Were the First Artists Mostly Women?

51

Women made most of the oldest-known cave art paintings, suggests a new analysis of ancient handprints. Most scholars had assumed these ancient artists were predominantly men, so the finding overturns decades of archaeological dogma.

Archaeologist Dean Snow of Pennsylvania State University analyzed hand stencils found in eight cave sites in France and Spain. By comparing the relative lengths of certain fingers, Snow determined that three-quarters of the handprints were female.

"There has been a male bias in the literature for a long time," said Snow, whose research was supported by the National Geographic Society's Committee for Research and Exploration. "People have made a lot of unwarranted assumptions about who made these things, and why."

Archaeologists have found hundreds of hand stencils on cave walls across the world. Because many of these early paintings also showcase game animals—bison, reindeer, horses, woolly mammoths—many researchers have proposed that they were made by male hunters, perhaps to chronicle their kills or as some kind of "hunting magic" to improve success of an upcoming hunt. The new study suggests otherwise.

Written By: Virginia Hughes
continue to source article at news.nationalgeographic.com

51 COMMENTS

    • In reply to #3 by Vorlund:

      It seems that the assumption might be the artist was signing their work as opposed to some other explanation such as a ritual.

      Could not agree more. One could just as easily argue that the women could only manage hand prints while the men did some serious art. It is just an assumption.

      • In reply to #15 by old-toy-boy:

        In reply to #3 by Vorlund:

        It seems that the assumption might be the artist was signing their work as opposed to some other explanation such as a ritual.

        Could not agree more. One could just as easily argue that the women could only manage hand prints while the men did some serious art. It is just…

        I feel I have to point out (before I am accused of misogyny) that I am not siding with the notion that women couldn’t have possibly done these paintings. I am merely stating that the epistemological assumption here is that the hand print is a sign of authorship and that equally this may or may not be the case. We make grave assumptions when we observe the past and attempt to rewrite it according to current values or knowledge. Given the way some people treat women today it seems unlikely to me that cave dwellers were any more enlightened. The appearance of female handprints may signify that it is their particular man who is bringing home the meat and so they are signalling a status or pecking order to other women. It may also be a superstitious ritual similar to ideas about ‘sympatheitc magic’, i.e. putting my handprint on this picture will bring the next hunt’s bounty to me and my children. There are numerous possibilities to explain this phenomenon and we shouldn’t interpret this as evidence that they are signing their work without the benefit of handwriting in the manner of a rennaisance painter.

  1. Silly me. I would have thought the evil patriarchy would have prevented women from doing anything but be barefoot, pregnant, and taking care of the men’s needs to explicit benefit of men.

    Anyway there are a lot of assumptions in this write up.

    • In reply to #5 by debaser71:

      Silly me. I would have thought the evil patriarchy would have prevented women from doing anything but be barefoot, pregnant, and taking care of the men’s needs to explicit benefit of men.

      Anyway there are a lot of assumptions in this write up.

      Or perhaps the paintings were actually done by men and the handprints belong to the wives as a mark of the wife’s taking ownership of the fruits of the husband’s artwork? A type of precursor to the matrimonial landscape as seen in America today.

      • I think the men forced the women to put their hand prints there as a means of objectifying them. “See this painting? This woman? It belongs to me!”

        In reply to #7 by godsbuster:

        In reply to #5 by debaser71:

        Silly me. I would have thought the evil patriarchy would have prevented women from doing anything but be barefoot, pregnant, and taking care of the men’s needs to explicit benefit of men.

        Anyway there are a lot of assumptions in this write up.

        Or perhaps the paintings…

  2. Makes sense; the men go off to hunt, and the women stay home and paint. Or did everybody (except new mothers etc) go on the hunt (since the paintings are mostly hunting related), and afterwards the women paint while the men repair weapons and stuff?

  3. The women probably did the easy part….simply blowing the paint around their hands. The more difficult task of representing the animals hunted, would of course been done by the male members of the tribe. No?

    • In reply to #9 by Nitya:

      The women probably did the easy part….simply blowing the paint around their hands. The more difficult task of representing the animals hunted, would of course been done by the male members of the tribe. No?

      Now, that’s the kind of talk that got Larry Summers fired from Harvard.

      • In reply to #13 by godsbuster:

        In reply to #9 by Nitya:

        The women probably did the easy part….simply blowing the paint around their hands. The more difficult task of representing the animals hunted, would of course been done by the male members of the tribe. No?

