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Most Cave Paintings Were Painted By Women, Says Penn State Researcher 205

Posted by timothy
from the having-ruled-out-sandusky dept.
barlevg writes "Analyzing hand-prints found in cave sites, an archaeologist from Penn State University has concluded that roughly 75% of all ancient cave art was painted by women. Previously it was thought that neolithic cave paintings were made mostly by men, perhaps to chronicle their kills. But an analysis of the relative lengths of fingers in hand stencils found on cave walls suggests that it was mostly prehistoric women--not men--who created these works."
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Most Cave Paintings Were Painted By Women, Says Penn State Researcher

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  • by marcello_dl (667940) on Thursday October 10, 2013 @02:48PM (#45094715) Homepage Journal

    In related news, primitive hand stencils in caves are now likely considered as the first crude attempts at nail painting.

    • by bob_super (3391281) on Thursday October 10, 2013 @02:53PM (#45094763)
      Genius! He just opened his facebook and saw who's writing the most on the walls.
    • Incorrect. Without a writing system, how else would you claim copyright to a work but by stenciling your hand? Perhaps men were more Public Domain doers for good and women were more Proprietary owners of things. Women still have the dominant purchasing power vs men...

      Men were hunting while the females were gathering... Genetics made it so.

    • In related news, primitive hand stencils in caves are now likely considered as the first crude attempts at nail painting.

      I'm waiting for the discovery of prehistoric supraorbital ridge implants. You know, I bet all women wanted to have D brows back then.

  • What interested me (Score:5, Interesting)

    by i kan reed (749298) on Thursday October 10, 2013 @02:48PM (#45094717) Homepage Journal

    What interested me about his research was the evidence that sexual dimorphism in humans was substantially stronger in the paleolithic than today.

    To me that adds credence to the notion that society has removed a lot of the need for distinguishing between genders. Which was neat.

    • by SJHillman (1966756) on Thursday October 10, 2013 @02:56PM (#45094805)

      I thought it was alcohol that removed the need to distinguish between genders.

    • by FlopEJoe (784551) on Thursday October 10, 2013 @02:59PM (#45094825)

      To me that adds credence to the notion that society has removed a lot of the need for distinguishing between genders.

      I rather enjoy the distinguishing features between genders.

      • Sure, but it's not hard to cite the 10%ish homosexual population as a sign that even that preference is perhaps diminished by the things afforded by society.

        • 10% seems way too high, like it's including college "lesbians."

          I live in a civilized part of the country where even the Republicans are pretty rational, so gay people don't have to hide, and it seems closer to 1 in 25 than 1 in 10.
          • The 10% includes those who have bisexual urges, but identify as heterosexual.

            • by Jappus (1177563) on Thursday October 10, 2013 @03:48PM (#45095381)

              The 10% includes those who have bisexual urges, but identify as heterosexual.

              In that case, the number would be likely much higher. After all, if the Kinsey studies have shown one thing, it is that pure homosexuality is as rare as pure heterosexuality. Most people fall into the range where they "merely" strongly favour one gender over another, but not to the exclusion of the other.

              Furthermore, sexual attraction is not the same thing as actually wanting sexual intercourse. It ranges from simple and almost universal things like the benign interest in the aesthetics of human bodies -- no matter the gender --, over gendered group bonding (best example: sports clubs) up until bonding with a specific individuals (best example here: soldiers in war).

              And then remember that your mind is also capable of empathy on all levels. For example, if you see someone cut themselves, you most likely feel a mirror of their pain. That's why horror movies are so effective.
              The same is true for sexuality. After all, if that were not the case, porn would not be as effective and desired (by any culture, any gender, really).

              For example, if you see a movie in which two people kiss, do you totally ignore one partner? No, you perceive and are affected by them both. You might like some combinations of genders better than others, but you can not deny that the kiss will affect you either way and that something in your brain will mirror the feelings (physical as well as emotional) conveyed by the kiss.

