by Virginia Hughes
Published October 8, 2013
Women made most of the oldest-known cave art paintings, suggests a new analysis of ancient handprints. Most scholars had assumed these ancient artists were predominantly men, so the finding overturns decades of archaeological dogma.
Archaeologist Dean Snow of Pennsylvania State University analyzed hand stencils found in eight cave sites in France and Spain. By comparing the relative lengths of certain fingers, Snow determined that three-quarters of the handprints were female.
“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.”
Archaeologists have found hundreds of hand stencils on cave walls across the world. Because many of these early paintings also showcase game animals—bison, reindeer, horses, woolly mammoths—many researchers have proposed that they were made by male hunters, perhaps to chronicle their kills or as some kind of “hunting magic” to improve success of an upcoming hunt. The new study suggests otherwise.
“In most hunter-gatherer societies, it’s men that do the killing. 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,” Snow said. “It wasn’t just a bunch of guys out there chasing bison around.”
Experts expressed a wide range of opinions about how to interpret Snow’s new data, attesting to the many mysteries still surrounding this early art.
“Hand stencils are a truly ironic category of cave art because they appear to be such a clear and obvious connection between us and the people of the Paleolithic,” said archaeologist Paul Pettitt of Durham University in England. “We think we understand them, yet the more you dig into them you realize how superficial our understanding is.”
Snow’s study began more than a decade ago when he came across the work of John Manning, a British biologist who had found that men and women differ in the relative lengths of their fingers: 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.
Photographs by Roberto Ontanon Peredo, courtesy Dean Snow
One day after reading about Manning’s studies, Snow pulled a 40-year-old book about cave paintings off his bookshelf. The inside front cover of the book showed a colorful hand stencil from the famous Pech Merle cave in southern France. “I looked at that thing and I thought, man, if Manning knows what he’s talking about, then this is almost certainly a female hand,” Snow recalled.
Hand stencils and handprints have been found in caves in Argentina, Africa, Borneo, and Australia. But the most famous examples are from the 12,000- to 40,000-year-old cave paintings in southern France and northern Spain. (See “Pictures: Hand Stencils Through Time.”)
For the new study, out this week in the journal American Antiquity, Snow examined hundreds of stencils in European caves, but most were too faint or smudged to use in the analysis. The study includes measurements from 32 stencils, including 16 from the cave of El Castillo in Spain, 6 from the caves of Gargas in France, and 5 from Pech Merle.
Snow ran the numbers through an algorithm that he had created based on a reference set of hands from people of European descent who lived near his university. Using several measurements—such as the length of the fingers, the length of the hand, the ratio of ring to index finger, and the ratio of index finger to little finger—the algorithm could predict whether a given handprint was male or female. Because there is a lot of overlap between men and women, however, the algorithm wasn’t especially precise: It predicted the sex of Snow’s modern sample with about 60 percent accuracy.
Luckily for Snow, that wasn’t a problem for the analysis of the prehistoric handprints. As it turned out—much to his surprise—the hands in the caves were much more sexually dimorphic than modern hands, meaning that there was little overlap in the various hand measurements.
“They fall at the extreme ends, and even beyond the extreme ends,” Snow said. “Twenty thousand years ago, men were men and women were women.”
Woman, Boy, Shaman?
Snow’s analysis determined that 24 of the 32 hands—75 percent—were female. (See “Pictures: Prehistoric European Cave Artists Were Female.”)
Some experts are skeptical. Several years ago, evolutionary biologist R. Dale Guthrie performed a similar analysis of Paleolithic handprints. His work—based mostly on differences in the width of the palm and the thumb—found that the vast majority of handprints came from adolescent boys.
For adults, caves would have been dangerous and uninteresting, but young boys would have explored them for adventure, said Guthrie, an emeritus professor at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. “They drew what was on their mind, which is mainly two things: naked women and large, frightening mammals.”
Other researchers are more convinced by the new data.
“I think the article is a landmark contribution,” said archaeologist Dave Whitley of ASM Affiliates, an archaeological consulting firm in Tehachapi, California. Despite these handprints being discussed for half a decade, “this is the first time anyone’s synthesized a good body of evidence.”
