Sunday, September 2, 2012


Prehistoric cave paintings have been an interest of ours since we saw Lascaux (II) in 1989 and also Pech Merle. I had already acquired a fascination with hands-in-negative painting (spraying paint over one's hand, leaving its outline) and saw my first such at Pech Merle. On our more recent travels we have visited Alta Mira (II) and the Cueva de la Pileta near Ronda, Spain. My recollection is that Pech Merle has one hand-in-negative, that Alta Mira has three, and Lascaux and Cueva de la Pileta have none. There are some 500 hands-in-negative prehistoric paintings known in Europe. Nearly half of them are at Gargas. But hands-in-negative are found all over the world; one of my favorite examples is from South America. In any case, they have become a symbol for art and perhaps a symbol for humanity.

Gargas is really two caves, the upper being Magdalenian, with abstract symbols and animal paintings (species now extinct), about 15,000 years old now; the lower is Gravettian, recently carbon-dated to 26,000 years ago, and that's where all the hands-in-negative paintings are. Unlike Lascaux and Alta Mira, one can actually go into Gargas and see the real things, or some of them. Reservations are required, visits are guided, numbers entering are limited, and tour/visits can last no more than 50 minutes. All for preservation purposes. There is a strict no fotos in the caves policy, and, uncharacteristically, I complied with it. Alas, there is very little of Gargas on the web, so I have little to show except the following, some of which are off the web and some of which are photos of photos.
The visitor/interpretive center; and gift shoppe; the
interpretive stuff was quite good, with representations of
many of the items the tours don't see

Actual entrance to actual cave

Alcove image that has become the symbol of the place; at
Gargas many of the hands have shortened or missing digits;
earlier this was seen as mutilation, some sort of "religious"
rite; more recently theorists think the digits are simply
turned inward or downward and that the whole was some
form of "communication"...

Example from the interpretive center 

Off the web and perhaps digitally enhanced; but you get
the I recall, this is sort of how catchers communicate
with pitchers in American baseball...reading left to right and
top to bottom, these say screwball, slider, inside curve, fastball,
outside curve, change-up...

In the Cave of the Hands, near Santa Cruz, Argentina,
c. 7,000-11,000 BCE (off the web); I want to go there...

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