              Additionally, sexuality is the result of a developmental process and like any such feature (height, skin color, etc.) it has as much a genetic "pre-set" component as well as a environmental component that can divert the development. If you flood a male embryo with androgen-blockers, the embryo will turn physically female, along with an increased chance to be attracted to men. Same if you flood a female embryo with the right cocktail of male hormones.

              And like your final body height is influenced by the supply of nutrients during development, sexual orientation is influenced by a myriad of environmental factors. And like height, the result is a sliding scale. In many ways, your genes only supply the starting point for that first cell, but not where you will end up.

              As such, if you don't limit "bisexual urges" to people who actively strive to have physical sex with either gender, you will see that your 10% is an estimate on the lowest conservative threshold.

              • Well, I meant more explicit urges, as a direct response to the GPs personal observations. But yeah, I know the Kinsey scale, and my simplification was basically uncalled for.

              • The 10% includes those who have bisexual urges, but identify as heterosexual.

                In that case, the number would be likely much higher. After all, if the Kinsey studies have shown one thing, it is that pure homosexuality is as rare as pure heterosexuality.

                The Kinsey studies were flawed and debunked a while ago. Get with the times.

                • by Jappus (1177563) on Thursday October 10, 2013 @06:23PM (#45096823)

                  The Kinsey studies were flawed and debunked a while ago. Get with the times.

                  Just like Newton's ideas about gravity and the mechanistic universe were shown as flawed and debunked by the advent of relativity and quantum theory.

                  Being incomplete, yes, even being flawed, is not to be unexpected for scientific theories and studies. Indeed, almost all such endeavors in the history of mankind turned out to be flawed and incomplete. That does not diminish their importance though, as attempts to reduce the blurriness of our understanding of the world.

                  This is why I led my post with the deliberate statement of "[...] if the Kinsey studies have shown one thing [...]"; implying directly that I know that they were somewhat flawed and in many ways also a product of their times.
                  Still, their importance (along with similar studies done in Europe around the same time) helped western society grasp that a binary model of sexuality is even more deeply flawed and incomplete.

                  That is not to say the binary model does not approximately correspond to nature -- after all most species need heterosexual sex to procreate. It merely needed pointing out that it was missing a lot of the nuances of reality. Nuances that, when ignored, can lead to to wrong conclusions and predictions. And since these are applied to humans (instead of falling apples, to stay with Newton), the results of such errors can be quite ugly.

              • by epyT-R (613989)

                Furthermore, sexual attraction is not the same thing as actually wanting sexual intercourse. It ranges from simple and almost universal things like the benign interest in the aesthetics of human bodies -- no matter the gender --, over gendered group bonding (best example: sports clubs) up until bonding with a specific individuals (best example here: soldiers in war).

                This sounds like it came straight from some feminist university professor. It is not true. This bonding has nothing to do with sexual attraction. If you can 'admire' the same sex's sexual characteristics, you're gay!

          • 10% seems way too high, like it's including college "lesbians." I live in a civilized part of the country where even the Republicans are pretty rational, so gay people don't have to hide, and it seems closer to 1 in 25 than 1 in 10.

            According to the Kinsey reports, 37% of human males have had at least one homosexual experience (figure later confirmed by Gebhard and Johnson). I guess the issue here is where on Kinsey scale you personally stop consider people to be heterosexual and start considering them homosexual.

            • by dfghjk (711126)

              "I guess the issue here is where on Kinsey scale you personally stop consider people to be heterosexual and start considering them homosexual."

              It is not one or the other. This is the point of the Kinsey scale and saying it means you miss the point entirely.

          • by dfghjk (711126)

            You sound like a real expert.

        • You seem to be assuming that homosexuality is a modern phenomenon. Unless I read that totally wrong?
          • Yeah, that's a bit of an extreme position to take, I suppose. I was just pointing out that the GP's assumptions were just that, assumptions.

