The Hands on the Wall


Back in 2002, scientists discovered something very unusual in Egypt’s Western Desert: a rock shelter called Wadi Sura II with thousands of 8,000 year old paintings! The painted walls had scenes of strange headless creatures, humans, animals, and hundreds of outlined hand prints scattered across its surface. Even more interesting were 13 miniature hand prints, which researchers first identified as human infant hands because of their small size. Baby prints in cave paintings had been discovered in Australia but had never been found in the Sahara before. This, combined with their small size and unusual shape, has now led anthropologist Emmanuelle Honoré to investigate further. She decided to compare measurements taken from the mini hand prints with those of human infants in a local hospital, and her conclusion was… they are not human! So whose hands are they?Honoré, together with other researchers, compared the hand prints to each other and noticed that the fingers changed position and appeared flexible, which suggested that the artists were not using a stencil. They then compared the measurements to animal hands and found that the closest match was the desert monitor lizard! They are not sure if a live lizard was used, or if the artists just borrowed a hand or two, but they do know that the prints were painted at about the same time and using the same pigment or paint. The scientists are also not sure why lizard hands would have been chosen to be part of the paintings, but whatever the reason behind their choice I am blown away by the incredible beauty and longevity of these ancient paintings!

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March 7, 2016

One thought on “The Hands on the Wall

  1. What a fun mystery. I love when scientists think outside the box, and then we get information like this. Who knows why they used lizard hands, but it’s fun to imagine what those ancient people were like.


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