An archaeologist at Penn State University says he believes prehistoric cave paintings in France and Spain were probably mostly done by women, challenging longstanding beliefs that men were the primary cave artists.
By comparing the relative length of certain fingers in the drawings, researcher Dean Snow said he was able to conclude that as much as 75 percent of early, ancient paintings were done by women, according to National Geographic.
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"There has been a male bias in the literature for a long time," said Snow, whose research was supported by the National Geographic Society's Committee for Research and Exploration. "People have made a lot of unwarranted assumptions about who made these things, and why."
Snow began his painting study more than a decade ago. He read the work of British biologist John Manning, who found that men and women differ in the relative lengths of their fingers.
Manning said women tend to have ring and index fingers of about the same length, whereas men's ring fingers tend to be longer than their index fingers, according to National Geographic.
Hand stencils on cave walls have been found around the world by archeologists. Since many of the early paintings depict game animals like bison, reindeer, horses, and woolly mammoths, many researchers thought the drawing were made by male hunters chronicling their kills.
"In most hunter-gatherer societies, it's men that do the killing," Snow said. "But it's often the women who haul the meat back to camp, and women are as concerned with the productivity of the hunt as the men are. It wasn't just a bunch of guys out there chasing bison around."
Snow's conclusion has not been accepted by all experts in his field, according to the Daily Mail.
Biologist R. Dale Guthrie believes that many of the hand paintings were done by adolescent boys. He performed a similar analysis of Paleolithic handprints.
"They drew what was on their mind, which is mainly two things: naked women and large, frightening mammals," Guthrie, a professor emeritus at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, told the Daily Mail.
Guthrie said young boys would have been the first to explore the caves for play and adventure.
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