            • FlopEJoe's enjoyment of the distinguishing features between sexes? He probably doesn't have to assume on that.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 10, 2013 @03:14PM (#45094983)

      While the full study may have done a better job at establishing this than the article, I'm less than convinced that the dimorphism was actually sexual dimorphism. The article made it sound like the scientists built a contemporary database of hand dimensions, which showed a slight sexual dimorphism. They then compared this database with the hand prints from cave paintings, and found a much more dramatic split between the different morphologies (the archeologist stated that "they fall at the extreme ends, and even beyond the extreme ends"). I am not an anthropologist, but when I read that, I read that the scale is broken, not that we can say that "men were men and women were women". It seems equally (maybe more) likely that the major differences were more the result of tribal isolation, since there was no information suggesting that they had compared actual neolithic remains against their scale.

      If there are biologists out there who can tell me why my skepticism is stupid, I'd love to hear about it. At the moment, though, I'm in the "extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof" state of skepticism.

    • "One thousand years from now, there won't be any guys and there won't be any girls, just wankers. Sounds all right to me."

  • by presidenteloco (659168) on Thursday October 10, 2013 @02:48PM (#45094719)

    (deserved slap/punch)

    • by sandytaru (1158959) on Thursday October 10, 2013 @03:01PM (#45094845) Journal
      They had a better grasp on perspective than some Medieval and Byzantine artists thousands of years later.
      • by GodfatherofSoul (174979) on Thursday October 10, 2013 @03:28PM (#45095175)

        I was a big art history buff back in the day and humanity has had the same artistic ability throughout our history. What changes is the purpose of an artistic creation. Some cave painting were used in hunting rituals (they can sometimes be seen scratched with weapons), so they weren't intended to be too realistic as the theory I heard says that might capture the spirit of the animal somehos. You can see in some cave paintings that the artists are well aware of perspective (legs of animals are accurate 3D projections) and even do a pretty good job of capturing proportions of prey animals; including making females pregnant.

        Medieval art loses its "quality" because Christian culture at the time viewed art as an earthly pursuit. Even paintings of religious icons if don't too well could be perceived as idoltry. That did lead to a dropoff in talent, but that was because that wasn't their aim. Most of what we as modern viewers see as distortions or poor quality are very deliberate attempts to communicate a higher concept that literal recreation.

        • Sorry, tons of typos in that post.

        • That did lead to a dropoff in talent, but that was because that wasn't their aim. Most of what we as modern viewers see as distortions or poor quality are very deliberate attempts to communicate a higher concept tha[n] literal recreation.

          So you're saying that Catholics invented impressionism? 8-/

        • by Tablizer (95088) on Thursday October 10, 2013 @08:36PM (#45097661) Homepage Journal

          Medieval art is not "poor quality" in my observation. It's often quite carefully done and ornate. Thus your theory about "done too well being idolatry" (paraphrased) does not hold much water in my opinion.

          But that art it also highly abstract. The lack of perspective seemed to provide a symbolic feel to the images as if they are intended as icons or pictograms rather than literal images.

          It may be they did that to make it easier to convey a story or social rankings to the uneducated masses. If you want to show a sequence or social rankings, for example, then perspective tends to get in the way because it would hide or "distort" the importance or order of things because it's affected by physical location rather than symbolic "location" in rank or time.

          Look at a typical Windows desktop: the icons are rather flat and/or half-hazard in their perspective because they are not intended to mirror reality as their primary goal. (Well, okay, MS does lack art talent also :-)

          Similarly, Sunday paper cartoons tend to down-play perspective because they are tuned to show a story, not a physical scene. Parts that help tell a story, such as faces, eyes, mouths, and hands are often bigger than normal relative to the rest of the body.

          But, I do agree with your general premise that the purpose of art changes over time or per culture and it heavily affects the style.

          It's also interesting that after camera technology become wide-spread, then the art of the day resorted to being more symbolic (cubism, impressionism, etc.). This is because cameras made realism a cheap commodity such that (well-done) symbolism was the new status symbol and difference maker.

