Monday, June 29, 2009

There Were Cavewomen????

Who would have thought? Not researchers, it seems:

For about as long as humans have created works of art, they've also left behind handprints. People began stenciling, painting, or chipping imprints of their hands onto rock walls at least 30,000 years ago.

Until recently, most scientists assumed these prehistoric handprints were male. But "even a superficial examination of published photos suggested to me that there were lots of female hands there," Pennsylvania State University archaeologist Dean Snow said of European cave art.

I'm not sure if it's possible to prove which hands belonged to men and which belonged to women, because anything one might use (size of hands, length of fingers, finger length ratios) will allow considerable overlap between the genders. Still, I'm astonished with the assertion that most scientists simply assumed those handprints were male. How could they assume that?

The problem with studying something that ancient is that many of the working assumptions will by necessity come from something else than the actual physical evidence. Our current values, for instance, and the odd way women become invisible to some people if we are not talking about reproduction.

Somehow all this reminds me of those old cartoons about the caveman coming home to the cave after a long day of hunting for mammoths and there sits the cavewoman, cooking the dinner (of mammoth, of course). That whole scenario was based on the social myths of the era of those cartoons, not of the era of the "cavemen".
Link courtesy of Lynne.