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Cueva de las Manos
‘Cave of the Hands’
From the beginning of history until now, human beings have established and created countless of achievement. These achievements include all kinds of objects that we can see nowadays, and the most significant one among all is the creation of paintings. Paintings are developing from times to times, and most of them that we have come across in our daily life are usually drawn on papers or clothes. However, if we take a look at the early paintings, we can get the conclusion straight away that those paintings were drawn on the rock in caves. With the creative mind of human, the early people came up with a brilliant idea of cave paintings, and this idea were spread to other group of people continuously. The earliest cave paintings now can be found in some part of the world including Europe, South Africa, South America, North American, Australia, and even some countries in Southeast Asia. The area that those cave paintings are located in now become the world’s most popular tourists’ destination and this goes the same with paintings in Cueva de las Manos.
Cueva de las Manos is Spanish name which means ‘Cave of the Hands’ in English. This cave is located in Patagonia Region, Santa Cruz Province which is the biggest province in Argentina. Archaeologists estimate that the age of this cave painting is between 10,000 and 1,000 years old. An Italian whose name is Alberto M. De Agostini was the one who first discovered this cave in 1941. After this discovery the name of this painting started to be known by humankind.
I decided to choose this cave painting without any hesitation because of three main reasons. First, just by looking at the pictures, I became very curious about this painting. I am not a very artistic person, so I used to have little interest in any kinds of art; however, while I was looking at this cave painting, a strange feeling came to me that made me want to know more about this painting. Second, the details I got when I finished researching this cave are quite unique. It may be just a simple painting with hands, animals and others, but there are so many fantastic theories about it. The last reason is its usefulness to all my classmates. Most people tend to look at things on the outside, and they usually ignore what lies there inside. Therefore, I believe that my assignment about this cave painting will open a new path for them to think critically and to not judge the book by its cover. Moreover, my classmates might also start to find possible theories regarding anything they come across later on in their life.
The following paragraphs will discuss about the main focus of the painting and what we can learn about the past in the painting. In the main focus of the painting, there will be the explanation on what materials were used to create various colors in the painting. This also includes the detailed characteristic of the painting, the depiction and the representation of the painting. After finishing all of those points, we will get to know during that period of time what the social life was like, what religion the native people followed, what their communities was like, and what they did for a living.
Unlike modern paintings, cave paintings always give people curiosity about what kind of materials the ancient people used in order to get paintings consisting of many different colors. For Cave of The Hands, we can see that there are red, purple, white, yellow and black. According to World Heritage Committee (WHC), all of those colors were made of natural mineral pigments. The evidence of those materials, especially the emulsions such as water or grease, does not remain much; therefore, it is very difficult to know what kind of binding they used. However, WHC said that after the examination through the X Ray Difraction Method, we finally get to know what they used to make each color. The color red and purple were created most commonly by iron oxide. To be more specific iron oxide are hematite and maghemite. Furthermore, a clay material called kaolin was used to produce white color. A newly discovered chemical substance called natrojarosite was found in the yellow part of the painting. The committee also found that the artists of this cave painting used another oxide called, manganese oxide for the last color, black.
After going through the materials used for each color, the next common question that pops into our mind is what characteristics of the painting are. Just simply looking at the painting, some people might get the whole picture; however, most of the time they miss the complexity of the picture in front of them. Researchers found that there are more than 800, 831 to be exact, hands printed, and there are seven sections along 680 meters long of the painting. Each hand was estimated to be a size of a 13-year-old boy. Almost every hand is the evidence of the left hands except 31 hands which were found to be right hands. Podestá and his co-writers showed in their book that some negative printed hands were made on previously surface, so its polychrome effect is quite beautiful. Regarding this matter, Lindholm and Roldan stated in their book that there are also sight of some guanacos hunting scenes, some men dancing, a pair of choique and puma leg and some abstracted figures.
On the paintings, it is not strange for us to see both human and animal figure. The variety of animal figures in the cave paintings includes guanacos, rheas and felines. However, among those animal many documents mentioned that guanacos were the most popular animals because there are a lot of guanacos figures in many paintings. Besides this, there are also feline figures which are normally with groups’ representations. It is surprising that, according to Podestá and his co-writers, comparing to the animal figures, human figures are in the same size. This somehow shows that while animal figure was reduced only around ten times in real size, the human figure was twenty times smaller than its natural size. Besides these two most important figures of human and animal, this cave painting also consists of other interesting shapes. Even though the other shapes are hid around human and animal figure, the researchers can still understand each shape easily. Those shapes include schematic art, geometric elements or an abundance of signs such as circles, zigzags, spirals, three-digits, rosettes or circles surrounded by dots, V strokes and labyrinth figures.
According to a government’s website of Argentina, the collection of rock art found in Cave of the Hands demonstrates culture of the earliest civilization in the whole South America continent. This makes the Cave of the Hands becomes even more to interesting for the archaeologists to continue their research in this area. Even though they still cannot find the purposes of creating this painting, the archaeologist achieved a huge discovery that those painting in the Cave of the Hands were created by a group of hunter-gathers. To be more specific, those hunter-gathers groups were mostly guanacos- hunters, and we can conclude this because of hunting scenes on the walls. Adding more to the point that has mentioned, those groups had the ability to use canyon to protect themselves from harm even as early as thousands of years ago.
From Cueva de las Manos’s painting, we can guess that those animals on the painting were presented with great care of the artists. The hunting scenes have a very clear meaning that the weapon those early people used to trap and kill any animal is a latter known as bolas. Other scenes have the pictures of hunters throwing bolas at the animals they were chasing. Groups of ten or more individuals can be seen attacking twenty or more guanacos in those scenes and this shows that people at that prefer to hunt in groups, not individual. The other scenes lie close to them is picture of only one hunter who takes part in an isolated persecution of the prey. Artist took into account the particular configuration of the panels that served as a surface for executing the hunting scenes. They used both the interior and the exterior of rock caves. The development of representations of hunting activities was very high because it is covered by several sectors of the rocky surfaces. Another surprising thing of the society during Cave of the hands period is how the artists created some guanaco silhouettes which stand in line, in horizontal linear sequences and occasionally in sinuous sequences.
In that community hunting scenes, there are around forty guanacos that have been found. Every now and then, we can see that the silhouette chasing animal of one hunter, and that hunter was nearly able to catch the animal from the rest of its herd. If we take European Paleolithic art into consideration, we can get the meaning that those hunting-gathering groups thought of the animals as very important objects and even more important than the hunters themselves. Podestá and his co-writers agree to this by adding that in most of the picture the artists show the side of human when they were running and the face side when they were standing.
In conclusion, Cueva de las Manos is considered to be one of the most amazing cave paintings due to several aspects. From the use of color to the illustration of the past, this cave painting gives us important information about the early people in Argentina. Like other cave paintings, after several research the purposes of the creation of this cave painting is still a mystery. However, this is not the main for us now. Human activities affected this cave area badly, and if there are still no measures to stop them now, this symbol of human creativity will be lost. In 1999, Cueva de las Manos was included in the World Heritage list because of several reasons. After being in the World Heritage list, the conservation of the area nearby this cave painting also establishes since there are many different types of animals and plants living in this area, and guanacos, the most important animals during Cave of the Hands, are also one of those species. Therefore, putting this cave painting into the World Heritage does not only give tourism benefits to Argentina, but also help this South America country with preserving the species of both plants and animal.
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