        Now, that’s the kind of talk that got Larry Summers fired from H…

        I noticed your previous comment. Ummm. I sense an attitude there. There’s no doubt that the whole gender bias thing is very tricky. We all took it for granted that all the cave paintings were done by men. It seems obvious, some sort of ritual carried out to celebrate the catch, or to ensure a better catch next time. I suppose the ratio of the ring finger to the middle finger suggests that the hands may be female, more than likely in a supporting role.

        As we weren’t there, we really don’t know the rationale of the cave painting procedure. The whole thing may be completely different to the one we assumed.

        • In reply to #14 by Nitya:

          In reply to #13 by godsbuster:

          In reply to #9 by Nitya:

          Now, that’s the kind of talk that got Larry Summers fired from Harvard..

          I noticed your previous comment. Ummm. I sense an attitude there. There’s no doubt that the whole gender bias thing is very tricky.

          The related topic of gender differences is worse than tricky, it’s deadly – it’s the incandescent third rail of academia much the way gender politics seems to have become the third rail of the atheist community.

          • In reply to #21 by godsbuster:

            In reply to #14 by Nitya:

            In reply to #13 by godsbuster:

            In reply to #9 by Nitya:

            Now, that’s the kind of talk that got Larry Summers fired from Harvard..

            I noticed your previous comment. Ummm. I sense an attitude there. There’s no doubt that the whole gender bias thing is very tricky.

            The rela…

            I can imagine the difficulty archaeologists would be having. They’d probably like to interpret the paintings in the way I suggested; ie, the hunters painted the animals and the women stenciled in their hands, however this doesn’t sound good, especially in light of the latest interpretation of the physiology. As a consequence, the interpretation is left hanging.

            There’s no reason to suggest that women are not as able as men when it comes to painting. It wouldn’t surprise me to find that the majority of students studying art today, are female. However, when we look back and try to analyse the painting in light of the power dynamic as we imagine it must have been, it’s difficult to come to the conclusion that the womenfolk in the tribe painted the animals depicted on the cave walls.

            Sexism is like racism in a way…sometimes it’s just better to withhold judgement.

      • In reply to #13 by godsbuster:

        In reply to #9 by Nitya:

        The women probably did the easy part….simply blowing the paint around their hands. The more difficult task of representing the animals hunted, would of course been done by the male members of the tribe. No?

        Now, that’s the kind of talk that got Larry Summers fired from H…

        I just read the link you provided in the your last reply, (it seems to have magically disappeared for some reason).
        Wow! I’m not surprised that Larry Summers was chastened after making the comments. If one were to skim the comments made by him, it could sound as if he were comparing the female brain to that of a chimp ( he wasn’t , but that’s not the point). I can only conclude that some things are better left unsaid.

        • In reply to #23 by Nitya:

          In reply to #13 by godsbuster:

          In reply to #9 by Nitya:

          >
          I just read the link you provided in the your last reply, (it seems to have magically disappeared for some reason). Wow! I’m not surprised that Larry Summers was chastened after making the comments.

          My last reply (#21) which appears to have been removed, I made the observation that gender differences is the third rail of academia and gender politics appears to be the third rail of the atheist community. Offensive?, off-topic? or how do we explain the magical disappearance of this post? Perhaps just mentioning this is to touch the third rail.

          • In reply to #32 by godsbuster:

            In reply to #23 by Nitya:

            In reply to #13 by godsbuster:

            In reply to #9 by Nitya:

            I just read the link you provided in the your last reply, (it seems to have magically disappeared for some reason). Wow! I’m not surprised that Larry Summers was chastened after making the comments.

            My last reply (…

            I’m interested in continuing the conversation about gender politics though I think we’re shifting a little off topic.
            Why do you think it’s the third rail in the atheist community?

            We are much fewer in number and at times it seems difficult to break into an ‘all male’ dialogue. Do you think that the male members have to watch what they say in fear of offending our delicate sensibilities? Perhaps women do overreact and imagined slights from time to time, but we have to watch what we say as well. Oh…and sometimes the slights are not imaginary.

  4. In reply to #9 by Nitya:

    The women probably did the easy part….simply blowing the paint around their hands. The more difficult task of representing the animals hunted, would of course been done by the male members of the tribe. No?

    Of course, it’s obvious. They’d probably never even seen a wild horse running, being too busy in the kitchen with the kids.

    When will sexism stop being funny… Like racism, or Germans, never, I hope.

