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7 January 2006
Cave art: men and women each did their own thing

Analysis of stenciled handprints found on the walls of an Indonesian cave suggest that prehistoric men and women chose not to mix genders when it came to this enigmatic art form, scientists say. Experts from France's National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) looked at handprints left at the Gua Masri II cave in Indonesia, using a new computer model to determine whether the hand that made the mark was male or female. They found that the male cave dwellers grouped their handprints in given locations and the females put their own handprints in their own areas.
     "This discovery supports evidence put forward by ethnologists showing that prehistoric man had different rituals than women," Jean-Michel Chazine of France's Center for Research and Documentation on Oceania (Credo) said. "The findings suggest that the female role was far more important than was previously thought," he added, venturing that women in primitive societies might have played the part of magician or shaman.
     The new software is based on research that can calculate the gender of a hand's owner according to the proportionate lengths of the ring and index fingers. These two fingers are of equal length among women but there is a big difference in their length among men.
     The two Gua Masri sites, found in limestone rock in the highlands of Borneo in the 1990s by a Franco-Indonesian team, comprise hundreds of hand stencils that are believed to be between 8,000 and 20,000 years old. CNRS archaeologists are looking at other handprints at the Pech Merle and Cosquer caves in France, at the Cueva de las Manos Pintadas in Argentina and other caves in Indonesia.

Source: Middle East Times (5 January 2006)

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