  • Yeah, it's the women in my family who actually paint and do art, with architecture and science backgrounds. Nevertheless, guys still have Leonardo to claim.
    • It's hardly a surprise that since the world's biggest art revolution happened in the extraordinarily(perhaps even more than the middle ages or antiquity) patriarchal society of 1500s, it's not really a surprise that the biggest historical names associated with art are male and Italian.

    • Yes, but let's not forget that Leonardo was gay.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 10, 2013 @03:01PM (#45094849)

    The paintings are there to boast about their hunting skills and number of kills. The hand prints and stencils are there to boast about the number of women that the caveman has.

    • by Any Web Loco (555458) on Thursday October 10, 2013 @04:58PM (#45096107) Homepage
      I'm not sure why you think your explanation is obvious. Here's another obvious explanation: "the paintings are there to symbolise the animal spirits they worshipped. The hand prints and stencils are there to show their animal gods how many worshipping children they have in this tribe."

      Both explanations project our own viewpoints onto these people - there's nothing obvious about either. The only thing that's "obvious" here is that it seems, assuming the men have longer ring fingers thing held true back then, that the paintings were done by women.
      • No, the only thing "obvious" here, assuming that finger ratio thing, is that some of the hand prints are of women's hands. Nothing else can be assumed from that.

  • It's pretty easy when tracing your hand to not get all teh way down to where the fingers diverge from the palm. That and other mistakes could change the appearance of the stencil and accidentally mask the identity of the hand.
    • by Phelony (2628303)
      I always thought the "hand outlines" discussed here were created by blowing powder through a straw or tube over the hand on the wall.
      • I always thought the "hand outlines" discussed here were created by blowing powder through a straw or tube over the hand on the wall.

        I was suspecting that as well, and if that is the case the same potential for inaccuracy applies. It would be much like trying to trace something with a can of spray paint. On top of that is also the fact that some of the hand stencils are above the likely average height of a person at that time - requiring them to be holding their hand above their head - which would change the angle of spraying and the angle at which the powder hits the wall.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          I always thought the "hand outlines" discussed here were created by blowing powder through a straw or tube over the hand on the wall.

          I was suspecting that as well, and if that is the case the same potential for inaccuracy applies. It would be much like trying to trace something with a can of spray paint. On top of that is also the fact that some of the hand stencils are above the likely average height of a person at that time - requiring them to be holding their hand above their head - which would change the angle of spraying and the angle at which the powder hits the wall.

          It's unfortunate that this technique is lost to us and we can't reproduce it with modern humans in a controlled setting to account for such distortions.

      • by H0p313ss (811249)

        Damn you for posting something insightful after I've commented elsewhere.

    • Looking at the actual hand prints, it doesn't look like they traced it like we would with a pencil. More likely, they blew a powder over their hand, which created the outline. This would explain why the result looks similar to a spraypaint stencil. It's still prone to being misleading, but I would think it would preserve the ratio between finger lengths fairly well, which is what they used to determine male vs female.

  • But an analysis of the relative lengths of fingers in hand stencils found on cave walls suggests that it was mostly prehistoric women--not men--who created these works.

    Or proof of the male artists' ownership of a women (or women).

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by foma84 (2079302)
      Neither patriarchy nor (private) property are thought to be present until very recent history (about 10.000 years, compared to 200.000 of Homo Sapiens).
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patriarchy
  • by epine (68316) on Thursday October 10, 2013 @03:11PM (#45094959)

    And precisely how did we decide that these paintings weren't painted by outcast males with girlish mittens? Did we exhume Leonardo or Michelangelo to make sure he was "one of us"?

    As well, it's not clear how we go from hand prints to a conclusion about who painted the animal outlines. I just watched Cave of Forgotten Dreams last week and I was thinking these thoughts all the while. I doubt we will ever know with any degree of confidence.

