The caves of the hands (Chile and Argentina)

In both Chile and Argentina you can find caves with paintings of hands and other motives. Before visiting the biggest location “Caves of hands” in Argentina, we visited a smaller site in Chile just 25 km south of Chile Chico. These hands are 7,000 years old.

Cave of hands or Cueva de las Manos

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The cave of hands in Chile are located in Reserva Nacional Lago Jeinemeni, and is a part of a great 3-4 hour (10 km) hiking loop. The place only receive few tourists, compared to the cave of hands in Argentina. Before reaching the cave of hands we hiked through this canyon.

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In the canyon we passed by Piedra Clavada. Maybe it is hard to see how tall it is, but I am standing right next to it in the right picture

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Before getting back down the trail leads through “Valle Lunar”, where you can climb the formations

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The landscape here is amazing, and it changes a lot during the hike. There is no entry fee to do the hike – it is a great place to spend half a day or a whole day

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In Argentina we wild camped nearby the cave of hands and was enjoying a beautiful evening with only a little bit of wind, which is rare in these areas. We love the dessert wlEmoticon-redheart The caves of the hands (Chile and Argentina)

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The next morning we were at the site “Cueva de Las Manos” ready for the first tour. We were the first visitors, and got a private tour in English. The cave paintings have been protected since 1995, and much work have been put into preservation to preserve the site. The oldest paintings of hands are more than 9000 years old, and dates back to 7370 BC.

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Newer ones have also been found, which are only 3000-6000 years old. The caves are located in the canyon of Rio Pinturas, that was created by volcanic activity 150 million years ago. The largest concentration of hands is located in a cave that is 10 meters high, 15 meters wide and 24 meters deep.

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The newest paintings are just 1000 years old, and the changing in both painting and hunting technique can be observed. The “guanaco”, which is closely related to the lama, was the primary food source for the first people who lived here. From simple hunting the people developed a hunting technique, where they rounded up multiple guanacos at a time.

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The dating of the paintings also documents that people lived here 9000 years ago. It turned out that the people were semi-nomads, and for 8000 years they returned to these caves during the summer. In the left pictures you can see painting of both left and right hands. Later the people started to paint the feet of the rheas (right picture).

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We really liked the tour, and the paintings are well preserved. The guide spoke good English and could answer all our questions. In total there have been counted 829 painted hands, which of only 30 are right hands. This tells us that only 30 of the hands were painted by people, who were left handed. The painting technique: the people would mix the painting holding it in the right hand, then taking a sip of the painting with the mouth and spray it on the left hand, that was hold against the rock wall making a print of the hand. The paints (red, black, yellow, white purple, scarcely green) was made with mineral pigments mixed in a fluid media to obtain the right spreading consistency.

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This hand had 6 fingers (painted in red), which is a birth deformation, commonly caused by breading within closed related family members (left picture). Another rare painting is of a hand and its forearm (right picture).

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After the tour we went for a walk into the canyon of Rio Pinturas

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Esben got a change to practice is skills as a photographer wlEmoticon-camera The caves of the hands (Chile and Argentina)

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It was a hot day in the canyon, and the tour guide told us, that the temperature had reached 40 Celsius the day before. So we decided to head out before it was to late. Next stop El Chaltén, Argentina.

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