  5. Male or female these paintings are truly beautiful!

    Actually, I used to assume that hand prints were done by all members of the tribe/family.
    Although if this were the case, you would also expect hand prints from all age groups (eg: infants),
    unless you had to reach a certain age before making your print on the cave wall.

  6. Ahh the sexist comments…or perhaps they are just stupid comments…I knew they would happen eventually. I’ll just write my list of names and remember to not take any of your future posts seriously. I’m shocked that a couple of respected names are now on my watch list. One of you didn’t even read the entire article.

    There are problems with this study. Comparing the index finger to the ring finger is problematic. Some women have ring fingers longer than their index fingers and could have been mistaken for being male or some males could have been confused as female. Yet, I think it is a bit presumptuous for us to even have considered that only males would have painted.

  7. I don’t really give a toss who painted them, they are just stunning! To of survived 30,00 years in the first place is amazing enough but I think what it really illustrates is how similar they must of been to us. Give me this any day rather than that crap they wheel into the Tate every year.
    Thanks for that suggestion to watch Werner Herzog’s Cave of The Forgotten Dreams, Roedy. The paintings were explained very well.
    For anyone else who fancies a look it is on Youtube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5AeaEsAOIPc

  8. I’ve always thought cave paintings were likely to be done by everyone in the tribe. Males and females like art and crafts and there ain’t much else to do when you’re sitting round in a cave with no x box. I could never see any reason at all for the assumption it was a male thing other than fragile male egos.

    Art isn’t a gender specific trait – nor is interior design and wanting your home to look nice. And we’ll never know either way.

    • In reply to #25 by PG:

      Art isn’t a gender specific trait – nor is interior design and wanting your home to look nice. And we’ll never know either way.

      So much of the discussion on topics like this ends up being pointless blathering about men vs. women. It doesn’t help that half the initial comments were mildly sexist dumb jokes.

      To me it’s an interesting question but the answer won’t effect my view of men and women or my view of what women can do. Of course for anyone who isn’t a sexist there is no reason that modern women can’t be artists and very good ones. That doesn’t mean understanding the male and female roles in ancient cultures doesn’t have value, the problem is that sexists may look at such research and claim that because it was true then it should be true now. That’s just the naturalistic ethical fallacy though and I think it’s wrong to let concerns about how stupid people may misinterpret research be an impediment to that research.

      Here is my hypothesis: in ancient cultures men were constantly competing with each other to get the most and the best mates. Women on the other hand were primarily more motivated to collaborate (since because of biology women ended up getting stuck with the majority of the child rearing). So if these cave paintings were meant to show off “I am Og the Leonardo of the stone age, marvel at how I’ve recreated the world outside” then I think it is more likely the paintings were done by men. If on the other hand the paintings were more for instructional use (hey little Og when you grow up here are the things you will be killing) then I think it’s more likely they were done by women.

  9. OK, so having watched Werner Herzog’s Cave of The Forgotten Dreams on Youtube; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5AeaEsAOIPc and also some having read some items regarding aboriginal rock art several things stick out.

    The hand prints in the Chauvet cave are apparently ascribed to a male about 6′ tall with a crooked finger.

    The caves where the art is done are unoccupied.

    The art may be retouched generations after originally made.

    Hand-prints may be predominantly female, animal pictures are lacking a gender unless you can identify anything from fingerprints or similar in the paint.

    I rather suspect the pictures of human female genitalia are the work of males.

    The environment was a grassland, the scenes are so reminiscent of the African Savannah, American Plains and Eurasian Steppe.

  10. The article also said that the size of the hand prints could have been female OR adolescent boys ! in which case it would be more fitting that the art may have been for initiation rites – Maybe the cave would serve as a ritual space and boys would join the hunt as adults and confirm with a hand print ?

    Aboriginal Australians have rules over who paints in what place, male or female, depends on the site……men’s ritual business or women’s business are kept separate and rock art sites figure largely in the initiation rites…..

    Something that intrigues me more than which gender painted them…is that cave and rock art was first produced in Europe and Australia around the same time….Only after sapien encountered other humans like Neanderthal….but neanderthal could not have been the artist because there would be many earlier Neanderthal art sites if that we’re true …..but why then did sapien not produce art in Africa ?

