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Cueva De Las Manos

When the great ice fields were melting millions of years ago, the Río Deseado and its tributaries slashed canyons into Argentina’s Patagonia plains. A dozen millennia ago, these gorges became the roads and hunting fields of the ancient indigenous who wandered across the steppes, following seasonal herds of guanaco and rhea. Wherever these ancestors of the Aónikenk went, they left pinturas rupestres, or rock paintings. One of the most impressive collections of these is Cueva de las Manos (Cave of the Hands), a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1999.

Cueva de las Manos lies within the Cañadón del Río Pinturas, 150-kilometer (93-mi) long and 200-meter (656-ft) deep canyon. There, on sheltered rock overhangs are three major sets of paintings. Mostly they are “negative” handprints, made by pigment being sprayed around human hands. At first glance, they all seem to be normal left hands. But a closer look reveals otherwise. All ages and genders are represented, including babies. Of the 829 hands, 31 are right. The second group of paintings has not only five-fingered prints, but also a six-fingered, three-fingered and a no-fingered hand (this possibly of a frostbite victim). Even the local choique (rhea) left its mark upon this wall.

Hunting scenes are also represented. One of the oldest such depictions has a landscape outline sketched above it. Turn around, and the same profile is seen on the other side of the canyon. Perhaps this was one of the best hunting spots. Another such spectacle appears to the right of the main cave, where a group of pregnant guanaco and white circles (thought to represent the moon) are located. Another animal frequently depicted is the local matuasto lizard, which archaeologists believe had a religious significance for this native nation. In later years, artists began to express themselves also in zigzags, spirals and other geometric shapes.

The multi-colored rock of the Cañadón bespeaks from where the indigenous’ rich palette of red, yellow, violet, green, black and white came. By grinding these stones and mixing the powder with rhea fat and urine, the artists then either blew, stippled, or simply used their fingers, to create the images that are yet seen today. Since 1972, archaeologists have excavated the Río Pinturas sites. They conclude the creations fall into four major periods, dating from over 9,300 years ago to approximately 1000 AD. Geometric designs are from the last period. Artifacts found include projectile points, animal bones and painting materials. Other “stone canvases” exist on the opposite side of the Río Pintura canyon, as well as in at least 80 other parts of the Patagonia, from Estancia La María near Puerto San Julián to Paredón de las Manos near Cerro Castillo, Chile.

To this day, large herds of guanaco roam the landscape dappled with Magellan barberry, duraznillo (Colliguaya integerrina) and coirón (Festuca spp.). Fox, mara, skunk, armadillo and puma are other residents of these plains. Rhea is also frequently seen, as are Black-necked Swan, Ashy-headed Goose, Caracara, South American Stilt and Tinamou.

From Cueva de las Manos’ entry, site guides take groups of up to 20 visitors down to the paintings (mid-January to mid-April: hourly 9 a.m.-7 p.m.; mid-April through October: every 2 hr 9 a.m.-7 p..m.). A series of boardwalks and steps extend 800 meters (0.6 mi). Tours may be canceled if winds are high. The entry fee for foreigners is $14 (50 pesos) and for Argentines $4.25 (15 pesos).


Other places nearby Cueva De Las Manos : El Chaltén, Parque Nacional Perito Moreno , Rio Turbio, Lago Posadas, El Calafate, Perito Moreno, Gobernador Gregores and Los Antiguos .

By Lorraine Caputo

Upon re-declaring her independence at age 29, Lorraine Caputo packed her trusty Rocinante (so her knapsack's called) and began...

23 Aug 2010

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