Handprints of History

Ancient Art in Patagonia's Rugged Landscape
Cueva de las Manos at a Glance
Name: Cueva de las Manos
Date of Inscription: 1999
Why you should go: Primitive cave paintings give a glimpse of ancient culture in Patagonia.

When entering Cueva de las Manos, your first impulse might be to shout, "Hey, that's not art! My 5-year-old can do that." But the cave drawings on the Argentinean side of Patagonia are much more impressive than anything taped to a Fridgidaire.

Between 10,000 and 1,000 years ago, the indigenous hunters and gatherers known as the Tehuelches took a break from searching for armadillos and berries to stencil images of their hands inside the cave walls. Thousands of handprints blanket the red sandstone, some with flat palms and splayed fingers, others painted solid in black, yellow, brown, or white. (Picture a certain eerie scene from The Blair Witch Project.) The caves also exhibit some of the region's finest pictographs of native animals, including lizards, rheas, and guanacos; plus zig-zags, circle patterns, and other sacred symbols.
The cluster of caves sits inside a giant canyon, surrounded by the Rmo Pinturas, vertiginous gorges and outcrops, and cool wading pools. The Tehuelches made this revered ancestral site their home until the Europeans arrived.

Practically Speaking:
The Cueva de las Manos is about 40 miles from the town of Perito Moreno. The unpaved but marked Route 40 wends through grazing lands and semi-arid steppes and leads directly to the site. Once there, you must ask the landowner to enter, as a matter of courtesy. The Perito Moreno tourist office can point you to tour operators who offer day treks, or take a public bus that leaves from the town several times a week during the summer. With a network of trails to explore, allow at least five hours to hike to the caves from the parking area, to take a dip, and to contemplate the history and the art.

Published: 4 Apr 2000 | Last Updated: 14 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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