    • In reply to #30 by Light Wave:

      The article also said that the size of the hand prints could have been female OR adolescent boys ! in which case it would be more fitting that the art may have been for initiation rites – Maybe the cave would serve as a ritual space and boys would join the hunt as adults and confirm with a hand prin…

      Like a Masai Olpul?

      As for the lack of art located in Africa thus far, it could be any number of factors that have occurred to conceal such sites, (political instability not least amongst them) though rock art is known from the Sahara. Perhaps yet another area for research?

      Rite of passage… So send a ‘boy’ into cave to face a thousand or so metres of darkness, presumably this is done when the bears aren’t in residence (no human remains found) initially he’ll see images of game species. As he moves further into the cave the images will change to those of predators, so presumably fear will kick in. Finally he’ll get an image of female genitalia before returning to the tribe as a ‘man’. Twisted, but I’ve heard of worse.

    • In reply to #30 by Light Wave:

      The article also said that the size of the hand prints could have been female OR adolescent boys ! in which case it would be more fitting that the art may have been for initiation rites – Maybe the cave would serve as a ritual space and boys would join the hunt as adults and confirm with a hand print…

      The article seems to favour the concept of female hands.

      @OP link – 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.

      “They fall at the extreme ends, and even beyond the extreme ends,” Snow said. “Twenty thousand years ago, men were men and women were women.”

      Woman, Boy, Shaman?

      Snow’s analysis determined that 24 of the 32 hands—75 percent—were female

      There seems to be a clear analysis system.

      http://discovermagazine.com/2013/may/04-finger-length-ratio-can-predict-aggressive-behavior-and-risk-of-disease#.Ul5491OTlEc

      In boys, “during fetal development there’s a surge in testosterone in the middle of the second trimester” that seems to influence future health and behavior, says Pete Hurd, a neuroscientist at the University of Alberta. One easy-to-spot result of this flood of testosterone: a ring finger that’s significantly longer than the index finger.

      • In reply to #37 by Alan4discussion:

        In reply to #30 by Light Wave:

        The article also said that the size of the hand prints could have been female OR adolescent boys ! in which case it would be more fitting that the art may have been for initiation rites – Maybe the cave would serve as a ritual space and boys would join the hunt as adu…

        The hand prints being female is good but it doesn’t mean the women painted the artwork !…anyway I’m proud if they did – It doesn’t make any difference to how great the art is…..I know plenty of great women artists and men
        I think the cro magnon men were less hung up than modern men about talented females and equal rights etc …most people back then were creative and innovative its how humans are…

  11. In reply to #33 by Nitya:

    In reply to #32 by godsbuster:

    In reply to #23 by Nitya:

    In reply to #13 by godsbuster:

    In reply to #9 by Nitya:

    I’m interested in continuing the conversation about gender politics though I think we’re shifting a little off topic. Why do you think it’s the third rail in the atheist community?

    Ideally there would be an option that would allow people to take a conversation elsewhere on the website to continue it and avoid derailing a topic.

    Just to briefly answer your question: I think it became the third rail when that huge fecal storm was unleashed when certain gender oriented concerns were brought into the atheist narrative by certain individuals and groups leading to unfortunate and extreme polarization ending up leaving no one from A listers to minor YouTube celebrities in the community smelling like roses.
    >
    We are much fewer in number and at times it seems difficult to break into an ‘all male’ dialogue. Do you think that the male members have to watch what they say in fear of offending our delicate sensibilities? Perhaps women do overreact and imagined slights from time to time, but we have to watch what we say as well. Oh…and sometimes the slights are not imaginary.

    I think the situation could benefit from what it currently lacks: a truly rigorous, dispassionate and as rational as possible airing out with dogmas identified and quarantined. Look at what that did for the cave paintings :-)

    • In reply to #34 by godsbuster:

      I agree with the idea of a conversation elsewhere. Maybe that alternative will become available in the future.

      I don’t know what the particular event was and it could have appeared before my time of joining. I’m trying to fathom exactly what the problem is so it’s possible that I’m way off beam. I’ll give it my best shot. There’s often a sort of guardedness when it comes to discussions so that sexist comments do not appear to be made. It’s a similar sort of guardedness that could also apply to any implication of racism. Perhaps this is perceived as an inhibiting factor when one is being as forthright as possible.

      When talking about irrational behaviour and beliefs, women are by far the worst offenders. Women also tend to steer clear of the harder branches of science tending instead towards the softer options. I can say these things because I’m a woman, but it probably wouldn’t be prudent if one is a man.

      Is that the point you were making?

