Cave Art in Patagonia: The Cave of the Hands

Cave Art in Patagonia: The Cave of the Hands
Cave Art in Patagonia: The Cave of the Hands

Located on the Cañadón del Río Pinturas (Santa Cruz Province, Argentine Republic), the Cueva de las Manos was discovered by Expert Francisco P. Moreno in 1876, and constitutes one of the first testimonies of art cave paintings that are preserved to this day, with representations spanning more than 9,000 years, from the initial Holocene Period to the Postglacial.

Cave of the hands

The cave is 24 meters deep, 15 meters wide at its mouth, and about 10 meters high to the beginning of the visor. Precisely this visor, and the succession of projections and eaves that protect it from the harsh climate prevailing in the region, have been the fundamental points for its great state of conservation.

Belonging to the Tehuelcehes Indians and their ancestors, who inhabited that area 13,000 years before Christ, the paintings have been classified into three main groups:

7730 BC to 5470 BC:

Representation of hands in negative on colored surfaces The raw material for these paintings was mostly hematin (red), manganese or charcoal (black) and limonite or yellow ocher (yellow), diluted with guanaco fat, urine or water.

Hunting scenes are also represented, with illustrations of human beings and guanacos. One of them portrays a group of men surrounding a herd of these animals, while another expresses thedisbanded from another herd through a canyon. The scenes stand out for their dynamism and the accuracy of the lines, particularly in the guanacos. The artist extends the detail even in a succession of thin lines, representing the trajectory of the projectiles, called lost balls, similar to the Bolas but, as his name indicates, not recoverable.

5430 BC to 1430 BC:

Already less dynamic, but despite this, these paintings represent an advance in the techniques used, by incorporating the color white (with the characteristic of being the first to use this color), and the red takes on more dark. The animal representation ceases to belong exclusively to guanacos, standing out the so-called "Matuasto", similar to the lizards of the region. The number of paintings of hands is increasing, largely left and including the forearm, even though female or children's hands are rare.

1430 BC to 1000 AD:

This last group represents linear human figures, and stands out for using a bright red. It incorporates abstraction in geometric drawings, triangles opposed by the vertex, long zig-zag lines, concentric circles, and others that reveal its lesser antiquity.

The techniques used in this painting are finger dragging, blowing, pen or brush, or impact (hitting with a paint-soaked object).

Apparently the purposes of these representations would be magical-religious practices conducive to fertility, reproduction,the success of the hunt, and ritual medicine.

Scenes with a large number of hands would express a supplication or prayer to superior forces, while hands near herds of animals would express a desire to capture them, as well as a request for an abundance of prey.

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