Most Ancient Cave Artists Were Probably Women

Researcher studies stenciled hands, thinks they're female
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 10, 2013 3:40 PM CDT
Updated Oct 13, 2013 7:00 PM CDT
Most Ancient Cave Artists Were Probably Women
This file photo shows stenciled hands the El Castillo Cave of Spain.   (AP Photo/Pedro Saura, AAAS)

A Penn State archeologist has floated an intriguing theory about ancient cave art: He thinks most of the artists were women. If true, it would upend long-held notions about cave paintings given that they often depict hunts and animals, and have been traditionally ascribed to ancient men, reports National Geographic. The new theory comes about from a relatively simple study: Dean Snow's team measured the fingers of stenciled hands found in caves throughout Europe and concluded that three-quarters of them belonged to women.

Generally speaking, women have ring and index fingers of about the same length, unlike men, and that turns out to be even more pronounced in our prehistoric ancestors, says Snow. In other words, he's positive that most of these hands belong to women. "There has been a male bias in the literature for a long time," he says. "People have made a lot of unwarranted assumptions about who made these things, and why." If it holds up, the research could change ideas about traditional gender roles in ancient societies, observes the International Business Times. (Another recent archeology find: Spices were being used in cooking 6,000 years ago.)

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