Cave of hands

cave of hands, cueva de los manos, patagonia, argentina, unesco, world heritage

Cave of hands

  |   17 Comments

This is the website of travel writer, Michael Turtle. After working in broadcast journalism for a decade in Australia, Michael left Sydney to travel the world indefinitely and write about his discoveries.

Cueva de los Manos

“This is the bit where everyone likes to take photos,” my guide tells me as she points to the hands on the cave wall. “This is the most famous part.”

In some ways, it is an unnecessary comment. There is no doubt that this is going to be the highlight of my trip to the Cave of Hands in the middle of rural Patagonian Argentina. Along the stone wall of the cave are dozens of hand prints. Orange, yellow, red pigments sprayed onto the rock, while hands were placed on its cold hard surface, have left the impressions in negative of the fingers and palms.

cave of hands, cueva de los manos, patagonia, argentina, unesco, world heritage

I’m the only person here, aside from my guide, and silence fills the valley that stretches for kilometres in both directions. It hasn’t always been this lonely, though. Nine thousand years ago, a whole community of primitive hunters would pass through this valley and stay in the caves as they followed their prey across Patagonia. During these stops they would stand where I am now standing, place their palms on the rock, and leave a mark of their existence.

cave of hands, cueva de los manos, patagonia, argentina, unesco, world heritage

cave of hands, cueva de los manos, patagonia, argentina, unesco, world heritage

The hands of art

Seven thousand years before the first book was created, and four thousand years before the Egyptians started writing their hieroglyphs on the walls, the hunters of Patagonia were documenting their stories in the art of these caves of hands. Each print was a personal acknowledgement of their life, and each group of hands a demonstration of their community. Then, around these hands, they drew pictures of their daily activities that are a testament to their culture.

cave of hands, cueva de los manos, patagonia, argentina, unesco, world heritage

The main source of food was the guanaco, a llama-like animal in easy supply in this area. The drawings on the caves show the men hunting the creatures with primitive weapons but ingenious tactics. In one tableau, a crack in the rock is used to represent a ravine that the hunters chase the animals into, making them easier to catch.

cave of hands, cueva de los manos, patagonia, argentina, unesco, world heritage

There are lizards and spiders, pregnant animals, baby animals and even evil spirits in the drawings. The things that make their world what it is are all depicted on the rock.

cave of hands, cueva de los manos, patagonia, argentina, unesco, world heritage

cave of hands, cueva de los manos, patagonia, argentina, unesco, world heritage

“What are those dots painted onto the roof of the cave,” I ask the guide.

“They could be the stars in the sky,” she says, “or maybe the marks of a game where the children would throw painted balls into the air.” She chuckles. “We don’t really understand everything.”

The history of the Cave of Hands

There’s something nice about not knowing everything. The imagination is free to fill in the blanks. I can picture the tribe sitting here, hunched around a fire, eating their guanaco, turning its skin into clothes, and painting the stories of the day on the walls around them. I look at those pictures now and a scene comes to life, of men chasing the animals, shouting at each other to surround a herd, of proudly bringing their bounty back to their families.

cave of hands, cueva de los manos, patagonia, argentina, unesco, world heritage

cave of hands, cueva de los manos, patagonia, argentina, unesco, world heritage

Their stories haven’t been lost. Their lives haven’t been forgotten. Their paintings are more than just a diary for themselves because they have become a record of the time and a constant reminder of their existence. The ancient residents of the Cave of Hands have become what every artist, writer and even blogger dreams of being – narrators of history.

UNESCO world heritage siteThis is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. For more info click here.
You can see all the UNESCO World Heritage Sites I’ve visited here.

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17 Comments
  • Sophie | Mar 23, 2012 at 7:57 pm

    Fascinating place. Never heard of it, so thanks for sharing :)
    Sophie recently posted..Devil’s BridgeMy Profile

    • Turtle | Mar 27, 2012 at 2:41 am

      Yeah, it was a great place to visit. I don’t think many people go there so happy I could bring it a bit of attention.

  • Wanderplex | Mar 24, 2012 at 6:29 am

    This was a pleasure to read – very nice storytelling and lovely photos to boot. I hadn’t heard of this place before but it’s on my bucket list now. Thanks :)
    Wanderplex recently posted..What’s new ’round the web: week of 03/23/12My Profile

    • Turtle | Mar 27, 2012 at 2:42 am

      Let me know if you ever make it there and what you think. It’s pretty awesome, in my opinion.

  • Heather Caliri | Mar 24, 2012 at 3:57 pm

    Even though I’m only seeing a photo, it seems like those hands are reaching out to ours, touching us through that cold, hard rock…
    Heather Caliri recently posted..How little yeses add up to big steps: Part 1My Profile

    • Turtle | Mar 27, 2012 at 2:43 am

      What a beautiful way to put it! It does feel exactly like that – it’s almost as if the people who made those paintings thousands of years ago are still with us…

  • Zia Courtney | Mar 28, 2012 at 12:34 pm

    What a very relaxing photo and I really love to go this place. Argentina is such a beautiful place!

    • Turtle | Mar 29, 2012 at 3:18 am

      Argentina has a lot of variety (it is such a huge country!). There’s a lot of beauty everywhere you go.

  • Amanda | Apr 13, 2012 at 3:27 pm

    Wow, I’d never even heard of this place before! Kind of gives you chills, though, to think of handprints that old. Thanks for sharing!
    Amanda recently posted..Thursday Traveler(s): Dalene and Pete Heck of Hecktic TravelsMy Profile

    • Turtle | Apr 17, 2012 at 11:18 pm

      Yeah, it’s not very well-known but it’s so strange to see the hand prints still looking so fresh after all those years!

  • Best Blogs of the Month: March, 2012 » A Dangerous Business Travel Blog | Apr 14, 2012 at 7:55 am

    […] Cave of hands at Time Travel Turtle […]

  • Dani | Apr 14, 2012 at 5:42 pm

    What a fascinating place! Never heard of anything like that.
    Dani recently posted..Please don’t go to…Muang Ngoi Neua | LaosMy Profile

    • Turtle | Apr 17, 2012 at 11:21 pm

      You should put it on your to-do list! :)

  • candice michelle | Apr 23, 2012 at 9:18 pm

    Wow! this is a great article!

    • Turtle | Apr 25, 2012 at 10:34 pm

      Thanks Candice. Glad you enjoyed it.

  • Frank Förster | Jan 22, 2013 at 6:50 am

    Dear Michael Turtle,

    I’m a research assistant at the University of Cologne, Germany, and currently work on the documentation of a major rock art site in Egypt, the so-called “Cave of Beasts” or Wadi Sura II (for details, please visit our website http://wadisura.phil-fak.uni-koeln.de/). In this cave, a lot of hand stencils occur, similar to the Cueva de las Manos.
    I was wondering whether you would allow me to reproduce one of your images in high resolution (the 1st, 2nd, or 5th on this website) in a contribution to a scientific, non-commercial volume on the Wadi Sura rock art, edited by Dr. Rudolph Kuper, in order to illustrate the worldwide occurrence of such hand stencils. I would very much appreciate if you could help in this matter (of course you will be cited as the author of the picture!).

    Looking forward to hearing from you,
    Frank Förster
    ([email protected])

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