The Cosquer Cave: The Hands

Fifty-five hand prints have been found in the cave, giving a moving documentation of human life in the Paleolithic era. They were drawn as negative (stencils) and as positive (hands coated with pigment and then applied to the rock) images.
These are all situated in the right (East) part of the cave, thus seeming to mark out the path that leads to the large shaft, which is now flooded. However, it once constituted a 14-meter deep, dark abyss that must have terrified the first visitors to the cave 27,000 years ago.

29,000 years before the present
Series of stencilled hands on a black background

This stalagmite mass situated close to the large flooded shaft, contains a group of eight left hands. The hands have shortened fingers, and stand out against a background of pulverised charcoal.
Stencilled hands with incomplete fingers
The fact that some phalanxes are missing in these drawings has given rise to a certain controversy. Does this bear witness to mutilations, sacrificial rituals, circulatory ailments or frostbite? Although the fingers are incomplete, the thumb is always intact on these hands which immediately eliminates the hypothesis of severe frostbite having resulted in the necrosis of the phalanxes. None of the skeletons of the Upper Paleolithic era found to date had hands with incomplete phalanxes. The most probable hypothesis is that the hands were drawn with bent fingers to represent a sign of greeting or a coded language. This was probably associated with hunting and various rituals, thus similar to the silent language once used by hunting peoples such as the Bushmen and the Australian Aborigines.
27 740 ± 410 years before the present

Series of digital markings
The digital markings are present everywhere in the cave and associated with the older phase.

Scientific supervision : Jean Clottes and Jean Courtin
Photos: A. Chéné, CNRS/CCJ.