys would have explored them for adventure, said Guthrie. “They drew what was on their mind, which is mainly two things: naked women and large, frightening mammals.”
Was most of the art made by shamans who went into trances to try to connect with the spirit world? “If you go into one of these caves alone, you start to suffer from sensory deprivation very, very quickly, in 5 to 10 minutes,” archaeologist Dave Whitley said. “It can spin you into an altered state of consciousness.” In some hunter-gatherer societies shamans are female or even transgendered.
Left answered: Why would women be the primary artists? Were they creating only the handprints, or the rest of the art as well? Would the hand analysis hold up if the artists weren’t human, but Neanderthal? Why did these ancient artists, whoever they were, leave handprints at all?
“A pretty good hypothesis is that this is somebody saying, ‘This is mine, I did this,’” Snow said.
Ed. Notes: You think prehistoric artists needed subsidies or patrons? Or was art a normal and integrated part of life that everyone practiced, like today we might all send an email? And whose caves were they? Did artists need permission or pay rent? Or were caves the commons? Maybe the handprints belonged to the landlady! Or were left by taggers! Hopefully not. And hopefully art will make a comeback and moderns will regain a love for esthetics. For that, tho’, we need leisure, security, equality, and freedom. All are things that economic justice can deliver, specifically by following geonomics.