      • In reply to #35 by Nitya:

        When talking about irrational behaviour and beliefs, women are by far the worst offenders.

        I’ve seen no evidence of that, as far as I’m concerned that’s just a sexist stereotype. I’m not sure how you are measuring “irrational behavior” but if you take at least one metric: “who commits the most violent crime for irrational reasons” it is clearly men. See Pinker’s last book Better Angels.

        • In reply to #38 by Red Dog:

          In reply to #35 by Nitya:

          When talking about irrational behaviour and beliefs, women are by far the worst offenders.

          I’ve seen no evidence of that, as far as I’m concerned that’s just a sexist stereotype. I’m not sure how you are measuring “irrational behavior” but if you take at least one metric…

          On mentioning irrational beliefs, I specifically had woo and it’s various manifestations in mind. Perhaps I was a little vague. In my world, every conversation involving a group of otherwise pleasant rational women, contains references to star signs or having premonitions about events, psychic phenonema and the myriad alternate remedies that cure every ill ( nothing to lose, they say). As I like having friends and otherwise enjoy the companionship, it’s better to hold my tongue on these occasions though inwardly I’m battling to keep my opinions to myself. Don’t get me started on spirituality. Organised religion seems to be on the wane so I’m on fairly safe ground there. Most of my friends know that I’m not religious and that doesn’t ruffle too many feathers.

          • In reply to #43 by Nitya:

            On mentioning irrational beliefs, I specifically had woo and it’s various manifestations in mind. Perhaps I was a little vague. In my world, every conversation involving a group of otherwise pleasant rational women, contains references to star signs or having premonitions about events, psychic phenonema and the myriad alternate remedies that cure every ill ( nothing to lose, they say).

            Thanks for the clarification but I’m still not convinced. I will agree that in my experience also, women tend to be more susceptible to that kind of irrationality than men but in both our cases that is just anecdotal and culture specific so not something you can count as solid evidence. But the more important point I think looking at that one data point (assuming our anecdotal evidence points to some true phenomenon) and saying “women are more irrational than men” is invalid and sexist.

            There are a lot of other kinds of irrationality. Try talking to a “gun enthusiast” about the second amendment or a right winger about how the US looks “weak” because we haven’t bombed Syria and instead went for a peaceful resolution or a football fan about why their team is better than the other. All those cases are overwhelmingly male and very irrational and the consequences of some of those irrational beliefs are as bad or worse than a belief in woo.

            I’ve been reading a fair amount of what people call evolutionary psychology (e.g. Pinker) and while my focus hasn’t been on gender it comes up fairly often and while there are some indications that conflict with PC dogma that there are no inherent differences between men and women I’ve not seen any evidence that women are more irrational than men.

            Also, as long as we are giving anecdotal evidence, in my work experience I found that in general (there were of course major exceptions on both sides) I found women to be more reasonable to work with than men. The style of women tends to be collaborative where as the style of men tends to be to assert dominance. If I had to generalize from my work experience I would say that if anything women were a bit less irrational in general. Again, not claiming that as actual evidence just saying if we are going by anecdotal evidence there is plenty to support the alternative to your viewpoint.

          • In reply to #44 by Red Dog:

            In reply to #43 by Nitya:

            On mentioning irrational beliefs, I specifically had woo and it’s various manifestations in mind. Perhaps I was a little vague. In my world, every conversation involving a group of otherwise pleasant rational women, contains references to star signs or having premonitions…

            Ha ha ha! Yes, I was definitely relying on my own experience! Something I deplore when I see others fall into the same trap! Obviously no one is immune from careless thinking or generalising. I’ll have to be on my guard.

            Irrational thinking takes many forms I agree, but I did have the woo thing in mind when I was commenting. Am I safe in saying that most pews are occupied by older women? I haven’t graced a church with my presence for most of my adult life so I’m not sure that it still holds true. The power hierarchy in organised religion seems to be predominantly male as it is in almost all organisations. I think we’re looking at a completely different set of factors when it comes to leadership roles.

            Another point that has caught my attention is the fact that no RDFRS members defending their faith appear to be female. In my experience the ratio of male/female church goers definitely favours the females but they don’t defend it in public. I could hazard a guess and say that most woman don’t feel confident about expressing their views. Once again I can’t back this up with statistics I’m just making an observation.

