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Prehistoric Cave Discovered near Angoulême

Handprint, Chauvet Cave

Also on Ionarts:
Artifacts from Cahokia (January 7, 2005)

Discovery in Greenland (February 4, 2005)

Ionarts at Cahokia (June 29, 2005)

Lascaux and Pech Merle (August 1, 2005)
Discoveries of new Ice Age art in hidden caves pop up every once in a while. An article by Anne-Marie Romero (En Charente, mystère autour d'une grotte, February 7) for Le Figaro is the first I have read of the latest one (my translation):
In Vilhonneur (Charentes), a few kilometers south of Angoulême, the discovery of a new prehistoric cave has perplexed specialists. "All in all," explains the regional curator of archeology in Poitou-Charentes, Mr. Baratin, "the cave has yielded a negative handprint surrounded with black painting, red and black dots, and a few human and animal bones [including those of hyenas!] piled up together." The practice of these blown hands is a well-known dating marker, which situates the cave in the Gravettian Period, that is, around 29,000 B.C. On the other hand, contrary to the press release published by the Ministry of Culture, M. Baratin confirmed that there is no trace of carvings or drawings, especially none of a human face, as other sources claimed.
Many of the these handprints, made by blowing colored pigment through a reed over a hand placed on the cave wall, were made with children's or women's hands. There is little agreement about their exact meaning, but some specialists think that they had some magical significance. According to the specialist quoted in the article, "That simple gesture of blowing pigment around the hand certainly had a very strong magical meaning. The hand, in effect, disappeared and was made one with the rock. This could have been a way to sanctify the cavern or to appropriate a piece of its supernatural power." As is the current official policy, the Vilhonneur cave will not be opened to the public.


Mark Barry said...

I can't decide, is the hand playful or erie. Amazing to last this long.

Charles T. Downey said...

In my experience, they are both. When I went in the Pech-Merle cave, I was touched that many of these handprints were small and perhaps made by children's hands. Just for a child to go into those deep caves must have been daunting.