Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Dimorphic digits

Archaeologist Dean Snow of Pennsylvania State University had an epiphany a decade ago while reading the work of British biologist John Manning. Manning had discerned that the hands of men and women were dimorphic, that they differed not just in size but in the relative lengths of their fingers compared to one another. The ring fingers of men tend to be longer than their index fingers, while those two fingers are about the same length on a woman's hand. Snow had the brilliant idea of applying that knowledge to ancient cave paintings that included hand stencils. He has now analyzed those at 8 cave sites in France and Spain and determined that 75% of the handprints were female. One of these was the El Castillo cave in Cantabria, Spain, in which the hand stencils of men (IMAGE ABOVE, LEFT) were far outnumbered by the hand stencils of women (IMAGE ABOVE, RIGHT). And with that, he has overturned long-held assumptions that the paintings – of game animals including bison, reindeer, horses, and woolly mammoths – were made by males to magically improve the success of their hunts. "In most hunter-gatherer societies, it's men that do the killing. But it's often the women who haul the meat back to camp, and women are as concerned with the productivity of the hunt as the men are. It wasn't just a bunch of guys out there chasing bison around."

1 comment:

  1. Very cool application of biology to prehistoric art.


You may add your comments here.