Whitley rejects Guthrie’s idea that this art was made for purely practical reasons related to hunting. His view is that most of the art was made by shamans who went into trances to try to connect with the spirit world. “If you go into one of these caves alone, you start to suffer from sensory deprivation very, very quickly, in 5 to 10 minutes,” Whitley said. “It can spin you into an altered state of consciousness.”
The new study doesn’t discount the shaman theory, Whitley added, because in some hunter-gatherer societies shamans are female or even transgendered.
The new work raises many more questions than it answers. Why would women be the primary artists? Were they creating only the handprints, or the rest of the art as well? Would the hand analysis hold up if the artists weren’t human, but Neanderthal?
The question Snow gets most often, though, is why these ancient artists, whoever they were, left handprints at all.
“I have no idea, but a pretty good hypothesis is that this is somebody saying, ‘This is mine, I did this,'” he said.
Follow Virginia Hughes on Twitter.
[Source: National Geographic]
By Katie Halper
The release of black smoke, and not white smoke, from The Vatican chimney signified that a new pope had not been named. But what was the meaning of the less visible and less discussed pink smoke released over The Vatican? It was a protest against The Vatican’s refusal to ordain women priests.
Erin Saiz Hanna, the director of the Women’s Ordination Conference, which staged the protest and has been advocating for the ordination of women for three decades, stated,
“The current old boys’ club has left our Church reeling from scandal, abuse, sexism and oppression…. The people of the Church are desperate for a leader who will be open to dialogue and embrace the gifts of women’s wisdom in every level of Church governance.”
Miriam Duignan, Communications coordinator of the association ‘Women can be priests’ said,
“The Catholic church should be a healthy and vibrant place with equality, with both men and women called to the priesthood. Jesus did not exclude women. Jesus encouraged women and actively sought to include them…. So why do the cardinals who are supposed to represent Jesus, make a point of actively excluding women, of telling them to be quiet? And of criminalising anybody that speaks out in favour of women priests?”
Therese Koturbash, the international ambassador of the organization Women Priests explained, “[t]he pink smoke is a sign of the voices we’re mourning who are excluded from the current conclave.” Despite the Church’s intransigence and Pope Benedict’s crack down on the ordination of women, Koturbash is hopeful: “Already there have been so many changes that have happened in the church, that it wouldn’t be a big step to start including women.”
Not to be a downer, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. A potential pope, the Canadian cardinal Marc Ouellet, said that the issue of women in The Church is “secondary.” Good to know.
By Melinda Gates
(CNN) — The calendar is overflowing with occasions to mark. It seems like there’s a special day for almost everything.
For example, September 19 is celebrated by some as International Talk Like a Pirate Day. But the surplus of observances shouldn’t detract from the really important ones, like Friday, March 8, International Women’s Day.
The first International Women’s Day was held in 1911, but it was international only in the technical sense that women in four European nations marched. These activists were ahead of their time in thinking about women’s economic and political equality; they may not have been so far ahead of their time that they envisioned what it has come to mean for many of us today.
Now, International Women’s Day represents a movement that is for every woman and girl, no matter where they live. This year, Malala Yousafzai became the youngest Nobel Peace Prize nominee in history by risking her life for the cause of universal girls’ education.
Her courage has inspired women across the world. Some of the bravest, most revolutionary voices about empowerment are coming from women and girls like Malala who are calling the world’s attention to social norms that prevent women from realizing their full potential.
I just spent some time visiting the poorest parts of Northern India, where I met a courageous woman named Sharmila Devi. Because the government has invested in its basic health system, she received a visit from a trained health worker who told her that spacing her pregnancies was safer for herself and her children.
Here is the reality we must confront on International Women’s Day: The decisions women make about their families are the key to improving life for many of the poorest communities in the world.
The evidence shows that in the developing world, women play a different role than men and are more likely to take care of their family’s health care and nutrition, things that children need to become productive adults and contribute to the economic and social development of societies.
In fact, research has shown that a child’s chances of survival increase by 20% when the mother controls the household budget. Yet in many places, women, especially young women, have very little decision-making authority to be able to effect this kind of change.
