Located in the Santa Cruz province of Patagonia, the ancient Cueva de las Manos (Cave of the Hands) continues to fascinate and elude. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this unique place is thought to date to 7370 BC. This makes the site around 9,000 years old.
Stencilled onto overhanging rock are over 800 black, white, red and ochre handprints. Archaeologists have found stencils at the site. This suggests that indigenous people of the time used pigment to either colour over the stencil, or over their own hand. Even more fascinating, pipes fashioned from bones have been found at the cave site. These pipes were used to spray the paint over the stencils, creating the hand paintings that adorn the cave walls today.
Interestingly, most of the handprints are left hands– there is even one with six fingers. At Cueva de las Manos, the handprints that cover the cave walls appear to be symbolical. Furthermore, they are all unique. Accompanying them are depictions of humans, guanacos (camelids) and various geometric patterns. The cave also has incredible hunting scenes. These murals are truly captivating; especially more so as you consider prehistoric tools created them.
Today it is still not known exactly what the purpose of this cave was or the meaning behind the handprints. However, some theories have been proposed…
As most of the hands are the size of an adolescent boy, many have suggested that the marking of the hands is part of an initiation ritual or rite of passage. Others believe it may be a part of a religious ceremony. It is also possible that it is part of a tribe’s way of preparing before a hunt. Whilst the exact purpose of Cueva de las Manos is unknown, the mystery is what makes the site so enthralling!
One way to describe Cueva de las Manos is “off the beaten track”. 75 miles south of Perito Moreno, The Cave of Hands is located five hours from the nearest airport, Comodoro Rivadavia, and it is more than a slight detour from Patagonia’s Route 40. Unfortunately this cave is not a hidden gem you’ll just stumble across. However, it is well worth it– and getting there is all part of the adventure!
Access this ancient site by car, on horseback or by hiking. However, it is recommended to hike the last section of road, as it can be quite bumpy. Don’t let the isolation of this astonishing site scare you off. A visit will transport you back in time and give you an insight into prehistoric history and ancient culture. These fascinating rock paintings are mysterious, intriguing and beautiful. Don’t miss a stop at Cueva de las Manos on your next trip to Patagonia…