The Cave of Hands in Santa Cruz, Patagonia, Argentina
Declared as a Unesco “World Heritage Site” in 1999 and said to be the soul of Patagonia, Cueva de las Manos is one of the most incredible sites to visit in Argentina.
Surrounding valleys stretching for kilometres in all directions are silent. Yet, The Cave of Hands stands witness to a passage where primitive hunters crossed the valley and stopped to mark their existence with a handprint. These prints are now considered the finest form of ancient rock art on earth.
What is it?
Facing the Cañón de Río Pinturas in Patagonia, this breathtaking site contains more than 800 handprints of different colors. While other forms of handprints have been found around the world, the Cave of Hands offers the largest and most dramatic display of rock art worldwide.
The prehistoric artwork is beautiful and marks three distinct cultures. It is believed that the distinction signifies three different eras. The handprints date back to around 5,000 BC, where dwellers of the cave and those who passed by are believed to have used bone pipes to stencil colorful silhouettes of their hands along the cave walls. And since most of the prints are of the left hand, it’s believed that those who printed their hands were on their own at the time, that they needed to hold the pipe with the right hand to spray the silhouette of the left.
The substances used to produce this form of art varied. kaolin to make white prints, iron oxide for red and purple, manganese oxide for black and natrojarosite for yellow.
Other representations of prehistoric life are also depicted; the hunting of game, the bola- a hunting tool that seems to have been popular in addition to forms of animals and humans. Studying these forms of art opens a window to discover the life of the ancestors of the Tehuelche people of the Patagonian desert. Archeologists first discovered the site in 1949, while further studies were carried out until its declaration as a World Heritage Site in 1999.
What do the hands mean?
There are two theories; one suggests that the hands have been printed as a right of passage or ceremony for adolescent boys, since the handprints seem smaller than those of adults. The other suggests a pre-hunting ritual that has been performed for good luck.
Where is it?
The Cave of Hands is located along the Cañón de Río Pinturas. 75 miles to the South of the town of Perito Moreno on Ruta 40. Perito Moreno is a 5 hour drive from the airport in Comodoro Rivadavia – around a 1,000 miles to the South of Buenos Aires.
How can I see it?
Since it’s located in a far away spot of Patagonia, the cave is accessible through a long dirt road. A rough journey but the reward is worth every bit of it.
The cave lies in the valley of the Pinturas River. There’s a long road and a short road to get there. The long one leaves from Ruta 40 to the north of Bajo Caracoles and travels 28 miles towards the northeast heading the south side of Pinturas Canyon. From Ruta 40, the shorter unlinked road connects both sides of the Canyon. While you can take the longer road and reach by car if you feel like a bumpy ride, the picturesque surrounding is not to miss. You can hike or ride a horse instead and enjoy the enormity of the environment around you, it is a maximum of a 10 mile journey and the Rio Pintura valley is breathtaking!
Before You Go
– The inside of the cave has an upward slope and shrinks its height to 7ft.
– Besides the handprints, there are zigzag lines, hunting scenes, geometric shapes, humans, guanacos, rheas and felines. Some scenes show individual hunting and others show group hunting, one handprint has six fingers!
– The location is perfect for trekking and hiking.
– Guide day trips cost around AR$600 per person plus park entrance fee, you may extend as you wish.
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