    That's why Hertzog titled his movie "Forgotten". Because we'll never know. Hertzog is a strange duck, but he's not stupid.

    We wonder why so many Americans are ignorant of the standards of science when the only time anything scientific captures their attention, it's complete bullshit wrapped around an intriguing nugget. Selling the bullshit sizzle but not the steak is the reason the majority of the population remains clueless about this important food group.

    • by H0p313ss (811249)

      We wonder why so many Americans are ignorant of the standards of science when the only time anything scientific captures their attention, it's complete bullshit wrapped around an intriguing nugget. Selling the bullshit sizzle but not the steak is the reason the majority of the population remains clueless about this important food group.

      Beautifully phrased.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by olsmeister (1488789)
      In most males, the ring finger is longer than the index finger. In most females, it's the opposite. Seems like all they would have to do is look at some hand prints to tell for sure.
    • And precisely how did we decide that these paintings weren't painted by outcast males with girlish mittens?

      First visit a single male's apartment and then visit the single woman's apartment. Repeat until you have a statistically valid sample size, if you need to.

      I would have assumed that 'women decorated the caves' was the default hypothesis.

  • by ConaxConax (1886430) on Thursday October 10, 2013 @03:14PM (#45094995)

    It seems a little risky to make such a story with the maths they are using. As the article says they tested 32 hand prints, and 24 handprints were female, with the algorithm determining if the handprints belonged to a male or female painter having an accuracy of 60%. That doesn't seem very conclusive to me.

    • by Darinbob (1142669)

      I'd say that if even 10% were written by women, it still absolutely overturns the commonly held idea that only men were the creative ones.

    • by dcollins (135727) on Thursday October 10, 2013 @06:06PM (#45096683) Homepage

      "As the article says they tested 32 hand prints, and 24 handprints were female, with the algorithm determining if the handprints belonged to a male or female painter having an accuracy of 60%."

      60% accuracy for the modern sample, not the research sample. FTA:

      Because there is a lot of overlap between men and women, however, the algorithm wasn't especially precise: It predicted the sex of Snow's modern sample with about 60 percent accuracy. Luckily for Snow, that wasn't a problem for the analysis of the prehistoric handprints. As it turned out—much to his surprise—the hands in the caves were much more sexually dimorphic than modern hands, meaning that there was little overlap in the various hand measurements.

  • by VortexCortex (1117377) <VortexCortex@NOs ... t-retrograde.com> on Thursday October 10, 2013 @03:15PM (#45095003) Homepage

    Have they considered the null hypothesis?

    Have they thought that perhaps men were simply less narcissistic, and just like on Youtube where women more commonly display their faces in their videos than men, the women stenciled their hands more frequently than the men... You know, because it's the painting not the damn hand that matters -- It's the content not the face presenting it that matters... yet they show their faces, even if it means obscuring a part of the content.

    There's something deeply evolutionary to that: Women primarily value social standing of mates. Males primarily value youth and fertility / beauty -- visually identifiable things. As the peacock displays its plumage for the peahen, so to do the female humans instinctively put on displays for their prospective mates, while the guys try to "impress the girls" with what they have, can do, or provide.

    "Look at this cave painting I made, I'm a good artist." "Yeah, well look at how sexy my hand is, you like being touched by it."

    The study proves nothing, IMO. Look to the neurology we've inherited from our ancestors, there you will find the same ratios you can use to surmise which sex favored/favors certain behaviors now and in the past.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Mr. Slippery (47854)

      Have they considered the null hypothesis?

      Which would be..what, in this case? Equal creation by men and women? Or the previous, evidenceless and sexist assumption that "men must have done this"?

      There's something deeply evolutionary to that:

      If by "evolutionary" you mean "bullshitish justifications of our society's gender roles as biologically determined truths", yes.

      • Have they considered the null hypothesis?

        Which would be..what, in this case? Equal creation by men and women? Or the previous, evidenceless and sexist assumption that "men must have done this"?

