Who made this handprint on the cave wall?

March 2, 2006
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In The Nature of Paleolithic Art, Dale Guthrie overturns many of the standard interpretations of the ancient cave paintings of the Paleolithic era. Among other things, Guthrie argues that many of the cave paintings were done by children and have similarities with present-day graffiti. Here is a short excerpt from the book:
The Identity of the People Who Made the Handprints: Statistical Results
Guthrie fig pg 121“First, the statistical analyses tell us that the majority of the Paleolithic artists who left these handprint stencils in caves were young people. But they also show a great diversity of ages. As noted by other researchers, some prints were made by very young children (younger even than those in my baseline sample). Two hand images are so small that the toddler/baby had to have been carried back into the cave. These occur in Gargas Cave in southern France, which is unusual in having passageways that are easy to traverse and an easy entrance which remained open during much of the past. That is shown by the protohistoric, Gallo-Roman, and medieval graffiti carved in the cave wall. But this is not typical for Paleolithic caves; there are few deep caves one would try to visit with a babe-in-arms.
“Handprints of adolescents are the most numerous among the Paleolithic sample. An additional 20% of the hands are within the preadolescent size and shape ranges. From various statistical tests we can conclude that, while most ages seem to be represented in the sample, it was mainly adolescents who were involved. On numerous plots, the number of prints rises with age, peaking in adolescence, then decreases toward adult sizes. From a modern perspective, one might say that a Paleolithic police officer in charge of cave vandalism could predict that the individuals frequenting caves were mostly adolescents.
“The second important observation is that the vast majority of these individuals were males. From the total sample of 201 Paleolithic hands, discriminate analysis classified 162 as male and the other 39 as either female or young male. That analysis used the measurements of thumb width, index-finger width, and index-finger length for the program.”
You may also read another excerpt. The preface to the book is also available on our website.

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