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Women & cave art

(33 Posts)
ArabellaScott Sat 19-Sep-20 22:45:14

It's been found fairly recently that 75% of cave art was made by women, challenging the accepted idea of cave artists being predominantly male.

As far as I know, previously hand/thumb ratio had been analysed, seems that recently fingerprints have been analysed to asses the sex and age of the artists.

www.theartnewspaper.com/news/fingerprints-help-identify-prehistoric-painters

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ErrolTheDragon Sat 19-Sep-20 22:58:46

That's interesting.
* ...challenging the accepted idea of cave artists being predominantly male.*

Do you have any idea why that was have been the 'accepted idea' - was it based on any evidence or at least plausible theories or, well, just because of a default assumption of men doing all the interesting and important stuff?

ArabellaScott Sat 19-Sep-20 23:14:49

As far as I know, it went roughly 'pictures were of animals and hunters, males were hunters, ergo artists must have been male'.

This is off of wikipedia: 'Henri Breuil interpreted the paintings as hunting magic to increase the abundance of prey.'

'R. Dale Guthrie ...hypothesizes that the main themes in the paintings and other artifacts (powerful beasts, risky hunting scenes and the representation of women in the Venus figurines) are the work of adolescent males, who constituted a large part of the human population at the time.[23][verification needed] However, in analyzing hand prints and stencils in French and Spanish caves, Dean Snow of Pennsylvania State University has proposed that a proportion of them, including those around the spotted horses in Pech Merle, were of female hands.[24] '

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cave_painting

I have got what looks like a brilliant book on cave art, that is on my teetering to-read pile (The Mind in the Cave). Maybe I'll crack it out!

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Dreeple Sat 19-Sep-20 23:31:57

Still don’t get why anyone thought the artists had to be male.

EvilEdna1 Sat 19-Sep-20 23:48:12

I went to see some cave paintings in Northern Spain and one section of cave was devoted to vulvas. The guide only spoke Spanish which I don't speak do no idea what was going on.

ArabellaScott Sun 20-Sep-20 07:41:44

Dreeple, tbh I think the underlying reasoning is that only men are capable of doing anything of any significance - and default male thinking, too.

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HeirloomTomato Sun 20-Sep-20 07:42:59

Interesting to hear there is finally some proof of this. I had always wondered, even as a child, why we were supposed to assume that ancient cave artists were male just because the animals they drew were large animals that were typically hunted. Now we have some proof that the artists weren't always male. Why would they have been? This always struck me as us projecting our own contemporary social roles backward onto the past rather than any factual representation of the past.

ArabellaScott Sun 20-Sep-20 07:48:22

Woah, Edna, thank you, I hadn't heard of these caves! The Chamber Of Vulvas - amazing.

www.sciencemag.org/news/2012/05/engravings-female-genitalia-may-be-worlds-oldest-cave-art

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nepeta Sun 20-Sep-20 07:59:10

HeirloomTomato

Interesting to hear there is finally some proof of this. I had always wondered, even as a child, why we were supposed to assume that ancient cave artists were male just because the animals they drew were large animals that were typically hunted. Now we have some proof that the artists weren't always male. Why would they have been? This always struck me as us projecting our own contemporary social roles backward onto the past rather than any factual representation of the past.

Agreed. The same problem plagues or plagued animal studies, too, especially during the era when most researchers were men. It was as if an invisible patriarchal script was applied to explanations of various animal groups and their hierarchies and that script assumed that the male animals acted while the female animals were acted upon, that males would top all hierarchies, that only males could be 'promiscuous' and so on.

Come to think of it, older evolutionary psychology stories are full of similar biased assumptions about men vs. women.

ArabellaScott Sun 20-Sep-20 08:04:01

I highly recommend The Descent of Woman by Elaine Morgan. Some of her theories are a bit... quaint, but I believe it was ground-breaking in centring the mother/infant dyad in evolutionary theory, instead of the 'hunter male' .

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CountFosco Sun 20-Sep-20 08:16:38

Old archeologists made the 'male as default' assumption the whole time. Any body buried with armour was assumed to be male, if the skelton appeared small it was assumed to be a boy rather than a woman.

Viking warrior
Scythian warriors

ArabellaScott Sun 20-Sep-20 08:23:02

Fascinating article on the Scythians, thank you!

