Many Ancient Artists of Prehistoric Paintings Were Kids
The painted hand-prints are thought to have coded signals, according to researchers.
A new study1 challenges our perception of how art was created during the Paleolithic period by suggesting that some of the world's oldest pieces of art may have been created by toddlers or even young children. The research suggests that prehistoric rock painting was not a male-only pastime but rather a family-centered collective activity.
180 hand stencils created in Spanish caves about 20,000 years ago were investigated by experts from Cambridge University and Spain's University of Cantabria for a study that was published in the Journal of Archaeological Science. The Handpas Project's 3-D models of the hand paintings from the caves of El Castillo, Maltravieso, Fuente de Saln, Fuente del Trucho, and La Gama in Spain were used in the study. The hands would have been set against the cave wall, and color would have been blown over them through a hollow reed or bone, creating outlines that were somewhat larger than the hands themselves.
After taking this variation into account, the researchers discovered that up to 25% of the hand prints were too small to be those of adults or teenagers. They estimated that they were made by children between the ages of three and ten, with children between the ages of three and ten likely making the majority of them. Unexpectedly, a large number of children's hands were discovered. It would seem that, contrary to what was previously believed, these creative endeavors were not exclusively the domain of males and directly related to group survival. Instead, we may fairly infer that their parents or other adults were helping them because younger children would not have been able to blow the pigment strongly enough to produce the markings.
Paleolithic peoples may have used painting as a significant form of social interaction. The team is currently analyzing the hand markings to discover whether the gestures shown in any photographs have any significance. One theory is that some of the hand silhouettes' bent fingers, which appear in recurrent patterns, could be a sort of nonverbal communication. In the same way that we read a "stop" sign in modern times, the team want to know if it is a code that they were able to decipher.
Last but not least, children are thought to have created what may be the oldest known work of art, a collection of prehistoric hand and foot prints discovered in Tibet last year and dated to between 169,000 and 226,000 years ago.
Fernández-Navarro, V., Camarós, E., & Garate, D. (2022). Visualizing childhood in Upper Palaeolithic societies: Experimental and archaeological approach to artists’ age estimation through cave art hand stencils. Journal of Archaeological Science, 140(105574), 105574. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jas.2022.105574