The work of making sure that women and girls everywhere can seize their potential is about making specific changes that will set into motion these longer term outcomes. For me, it means making sure they have access to the contraceptives so many women tell me they want and need. It’s also about harder to measure changes like whether they have the information and the power to plan their families on their own terms.
When I try to imagine the future, I am optimistic because I see women demanding information and opportunities in the face of social norms that say they’re not permitted to do so. I’m also optimistic because no matter where I go, people ask me, “What can I do to help?”
Malala and Devi aren’t the only heroes. Millions of people—men and women—stand by the conviction that empowered women are a source of progress, and they want to take action.
That’s why I’m proud to announce the launch of my team page on Catapult.org, a crowd-funding platform dedicated to supporting women and girls. I identified these three great projects from GirlUp, Breakthrough, and Jacaranda Health and hope you can join Catapult to help fund them.
Our foundation will match every dollar donated to these projects. Together, we can help women and girls determine their own future, no matter where they’re from.
To me, this is why marking International Women’s Day is important. It’s a chance for so many people to move beyond “celebrating” and take action to create meaningful and sustainable change for women and girls.
By Chelsea Fagan
1. There is such a thing as a “real” woman and she is defined by “having curves,” which is not to be confused with “being fat,” and if you fall too far outside of that particular bell curve, you do not count as a “real” woman.
2. There is something inherently wrong with you if you have slept with a certain number of people, and it must be the result of some former trauma or unfinished business you have.
3. There is something inherently wrong with you if you are insisting on remaining a virgin until marriage, or indefinitely, and it is something that can be rectified with “the right man.”
4. Bisexual women are simply “going through a phase” or “having a little fun,” and are doing it mostly for the attention of the men they are more attracted to.
5. There is a direct correlation between the kind of clothes you wear and the amount of respect you deserve.
6. Men are entitled to sex with you after a certain amount of nice gestures, and if you remain uninterested after the right combination of activities and words, you are responsible for his unhappiness for being a cold bitch.
7. You are “supposed to” enjoy and universally support any number of female artists and creators simply because she is female, and not because you actually identify with her work in any way.
8. There is a certain amount of your worth as a person — and it’s significant — which is tied up in your relationship status.
9. You owe strange men on the street who call out to you and make you feel uncomfortable to smile at them and cheerfully dismiss their advances.
10. If you don’t smile, and you don’t make yourself as amicable as possible while getting away, you are guilty of being a frigid bitch.
11. If you are too friendly, you’re leading them on.
12. The vast majority of your value in dating someone is how good-looking you are. The other qualities you may or may not possess are rendered largely unimportant in the face of your physical beauty.
13. If you don’t look like a photoshopped image of a model in a magazine, there is something inherently wrong with you, and not with the image.
14. If you spend enough money on beauty products, clothes, and haircuts, you will become as beautiful (and therefore as worthy) as said women in the magazines.
15. There is a “correct” course of action to take as a woman when you are in an abusive relationship, and if you don’t follow it to the letter, you are deserving of shame and mockery for not presenting a good example for other women.
16. It is every woman’s job to be a model of some kind for other women in her life.
17. If one woman acts a certain way, or engages in a certain behavior, she is a reflection on all women and not just herself and her personal choices.
18. There are certain things that women should inherently want out of life, such as marriage and having children, and if you do not want those things there is something defective about you.
19. As a woman, the question you should be asking yourself as you enter your career is unquestionably “How do I have it all?” The underlying assumption is always that you want both a family life and a career, lest you be considered lazy or immature on either front.
20. There are certain choices we can make in life which are inherently more feminist than others, such as choosing to delay family life in order to have a high-powered career.
21. Sex work is something dirty and shameful, and being an educated, hard-working, good person and being a sex worker are mutually exclusive.
22. There is a way to date and have sex and meet people which is more moral and respectable than another.
23. Your sexuality should always be someone else’s business, and other people should get a say in the control you have over your own body.
24. If you are a take-charge person who is hard-working and demanding of others the way many men who are deeply respected in business might be, you are a bitch. And that is that.
[Source: Thought Catalog]