Prehistoric Cave Paintings Largely Made By Women, Not Men:The First Artists Were Women, Archeologists Say

By Staff Writer | October 15, 2013 04:17 PM EDT

The first artists were women, archeologists now say.

Most early cave drawings were by women, not men.

The assumption has long been that the first painters who made cave art were men. Most scientists surmise that the purpose of cave art had to do with luck in hunting, and that hunters were mostly men.

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"The assumption that most people made was it had something to do with hunting magic," Penn State archaeologist Dean Snow said. She's been studying hand prints in cave art for over a decade.

However, a new analysis of the ancient handprints found in France and Spain indicates that most of the early artists were female. Based on the overall size of the hand and finger length, the artists were likely women.

This common assumption may have to do with the fact that male archeologists were the first to find the handprints. "[M]ale archaeologists were doing the work," Snow said. It may be that modern gender roles "had something to do with it,"  she said.

Snow studied 32 stencils from 11 caves. Some are as old as 40,000 years old. Of 32 stencils, 24 were likely female. This new interpretation "provokes a whole series of other questions," Snow said.

"What was the role of women in producing these?" Snow wondered. Another question is what survived over time. "It may be that all we're seeing is the fraction of the art that survived," Snow said.

Still, it's a remarkable finding and has implications to many other types of scientific work-and turns some on its head. 



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