Friday, January 22, 2021

Photo Friday: Cueva de Las Manos

In February 2020--remember those days when we could still travel and move about?--my husband, brother-in-law, and I traveled through Patagonia. I'm starting to be able to go through those photos again and share some. I have used more of my husband's photos than I have in the past, in part because they are better than mine, and in part so that his talent can be shared.

One of our early stops on an 11-day, 1600-mile road trip on both sides of the Chile-Argentina border, was the Cueva de Las Manos (Cave of the Hands), a UNESCO World Heritage Site established in 1999. In a canyon carved by the Rio Pinturas into the basalt, a lengthy section of overhang (not really a cave) is covered with thousands of pictographs, primarily the silhouettes of hands.

The drive down Argentina's Ruta 40 over the Patagonia steppe felt a lot like driving minor backroads through the US Southwest. At least it, unlike the 17-miles road to the cave, was mostly paved (though we learned to read at least three different kinds of sign warning of potholes, some of them bad enough to require slowing to dirt-road speeds).

The tip-off that we weren't in Utah (besides highway signs in Spanish) was the fauna.

Guanaco crossing the road. These are the camelids from which llamas were bred. (Photo by Dave Dempsey)

Darwin's Rhea, a smallish version of the large, flightless birds endemic to South America (photo by Dave Dempsey)

At the end of the dirt road lay a visitor's center and a staff of multi-lingual guides to interpret and protect the site. We were the first visitors that morning and had a guide to ourselves. She had been an archaeology student before leaving university to work full-time at the Cueva de las Manos, and had just enough English to get the job done. She led us off down the roughly 1-mile trail to the cave, which is high on the banks about the line of green marking the Rio Pintura.

Photo by Dave Dempsey

As I have found with ancient rock art throughout the Colorado Plateau and beyond, it is humbling and moving to be in the presence of such ancient works of personal expression.

This panel includes one of the few right hands. Since the images were made by holding a blow-tube of pigment to the lips with one hand and blowing it over the other to create a stencil, most of the artists used their left hands as models.
The area was inhabited for about 8000 years, starting as early as 9300 years ago (dated at least in part by analysis of the organic compounds in the pigments). As a result some of the panels are palimpsests, showing the changing styles as well.

Over time, more images beyond hands crept in. Herds of guanaco and occasionally other animals may celebrate the hunt--or even in some cases, record where and how a successful hunt took place.

The cave, really more of an overhang, has protected the images from sun and weather through the centuries, maintaining the at times surprisingly vibrant colors. The zig-zags and dotted lines seen above are also common in rock art throughout the US, and are usually thought to represent rivers or routes through the land.  

Like any wise travelers to such remote sites, we came prepared, and enjoyed a typical roadside lunch on the way back to the highway, in a canyon that felt very familiar and at the same time alien.

Our trusty rental, a small Volkswagon wagon.

Provisions--always essential--we also carried some jugs of water in these remote lands.

 ©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2021
 As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated.


  1. Hi Rebecca - wonderful photos ... and yes they are very clear ... and what an incredible place to have had the privilege of visiting. Loved seeing the paintings ... thank you - Hilary

    1. Thank you. It was a privilege to visit such a place.

  2. Great photos and very interesting narrative! Thank you!

  3. Rebecca, this is fascinating and reminds me of one of the early historical fictions I fell in love with in high school. I think it was called “the Cave Dreamers” anyway, nice to see the pictures from Dave. I’m still so sorry for your loss.

    1. Thanks, Echo. It is always amazing to pause in a place like that and thing about the real human beings who lived there so long ago, and created the art—why? Is the urge to art part of what makes us human? Or is it about leaving your mark?

  4. You always make me jealous, with your travel reports. Thanks for sharing them, as many are of places I'll never get to.

    1. This one took a lot of getting to. Two days’ drive from Bariloche, or more.


We want to hear from you! Tell us your reactions, or whatever's on your mind.