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Sexual Dimorphism in European Upper Paleolithic Cave Art

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 January 2017

Dean R. Snow*
Department of Anthropology, The Pennsylvania State University, 409 Carpenter Building, University Park, PA 16802 (


Preliminary research on hand stencils found in the Upper Paleolithic cave sites of France and Spain showed that sexual dimorphism in human hands is expressed strongly enough to allow empirical determination of the sexes of the individuals who made some of them. Further research increased the sample of measurable cases from 6 to 32, a large enough sample to show that persons who made hand stencils in the caves were predominantly females. This finding rebuts the traditional assumption that human hand stencils in European parietal art were made by male artists, either adults or subadults. Findings further suggest that the sexual dimorphism of hands was more pronounced during the Upper Paleolithic than it is in modern Europeans. Attempts to apply the same algorithms to a sample of North American Indian handprints confirms the view that different populations require separate analyses.



La investigación preliminar sobre los estarcidos de mano que se encuentran en los sitios rupestres del Paleolίtico Superior de Francia y España demostró que el dimorfismo sexual en las manos de los hombres y las mujeres se expresa con fuerza suficiente como para permitir la determinación empίrica de los sexos de los individuos que hicieron algunos de ellos. La investigación adicional incrementó la muestra apreciable de casos a partir de seis a 32, una muestra suficientemente grande como para mostrar que las personas que hicieron los estarcidos a mano en las cuevas eran en su mayorίa mujeres. Este hallazgo refuta la suposición tradicional de que las plantillas de la mano humana en el arte parietal Europeo fueron hechas por artistas masculinos, adultos o jóvenes. Los hallazgos sugieren además que el dimorfismo sexual de las manos fue más fuerte durante del Paleolίtico Superior que en los Europeos modernos. Los intentos de aplicar los mismos algoritmos a una muestra de las manos de Indios Norte Americanos confirma la opinión que las diferentes poblaciones requieren analiza por separado.

Copyright © The Society for American Archaeology 2014

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