Women and cave art paintings? Just finished reading an article from National Geographic that women may have made the oldest-known cave art paintings. Archaeologists “analyzed hand stencils found in eight caves in France and Spain… and by comparing the relative lengths of certain fingers determined that three-quarters of the handprints were female.” Hand stencils have also been found in caves in places such as Africa, Borneo, Australia, and Argentina. I find this fascinating as a woman for a couple of reasons. First, we may finally have a new viewpoint to consider regarding prehistoric women’s contribution. Second, this new information has implications for the very male dominated archeology field. They may have to rethink their more slanted belief systems.
These findings counter the more commonly held belief that men created the art in the caves in what would have been a rigidly gender-determined society. When you think about it, if the men did the hunting, that left the women at home tending the hearth. Perhaps there was more time for women at the camps to explore and create the cave art paintings as the hunt could have been a few weeks long. Now that still does not answer the question why they showcased their hands and game animals. Was it strictly to tabulate their kills or to insure success for the upcoming hunt?
Of course the handprints could be that of young men. They may have, more willingly, explored caves and would have smaller handprints but, it seems, according to the researchers, that there was very little overlap in the various hand measurements. “Twenty thousand years ago, men were men and women were women.”
Then there is the shamanic/religious theory which formulates that the shaman would go into a cave and go into an altered state of consciousness to access the spirit world. This viewpoint is great as it doesn’t discount the possibility of a female shaman as some hunter-gatherer societies still adhere to this practice.
These new findings raise more questions than they answer. A new study has recently suggested that Neanderthals may have created some of the first cave art paintings. If this proves to be true would this new data still retain the same validity for women as the first cave art artists? Did women create all of the artwork or just part and parcel? Why handprints at all? Is this similar to our modern day graffiti or was this their personal mark for posterity?Women and cave art paintings? Really? There is, of course, one more off the cuff theory to take into account. As one very witty National Geographic writer wrote, perhaps “cave women, like their modern counterparts, grew tired of waiting for their mates to do the job and just went ahead with some interior decorating.” I love that…