Cave Art May Have Been Painted By Mostly Women, Scientists Say

cave art
Hand stencil in Pech Merle Cave. Courtesy French MInistry of Culture

The prehistoric cave art of Europe may have been painted mostly by women, a new study covered by National Geographic suggests.

Archaeologist Dr. Dean Snow of Pennsylvania State University came to this conclusion through studying one of the most enigmatic icons of prehistoric European cave art–hand stencils. In many European caves, there are negative images of hands produced by placing the hand against the cave wall and blowing paint all around it. They range from 12,000 to 40,000 years old, an astonishingly long artistic tradition.

Men’s and women’s hands are different, especially in the relative length of the fingers, so Snow examined 32 of these these stencils from caves in Spain and France. He found that 75 percent of the hands were female.

It’s long been assumed that most cave art was done by men, since so many of the subjects have to do with hunting, generally a male activity in hunter-gather societies. Of course, what Snow’s data really show is that the majority of hand stencils in the sample are of women, which doesn’t say anything about the rest of the art. It could be that there was a separation in the sexes as to who painted what, or perhaps the majority of prehistoric artists were indeed women.

The biggest contributor to the study was the cave of El Castillo in Cantabria, northern Spain, where 16 stencils were measured. This cave is open to the public, so you can take a look at the hands yourself and come to your own conclusions. Gargas and Pech Merle in France were also in the study and open to the public.

Hand stencils have been found in areas as far apart as Argentina, Africa, Australia, and Borneo. It would be interesting to see what results Snow’s study would have on these artistic traditions.

Terra Nova Expedition Ship Discovered


The ship that gave the name to Captain Robert Scott’s ill-fated Terra Nova expedition has been found in the waters off Greenland, the Schmidt Ocean Institute reports.

The SS Terra Nova took Scott’s British team to Antarctica in 1910. They raced to be the first to the South Pole but were beaten by Roald Amundsen’s Norwegian team by only a matter of days. On their way back, bad weather set in and Scott and several team members died.

The SS Terra Nova continued to work in Arctic and Antarctic waters before finally getting damaged by ice and sinking off Greenland in 1943. A ship from the Schmidt Ocean Institute was testing its multibeam mapping echo sounders when it discovered the ship deep in the frigid waters.

The testing was being carried out in preparation for a undersea survey planned for next year. Who knows what else they’ll discover!

[Photo of Terra Nova expedition courtesy NOAA]

Terra Nova

Archaeologists Discover Funerary Boat Of One Of Ancient Egypt’s Earliest Pharaohs

Ancient Egypt
A funerary boat dating back 5,000 years has been discovered in Egypt, Ahram Online reports.

The boat was meant to take the Pharaoh Den to the afterlife and was buried in the northeast of the Giza Plateau, site of the famous (and later) pyramids. Den was a ruler of Ancient Egypt’s poorly understood First Dynasty, which saw the unification of Egypt and its development as a major civilization. Den, shown here smiting his enemies in this image courtesy CaptMondo, was the first to use the title “King of Lower and Upper Egypt.” He ruled for 42 years and was famed for his organization of the state. His tomb at Abydos, shown below in this Wikimedia Commons image, is one of the finest of the era.

The French team that made the discovery hope to restore the boat in time to put it on display at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization when it opens next year.

Ancient Egypt

Space tourism celebrates tenth anniversary

space tourism, Dennis Tito
Space tourism
is ten years old this week. On 28 April 2001 millionaire Dennis Tito became the first person to go into space as a tourist and not an astronaut or scientist.

In an interview with BBC today he talked about how thrilled he was and called his eight days being in orbit “paradise.”

While space tourism is the ultimate in high-cost adventure travel–only seven people have done it so far and Tito is said to have paid $20 million for the privilege–private companies are hoping to make it more widely available. They also want to make it more comfortable. Tito was crammed “elbow to elbow” in a Russian capsule after NASA refused to put him on one of the Space Shuttles. Not that he cared at the time. Check out this video of Dennis Tito’s arrival at the International Space Station. The guy’s euphoric!

A number of private companies are looking into commercial space travel. The most serious contender is Virgin Galactic, which has already built a spaceport and put their spaceship Enterprise through a test flight. The company hopes to push an orbital trip down to $200,000, just one percent of what Tito paid. Who knows? Maybe good old free-market competition will push the price even lower than that.

Even more ambitious is Excalibur Almaz, a company based in the Isle of Man that has bought some Russian space capsules that they’re refurbishing. They boast that they’ll offer trips around the Moon by 2015.

Best of luck folks, but I won’t be looking for a Lonely Planet Outer Space in the bookstores anytime soon.

[Photo courtesy NASA]

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