        There's something deeply evolutionary to that:

        If by "evolutionary" you mean "bullshitish justifications of our society's gender roles as biologically determined truths", yes.

        Err, many of our "gender roles" are biologically determined. Sorry.

    • by CastrTroy (595695)
      Point of correction. the peacock with the big feathers is the male. Hence Pea-cock. The female of the same bird is called the peahen. The bird in general is known as the peafowl [wikipedia.org].

      In most birds the male is the brightly colored of the two, while the female is usually not colored much, if at all, to aid in hiding while watching the eggs. The males are always always the ones putting on displays, or doing dances and such to attract the females.
    • You think the null hypothesis is that women are more narcissistic?

      That says more about you than the science here.

  • by sl4shd0rk (755837) on Thursday October 10, 2013 @03:15PM (#45095007)

    We call it interior decorating
    -Ã-tzi

  • by mac1235 (962716) on Thursday October 10, 2013 @03:18PM (#45095047)
    Cave Walls = palaeolithic deviantart.com.
  • by FudRucker (866063) on Thursday October 10, 2013 @03:19PM (#45095049)
    that were the teachers of children too, so they would use the cave painting to teach the children which animals were good for hunting and which were the predators that were dangerous, etc... teaching the basic knowledge for survival, between that and the real life experience evolution sharpened our minds to be what we are today
  • In other news (Score:5, Insightful)

    by foma84 (2079302) on Thursday October 10, 2013 @03:19PM (#45095053)
    Anthropologists debung male-centric myths, tech site breeds tens of sexist-joke comments.
    Stay classy.
  • If this holds true, I can sort of see why that might be. Given the time and lifestyle involved in such times, women were not really allowed to do much of anything. They were, in many cases, owned by the male.

    blowing colorful pain on ones hand almost seems to me like something you'd discover by mistake if you were bored enough. You take human beings and put them in a situation where they're not allowed to do much more than raise a child and you'll have them invent some pretty interesting side projects im

    • by cusco (717999) <brian.bixby@COWgmail.com minus herbivore> on Thursday October 10, 2013 @05:36PM (#45096395)

      Given the time and lifestyle involved in such times, women were not really allowed to do much of anything.

      Citation Needed. If you look at neolithic cultures around the world the society you describe was actually rare. Hunter/gathering societies need both parts of that equation; people hunting food and people gathering food. Interestingly, different societies partition the food processing differently. Sometimes the men do the grinding, sometimes it's the women, sometimes the men do all the butchering, sometimes the women do. IIRC, two New Guinea tribes considered each other heretics because in one group only the men cooked the meat, and in the other only the women did.

      • by Alomex (148003)

        New Guinea, why go that far?

        In the remote continent of North America, in the English speaking tribes the men cook meat on the barbeque while in the Spanish speaking tribes is mostly the women who use the "azador".

    • What are you talking about? Both genders were fully and always busy as far as we can tell for most of human existence.
  • Were the drawings found next to the surface where they made the sandwiches?
  • Maybe it was not "woment" but "youngsters" doing the cave paintings. Putting graffiti wherever they could, just like today's kids. :D

    • by MonkeyPaw (8286)

      I've actually heard this theory before. Cave painting were made by teen males because, like today's culture, teen males are interested in sex and violence. Cave paintings are mostly pictures of hunts and women.

  • by David_Hart (1184661) on Thursday October 10, 2013 @04:17PM (#45095709)

    ... is that most hand reliefs are likely of a woman's hand, it doesn't mean that they did the art work.

    It's a bit of a leap to go from identifying what gender the hand belongs to and who actually did the cave paintings. I'm guessing that the assumption is that the hand relief is the artist's signature. But we have no way of knowing that this is true or not. It could be just another image denoting the artists history (i.e. got married today).

    Whoever painted them, cave paintings are cool!!

  • ... of the remark, "Beige. I think I'll paint the ceiling beige."

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