Monday, March 3, 2008
Cueva de las Manos
Cueva de las Manos, or "Cave of the Hands" is an exceptional collection of primitive cave art dating back 9,500 to 13,000 years ago and made by the ancestors of the Tehuelche Indians, who inhabited Patagonia before the arrival of European settlers in 17th. century.
The cave name is a little misleading. It is actually a series of hanging rocks along the side of a beautiful canyon along the Río Pinturas in the middle of Patagonia. There is a cave there, but only a small one. Most of the cave art is outside on the hanging rocks around the cave entrance.
The name obviously comes from the stenciled outlines of hundreds of human hands you see above, mostly left hands. However, there are other images of animals like guanacos (they look like llamas, but have a cinnamon red color to their fur).
There are also hunting scenes with hunters and guanacos. In fact, the paintings are preserved with a guanaco fat and urine varnish.
The hands all look to be from adolescent males. One theory is that the hands marked a coming of age ritual or were done to signify the first kill of a young tribe member.
No one knows for sure. Another theory is that the hands belong to the artist making the stencil. That would account for the fact that their are hundreds of left hands but very few right hands. For some strange reason, there is even one foot.
The stenciling was done mostly in black, red, white, yellow and green tones with the earliest images done as a negative image. But, later images improved upon the technique, and used a colored undercoat (usually white) upon which the stencil was applied in another color.
Cueva de las Manos gives us a glimpse into the lives of the earliest inhabitants on the South American continent. In the 1990s it was designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
I'll close with a YouTube video of the site set to the music of Tangheto: