XXV Valcamonica Symposium
Capo di Ponte, September 20-26, 2013Art as the Source of History
Presence or Possession
revealed by Handprints
dubal @ archaeometry.org
history of handprints (female & male) testifies for the attempt
environment, far more than possession, obsession of modern patriarchal societies.
The easiness of the stencil techniques promoted negative handprints as the most common
metonymical "auto-rappresentazione" (as coined by Mathilde Vigneri) in "sheltered Rock Art".
On the other
hand, in "outdoor Rock Art" the amount of work involved in engraving
disqualified this type of metonymy to the benefit of "whole body anthropomorphic icons".
Negative handprints is a most frequent
figure in Rock Art.
Surprisingly, only a handful of them are tagging other kind of Rock Art.
Tagging is (according to Wikipedia):
a way of signing ones name anonymously
using cheap spray-paint & cheap stencils.
Hand-stencils are obviously cheap.
The stencilled hand in the cave of Airvaux (France)
reminds us that hand tagging is a very old practice .
Such a handprint touches us by its intimacy:
It is a physical representations of the tagger...male or female!
Dean R. SNOW suggests to apply Manning's ratio:
D2/D4 to the study of negative handprints.
Accordingly, the tagger of Airvaux might well be a left-handed female...
What might blur gender statistics of handprints
is the fact that some taggers - right or left-handed -
might have duplicated n-times their handprints....
While in most sites only one colour has been used,
@ La Cueva de las Manos (Argentina), sprays have been manufactured
from a whole variety of pigments: black, orange, yellow, bright green...
or white...with an interesting case of sexdigitism!
The color of the background is visually very important.
White spray on red background...
looks very different...than on grey background or
than red spray on grey background.
In some sites, fingers are unexpectedly short.
@ Gargas...should one incriminate the frost
for the missing fingertips?
But then...why also in Sahara, @Tassili n Ajjers ?
André Leroi Gourhan analyzed the frequencies of
finger combinaisons, i.e., three patterns @Gargas
occuring 12, 13 & 4 times respectively.
He suggested the use of a digital code... analog to
the bushmen hunters (Kalahari) game code,
here: monkey, warthog & giraffe.
Hand stencils...what else ?
While hand stencils have been intensively used in Rock Art,
and before looking into compositions with handprints,
it is instructive to review the extend of the use of
other flat lamellar objects as stencils.
@BradyCk/Laura (NE Australia),
there is a stencilled left footprint,
as well as @ Carnavon Gorge
@ Mudgee (NSW Australia), a pair of
baby's footprints, high up on a panel, has been reported.
J.L.Le Quellec, see fig 552 of le-quellec_du-sahara-au-nil.pdf
found @Wadi Sora (Sahara), right footprints
of young and adult in relation with handprints.
In contrast to the rarity of human footprint
footprint engravings are common, i.e. in Galicia.
@ La Cueva de las Manos, nandu footprints are
mixed with human handprints
Nandu are large bipeds unable to fly...
a common handicap so to speak !
In Australia, there are no nandus but emus.
Some are represented, i.e.: @Brady Ck Art Gallery.
Emu footprints appear frequently as engravings.
i.e.: @ sites of the Laura area.
Stencilled emu footprint are seldom:
i.e.: @ Mudgee
@ Carnarvon site, Don HITCHCOCK took great pictures
of stencilled kanguroo footprints,
as well as stencilled weapons:
one Lil-Lil club recto-verso, one flat bladed wooden war club,
eight 1-shot boomerangs / 3 axes & 2 V-shaped boomerangs
and other stencilled artefacts:
Che-Ky-Ra pendants with string / large coolamon
@ Wadi Sora, J.L. Le QUELLEC found similar stencils of
coolamon in association with handprints
But Australian Rock Art offers the widest range of stencils !
R.G.GUNN reports (see: 2012_stencil_masks_RAR_29-2.pdf) ,
@ Jawoyn RockArt Gallery, a stencilled leaf !
