HANDS of TIME

What was life like for the creators of this cave art between 9,300 and 1,300 years ago? We stood there attempting to imagine it. High above a striking river valley on nearly vertical rock walls groups of inhabitants got together to paint. This must have been fun play time for people whose struggle for survival surely occupied most of their waking hours.

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It’s easy to imagine small bands of ancient peoples entering this valley in search of shelter and a place to call home.

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The entrance to the main cave. Most of the art is on surfaces outside which makes their preservation for up to 9,300 years astonishing.

Cueva de los Manos (Cave of the Hands) an exceptional assemblage of cave art located in Argentina’s western Patagonia region gives us a glimpse into the lives of the former inhabitants. The artists may have been the ancestors of historic hunter-gatherer communities of Patagonia. Most of the paintings are the stenciled outlines of human hands. There are depictions of animals like the guanacos and hunting scenes with humans and animals interacting. Later depictions include more abstract art.

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Rhea, related to Emu and Ostrich, roam the area now as they did 10,000 years ago
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There are hunting scenes of Guanaco which were present then as now.

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To an untrained eye the scenes could look more recent than thousands of years ago because the colors are so vivid and well preserved but the authenticity of the rock art is unquestionable. The pictoral sequence has been verified by in depth research with the art sequence based on detailed study of overlapping and the use of different hues at various states of conservation supported by carbon dating.

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Hunting scene with bolas (rocks tied to chords) being used to ensnare the guanaco.
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The six fingered hand. Note it is not a negative image, perhaps artistic license?

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It is believed that the artists created the negative images using a spray paint method by blowing natural mineral pigments through bones and painted with feathers. Iron oxides made reds and purple, kaolin was ground for white, natrojarosite for yellow and manganese oxide for black was mixed with some sort of binder. One has to wonder, did the hunter-gatherers who last inhabited the caves in AD 700 know that they were mixing quality paints which we could enjoy in 2016?

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