          • In reply to #44 by Red Dog:

            In reply to #43 by Nitya:

            “be more reasonable to work with than men. The style of women tends to be collaborative where as the style of “

            I realised that I hadn’t addressed the other part of your comment and I have a few of my own observations. Yes, I think women have a more collaborative style in the workplace which seems to fit in well with humorous style of male colleagues. This fact makes a mixed working environment the best of all possible worlds. It’s probably not PC to point out the differences, but I always appreciated the humour. Everyone likes to laugh! The males’ competitive nature usually meant that they rose to higher echelons more quickly, though being non-competitive myself I didn’t mind as long as I enjoyed my job. ( which I did, though shame on me admitting such a thing).

            I’ve probably pushed my off-topic comments to the limit, so I’ll quit while I’m ahead.

  12. Nitya comment 35
    When talking about irrational behaviour and beliefs, women are by far the worst offenders

    Really, perhaps you should look at some of the male dominated creationist sites? Dotty Doris Stokes chatting to someones dead brother about Uncle Arfurs whippet looks positively erudite compared to Ken Ham.

    Or perhaps the totally male practise of turning wafers to long dead Jewish revolutionaries aka transubstantiation. Or five minutes watching the God channel where men will help you recreate the feelings of ODing on hallucinogens without any risk.

    I don’t think any gender has a monopoly on stupidity just perhaps the way it is expressed

  13. Red Dog comment 26
    It doesn’t help that half the initial comments were mildly sexist dumb jokes.

    LOL jokes Red Dog? Aren’t they supposed to be funny things? Oh how I laughed when creationists claimed humans and dinosaurs co existed – methinks I laughed to soon.

    But I stand by my original comment, there is no gender bias in creativity. When people talk about the great artists being male they really mean the great NAMED artists. But whilst Holbien was doing wide canvas portraits of Henry VIII Catherine of Aragon and unamed ladies were churning out the most beautiful embroidered cloaks and gowns. Go to the National Gallery to see Constable and other male artists suggesting art is for men, but go to the costume museum in Bath and see the most wonderful beaded creative works of art fashioned by unknown women. And there is the Beyeaux tapestry. If we found that unamed and unknown today we’d assume a male artist.

  14. Red Dog comment 26 Here is my hypothesis: in ancient cultures men were constantly competing with each other to get the most and the best mates. Women on the other hand were primarily more motivated to collaborate (since because of biology women ended up getting stuck with the majority of the child rearing).

    I’m never very sure about that hypothesis because it comes from a modern perspective and is often used to attribute everything to males when in fact we don’t know. I get the idea that the paintings were to attract women, but I’d go for Occams razor and say that the minute we start inhabiting a space both genders start enhancing it. As soon as my kids could reach the blue tack up went pictures. As soon as they could hold pencils they deew. And they are not particularly artistic.

    My take is the painters were the early pre cursors of Laurance Llewellyn Bowen and Kelly Hoppen, nothing more nothing less. Just early interior designers bored of an evening with looking at blank cave walls. And I can see no reason for one gender to be favoured over another.

    • In reply to #41 by PG:

      I’m never very sure about that hypothesis because it comes from a modern perspective and is often used to attribute everything to males when in fact we don’t know.

      Well I don’t see how any view of the ancient world, or really just about anything that we can think of right now could not come “from a modern perspective” so I don’t see how that is a criticism. And I disagree that the hypothesis I’m proposing could be used “to attribute everything to males”. On the contrary, if that hypothesis is correct one of the things we would expect is that men would be much better at self promotion than women so that we might expect to find if we look hard enough that there were great works of art by women that have been overlooked due to male self promotion and sexism.

  15. In reply to #31 by Mr Greene:

    In reply to #30 by Light Wave:

    The article also said that the size of the hand prints could have been female OR adolescent boys ! in which case it would be more fitting that the art may have been for initiation rites – Maybe the cave would serve as a ritual space and boys would join the hunt as adu…

    Well something like that…maybe ? but I’m happy to be wrong.. I’ve seen Werner Hertzog too its great -but I’ve been interested in ancient art for sometime…Sahara rock art is only 6-7,000 years old…while some Pyreness and French rock / cave art is 40,000 years old…Australia’s rock art is from slightly later but not much and is a completely abstract style and there’s evidence of several different styles as new populations arrived…

    • In reply to #46 by Light Wave:

      In reply to #31 by Mr Greene:

      In reply to #30 by Light Wave:

      The article also said that the size of the hand prints could have been female OR adolescent boys ! in which case it would be more fitting that the art may have been for initiation rites – Maybe the cave would serve as a ritual space and…

      The cave art of Australian aborigines involved frequent retouching ceremonies as well, though you probably already know this. I just thought it was interesting that the original art work could be many layers underneath the retouched version. It all formed part of the ritual when the tribal group visited a sacred site. The thought crossed my mind when reading this article. Possibly these artworks have been repainted over time.

