Cueva de las Manos (World Heritage)

Cueva de las Manos (World Heritage)

South America

Cueva de las Manos (World Heritage), the “Cave of Hands” contains impressive evidence of the earliest human societies and prehistoric culture in South America.

It shows handprints, hunting scenes and geometric figures from around 7400 to 1000 BC. Chr.

Cueva de las Manos: facts

Official title: Cueva de las Manos (cave paintings), Rio Pinturas
Cultural monument: Rock paintings in the colors black, ocher, almond, red and purple, spread over an area of ​​over 200 m, including. “Hand drawings” and hunting scenes with ten or more hunters and groups of 20 to 40 guanacos
Continent: America
Country: Argentina, Patagonia
Location: between Bajo Caracoles and Perito Moreno
Appointment: 1999
Meaning: prehistoric rock art as evidence of the earliest human societies in South America

Cueva de las Manos: history

approx. 11000-7500 BC Chr. »Hand drawings« as well as dynamic, naturalistic representations of people and guanacos in ocher
approx. 5000-1300 BC Chr. increasingly “hand” and “forearm drawings”; of the 829 registered “prints” only 31 of the right extremities; Loss of the dynamic representation of the guanacos
1300-1000 BC Chr. geometric motifs such as zigzag bands and triangles, a series of white hands on a red background and schematic representations of people
1941 first photographic documentation by AM de Agostini
since 1964 Studies by Carlos J. Gradin
1998 Documentation and management plan by María Onetto

Red framed hands on the wall

Not far from the end of the world, in the remote, vast and fascinating region of Patagonia, lies the valley of the Río Pinturas, the “Valley of the Paintings”, the name of which is owed to an Italian scientist since 1904. More than two decades earlier, an English traveler had christened this region the “Land of the Devil” because his adventurous journey through Patagonia was accompanied by all sorts of difficulties.

The Pinturas meanders like a moving snake through a very deep canyon formed by high rock walls. Sometimes the river seems to shimmer silver, sometimes blue, depending on the weather and the season, also green and gold. And light and shadow leave an attractive, constantly changing »play of patterns« on the rock faces. A central high plateau, pampas, side valleys, hollows and lakes of the Andes, here and there fertile plains, bushes and grass steppes determine the landscape of the area. According to franciscogardening, guanacos, pumas, Argentine gray foxes, Patagonian skunks, pygmy armadillos and rheas roam the area, while some mighty Andean condors are preying in the air.

But this is not the real treasure that the “Valley of Images” preserves. No, they are probably the earliest rock art in South America: Cueva de las Manos, the »Cave of Hands«. The earliest “artistic traces” of the hunter-gatherer society of this southern tip of what is now Argentina can be found in it. At the foot of the rocky cliffs that frame the canyon, there are some rock niches and overhangs that were used by the “natives” as a “picture gallery”. For the viewer, these are a special aesthetic experience because of their unique location, designs and composition, but also because of their multicolor. Nature and art seem to have entered into a close connection: The “signs on the rock face” come from the “spirit” of nature, almost all of whose living creatures in the area were depicted.

Drawing rock carvings was part of the culture of hunters and gatherers who, according to archaeologists today, first settled in the Cueva de las Manos around 13,000 years ago. Their prey was mostly guanacos, the meat, skins, bones and sinews of which were processed and used. Our “ancestors” left us extraordinary hunting scenes in which hunters and the hunted were depicted in a very dynamic and naturalistic way. And we learn about the preferred hunting strategies: The “game” was either surrounded or lured into an ambush, sometimes pursued in a kind of driven hunt and shot using slingshots and a hail of stone balls. So it’s no wonder that in addition to individual hunters, hunting parties of more than 20 people can also be discovered.

A particular attraction are the more than 800 »hand negatives« in all sorts of shades of color. Mostly it is the left hands of children, adolescents and adults. Sometimes the forearm has also been immortalized on the rock face. In addition, in deep red you can find geometric figures such as zigzag bands, straight lines, circles and points next to schematic sketches of people and animals.

The unknown painters used pigments for their art, which they mixed with organic material after grinding to produce a kind of crayon. The fingertips or thin brushes were used to apply the colors. The “drawn hands” were applied using a kind of original screen printing technique: the pigment was mixed with water, taken up in the mouth and then “sprayed” over the hand lying on the rock. To this day, the rock carvings of the Cueva de las Manos are irreplaceable gifts for deciphering the history of human development, which in the 21st century still has to solve puzzles of the past.

Cueva de las Manos (World Heritage)