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CaveMum Sun 20-Sep-20 08:36:59

It’s a bit like Sandy Toksvig’s anecdote about her anthropology professor:

Years ago, when I was studying anthropology at university, one of my female professors held up a photograph of an antler bone with 28 markings on it. "This," she said, "is alleged to be man's first attempt at a calendar." We all looked at the bone in admiration. "Tell me," she continued, "what man needs to know when 28 days have passed? I suspect that this is woman's first attempt at a calendar."

www.theguardian.com/world/2004/jan/23/gender.uk

ArabellaScott Sun 20-Sep-20 08:46:45

I love that anecdote, Cavemum. grin

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Gronky Sun 20-Sep-20 09:54:25

Dreeple

Still don’t get why anyone thought the artists had to be male.

In the case of hand shape analysis, an earlier study reached this conclusion (specifically, male youths) because it used a different methodology. Guthrie's book (The Nature of Palaeolithic Art) isn't available online to read but Snow's paper references it and compares competing methodologies:
anth.la.psu.edu/documents/AQ7848Snow.pdf

The biggest limitation to this method is that it requires the artist to 'provide' a full hand print, while a fingerprint might be left accidentally. I'm unable to access 'Who painted that? The authorship of Schematic rock art at the Los Machos rockshelter in southern Iberia' because the journal is not part of my subscriptions.

ArabellaScott Sun 20-Sep-20 09:57:49

Thanks, Gronky, will read later. I would guess it's always hard to draw inferences from these things, so much is unknown, but for me the possibility of the artists being female was a bit of a mental shift.

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Gronky Sun 20-Sep-20 10:25:59

but for me the possibility of the artists being female was a bit of a mental shift.

In terms of assumptions, I was thinking about why I might imagine a person drawing a hunt to be male. From a modern perspective, I would say it's because hunting is more of a hobby and not significantly dangerous in a developed nation, so recording it seems self aggrandising.

Iggypoppie Sun 20-Sep-20 10:30:07

Fascinating thank you for sharing OP

DadOnIce Sun 20-Sep-20 10:31:48

This story's in the Guardian too. I'm wondering if they had to type the phrase 'both sexes' through gritted teeth...

ArabellaScott Sun 20-Sep-20 11:18:24

Gronky, one of the articles I read was saying that most of the animals at the Lascaux caves weren't actually common prey animals - my memory is horribly unreliable, but I think the animals depicted were mostly horses, there weren't many deer shown, and from other archaeological evidence, deer were the most common prey animal. So the hunting theory itself seems far from conclusive.

DadOnice, I thought it was quite fascinating that even fingerprints are clearly differentiated by sex. smile

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Gronky Sun 20-Sep-20 12:20:35

Sorry, ArabellaScott, I wasn't attempting to offer evidence to support that assumption being realistic. I was attempting to explain why, if asked to make an assumption on the spot, I might have answered that most cave paintings were probably made by men. The first image that pops into my head when I think of cave paintings is hunting scenes but it's not a subject that I've looked into in the past so any knowledge would be based on popular culture.

CaraDuneRedux Sun 20-Sep-20 12:26:14

CaveMum

It’s a bit like Sandy Toksvig’s anecdote about her anthropology professor:

Years ago, when I was studying anthropology at university, one of my female professors held up a photograph of an antler bone with 28 markings on it. "This," she said, "is alleged to be man's first attempt at a calendar." We all looked at the bone in admiration. "Tell me," she continued, "what man needs to know when 28 days have passed? I suspect that this is woman's first attempt at a calendar."

www.theguardian.com/world/2004/jan/23/gender.uk

The other anecdote I love is the one about the anthropology professor asked what impact it had made to the curriculum when it had been discovered that typically women hunted small game and men engaged in some gathering activites in early hunter-gatherer civilisations.

"Well," she said, rather wryly, "The textbooks have had to be changed, of course. In addition to illustrations of groups of men bravely hunting bison, we now have illustrations of groups of men bravely foraging for nuts and berries."

ZarasHouse Sun 20-Sep-20 12:52:20

If the art had been mostly done by heterosexual men it would be all scantily clad or naked women frolicking in nature together like during the Renaissance. Instead it's hunters. That's not cave art, it's the portrait of their men. So the women and kids don't forget what he looks like while he's off fighting sabre tooth tigers with his bare hands, or whatevs.

ZarasHouse Sun 20-Sep-20 12:55:26

I think they made their paintings to show how brave their spouses and kids fathers were. "This is Daddy fighting a bear" not "here is Daddy eating earth worms and caterpillars because he's starving and they haven't even managed to catch so much as a rabbit in 3 weeks"

KedsAndTubeSocks Sun 20-Sep-20 13:00:02

When I saw some ancient Aboriginal 'cave' paintings (under an overhang, rather than a proper cave) I just assumed it was women painting to entertain the children.

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