  16. In reply to #30 by Light Wave:

    The article also said that the size of the hand prints could have been female OR adolescent boys ! in which case it would be more fitting that the art may have been for initiation rites – Maybe the cave would serve as a ritual space and boys would join the hunt as adu…

    Believe me I’m a teacher and from a long careful analysis of adolescent male desk art I can tell you that the content is all wrong!!! Its willies all the way in our desk grafitti. From year 7 (age 11) to sixth form. Maybe the Cenr Abbas giant but not these. I’ve yet to see anything but badly drawn genitalia from adolescent boys.

    Anyway what exactly is everyones problem with women having painted these? Why are the men so upset?

  17. Red Dog comment 42 Well I don’t see how any view of the ancient world, or really just about anything that we can think of right now could not come “from a modern perspective” so I don’t see how that is a criticism.

    Hi Red Dog, I just think some of the thinking about our early ancestors has overestimated mate selection and is often by males with little input or understanding of female networks. And I really think in the process we’ve drastically underestimated just how difficult it must have been to survive in an world where climate was changing rapidly and how much brainpower would have been needed and would therefore have been relatively surplus afterwards. To engage in things like cave paintings, story telling etc. I think the sheer difficulties of survivng in rapidly changing environments had far more to do with our massive brain growth than any other factor.

    The latest research is showing just how much our early evolutionary environment of East Africa was changing due to climate changes. That must have been a massive pressure to evolve larger brains very quickly. I really do think those paintings are just an attempt to brighten up a living space. Because that is what we do now and have done for years.

    • In reply to #51 by PG:

      I just think some of the thinking about our early ancestors has overestimated mate selection and is often by males with little input or understanding of female networks.

      I’m not familiar with whose research you are referring to so I can’t really comment much. Just from the term “female network” I don’t see how that idea is necessarily in conflict with the ideas from evolutionary psychology that I’ve mentioned and that are summarized by Pinker in How the Mind Works and Better Angels. In fact the idea that females would be good at networking and supporting each other fits right in with the hypothesis.

      Just to be clear, I realize that these kinds of issues (males compete for females) are only one factor in a complicated network of factors.

      And I really think in the process we’ve drastically underestimated just how difficult it must have been to survive in an world where climate was changing rapidly and how much brainpower would have been needed and would therefore have been relatively surplus afterwards.

      To be honest I’m going to be a bit more skeptical of any theory that suddenly posits “climate change” as the defining factor. I will fear that it’s got political baggage. Not that I don’t believe in climate change far from it, in fact I get annoyed sometimes at people like Jared Diamond who make these convoluted arguments to justify doing something about climate change now because of the Mayans or Easter Island or whatever. All his arguments are probably true but you don’t need to look at ancient history to realize how serious the problem of climate change is right now. Just using modern climate science and understanding how drastic the change is going to be should be sufficient.

      Also, a changing climate doesn’t really change the main argument. Women due to biology have to invest a lot more resources per child so women will tend to be more conservative about mating where as for men to be reproductively successful their strategy (not talking about ethics or what is right for modern humans here just from the standpoint of a biologist looking at primitive humans) will be to be more aggressive about mating. So the scarce resource that men will compete over is women. A changing climate may make the competition more fierce but it won’t change the underlying dynamics at all.

  18. Nitya The males’ competitive nature usually meant that they rose to higher echelons more quickly, though being non-competitive myself I didn’t mind as long as I enjoyed my job. ( which I did, though shame on me admitting such a thing).

    My boss is a women and very competitive. Our female deputy head has just left to become head of a far bigger school. Neither of them could be described as non competitive. Meanwhile I work with a couple of male teachers who are very happy to avoid promotions wherever possible as they are happy where they are. And humour is mixed, there are just as many funny females.

    I struggle to see too many differences between my colleagues. For every ambitious male there is a female, for every happy to remain where they are female there is also an equivalent male. I would guess that is because teaching is a relatively PC career where ancient sexism is very much frowned upon. I’ve always assumed that females not getting on in other industries has been due to sexism.

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