Saturday, November 3, 2012

Cueva de las Manos

After consulting our map, instead of driving back to the coast from Los Antiguos we decided to visit an historical site known as Cueva de las Manos. Spanish for Cave of the Hands, the cave is located 100 miles (163 kms) south of the town of Perito Moreno in the valley of the Pinturas River. Here, the Río Pinturas has cut a deep, scenic canyon and in the process, erosion has left countless aleros, stony overhangs often mistakenly called cuevas (caves). One of these is the Cueva de las Manos. This well preserved rock art site, where stencils of hundreds of human hands, animals and abstract forms cover the walls became a World Heritage Site in 1999. The Cave, which is really a series of caves, lies in an isolated spot in the Patagonian landscape, about 60 miles (100 km) off the main National Route 40. The stretch of road up the canyon is eerily desolate, devoid of people and houses with only occasional sightings of guanaco and birds. 60 miles of unmitigated dirt road, with a loose skidding surface. It is a dead end road which means the only option is to drive there and back. So you really have to want to see the Cueva. However we had been told they are a superb example of ancient cave drawings. After arriving at the site there is a conducted ranger tour which takes about 2 hours. Besides us, there was a couple with their two children and a group of three backpackers. Walking on the narrow trail of the canyon is not for the timid and was fairly strenuous but the trek was well worth it. The main cave has an entrance 50 feet (15 m) wide, 33 feet (10m) high and is 80 feet (24 m) deep. The countless images of hands on the walls and ceiling are a mix of sprayed and stenciled, giving both positive and negative impressions. The negative hand impressions are calculated to be dated around 550 BC and the positive impressions from 180 BC. The inks used are mineral, so the age of the paintings was calculated from the remains of bone-made pipes used for spraying the paint on the wall. Most of the artistry is left hands, suggesting that the painters held the spraying pipe with their dexterous hand. Smaller numbers of these paintings are also seen in neighboring caves. The colors of the paintings are a variety of reds (made from hematite) orange, white, black or yellow. There are also drawings of human beings plus animals such as guanacos (a camelid similar to the llama) and rheas (the South American flightless bird similar to an ostrich), as well as geometric shapes and hunting scenes. These are the most recent drawings at between 9,000 to 13,000 years old. The people responsible for the paintings may have been the ancestors of the historic hunter-gatherer communities of Patagonia although history is unsure. One thing is sure, the Cueva de las Manos are well worth visiting if by chance you are in this extremely out-of-the-way area of Patagonia.

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