Further kind of stencils might also have been used for RockArt,
i.e.: Virtual stencils, such as the profile of the shadow
of a carved figurine (out of wood, clay or ivory?)
under a single narrow spotlight
(a torch indoor, and the sun outdoor).
The miror-inverted profile of the venus of Cussac
overlapps pretty well the one of Pech-Merle.
In my opinion, the use of a virtual stencil
(shadow of a figurine recto-verso)
cannot be rule out prior to an appropriate testing.
Bertrand DAVID was the first to demonstrated with a piece charcoal,
how easy it is to draw with a virtual stencil the profile of a horse.
see his u-tube clip: www.youtube.com/watch?v=f8kvxDdgDQI
Handprints by pair
@ Pech Merle, a pair of hands are riding a horse.
Is it a kind of coded message ?
The R.D. SNOW identified the right handprint as strongly female.
@La Cueva de las Manos, a pair of handprints crosses its thumbs,
symmetrically duplicated left & right hands,
are false pairs of hands.
@ Carnarvon Gorge
Photo: Don HITCHCOCK
there is even a triplet...
Cape York (Australia) & in Kalimatan
one faces a brain-raking enigma.
DNA analysis suggests this geographical area
to have hosted Homo Denisovanis,
the recently discovered parallell humankind.
The crossed hands @ Wallaroo Gallery suggest the
wrists were tied-up, while the downwards thumbs
may hints toward a sacrificial ritual ?
@ Gua Masri, L.-H. FAGE photographed
two similar cross-handprints compositions
and also in Sulawesi Is., again in Homo Denisovanis area,
Kinez RIZA photographed those cross-handprints.
They have been recently radiodated and turned out to be
as old as the handprints of La Cueva del Castillo.
Carnarvon Gorge, D. HITCHCOCK photographed
Should one guess here that the elbows were tied-up ?
In the first composition, three cross-hands are horizontal;
in the second, two vertical. The one on the left side suggests
a weird anthropomorphic figure...
Graffiti tagging handprints
@ La Cueva
de las Manos, camelid figures
have been tagged over handprints.
@BradyCk, a feminine figure is tagging a handprint.
The breast of the aboriginal female is depicted according
to its « typical contour » as coined by Jan Deregowski.
An eel is also tagging an handprint, and,
@Red Bluff, the penis
of an ithyphallic hallucinogenic creature
is also tagging a hand.
a feature not transferable by stencilling,
have been tagged over the handprints!
At the bottom of this most interesting composition:
the tuber of a yam-tree.
The handprints act as the leaves of this tree of life !
la Cueva de las Manos hands tagging hands
are creating a crowd... in which
to disentangle the sequence
of overlapping handprints is a real brain-teaser:
Here, a white spray has first been used, then a red spray...
@ Ouadi Sora, J.L. Le QUELLEC discovered
this exceptional composition of
a pair of baby hands tagging a pair of adults hands.
Now let us turn to handprints tagging animals:.
@ Tassili n' Ajjers, the tag on the camelid might means
the control over, or maybe the possession ?
the handprints overlaying
the crocodile suggest
conjuring the fear away of this dangereous reptile,
or is it initiatic ritual?
Yes, there exist handprints tagging human figures !
In a panel @ SandyCK/Laura, the central human figure (male ?)
has been hand-tagged...the handprint
appears better with enhanced contrast.
In the same site there is an astonishing composition
Photo: Matt TREZISE/ 2012.11.07
of handprints tagging the breast of a female
(the D2/D4 ratio favors a male hand)
...and the groins of the aboriginal couple.
1. être ou
Rock Art negative hand printing does not provide
obvious clues for expressions such as
in French, mettre la main sur...
in English “To lay one’s hands on”.
The very limited occurrence of concomitant handprint tags
in Rock Art composition suggests that handprints were not often
(if at all) used as a marker for appropriation or possession.
In other words, the compulsion to possess ever more
might be an innovation of modern patriarchal societies.