Thursday, July 09, 2009

Some early art history -- in process

It has been a while since I blogged anything on the Stone Age. To remedy this terrible lack, let me link to a post from Judith Weingarten at Zenobia: Empress of the East on some recent research about who created some of the famous Stone Age cave paintings. She likes the idea that women -- and kids -- helped create some of the earliest surviving art, but points out that there are some yet-unanswered questions about this specific argument, which depends on the different proportions between the 2nd and 4th fingers seen in men and women (2D:4D):
Until recently, according to Pennsylvania State University archaeologist, Dean Snow, most scientists assumed these prehistoric hand prints were male. But, he says, "even a superficial examination of published photos suggested ... that there were lots of female hands there."

Looking at some stencilled hands, Snow could see that "The very long ring finger on the left is a dead give-away for male hands. The one on the right has a long index finger and a short pinky -- thus very feminine."

To assess prehistoric hand-prints from European caves, Snow used modern hands for comparison. "I had access to lots of people of European descent who were willing to let me scan their hands as reference data," said Snow.

By carefully measuring and analysing the Pech Merle hand stencils, Snow found that many were indeed female -- as, for example, those in the 'spotted horse' picture (above). And so he concludes, "We don't know what the roles of artists were in Upper Paleolithic society generally. But it's a step forward to be able to say that a strong majority of them were women."

I hate to be a party pooper but...

this begs three questions.

First, and to my mind most serious, is:

How do we know that today's 2D:4D finger ratio was the same for the early modern humans who painted the caves?
More from Judith here. A good example of how research often progresses by asking lots of simple questions, and not being too quickly satisfied with the first few answers.

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Blogger Emrys Eustace, hygt Broom said...

"this begs three questions"... and then you list one.

OK, I'll bite: what are the other two?

3:00 PM  
Blogger Steve Muhlberger said...

That was part of a long post by Judith Weingarten, and I was hoping to lure readers over to her blog for the rest.

4:13 PM  
Blogger Emrys Eustace, hygt Broom said...

Ah, didn't get that. Thought it was your original material. Off to read the column...

4:22 PM  

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