Cueva de las Manos

Cueva de las Manos (Spanish for Cave of Hands) is a cave or a series of caves located in the province of Santa Cruz, Argentina, 163 km (101 mi) south of the town of Perito Moreno. It is famous for (and gets its name from) the paintings of hands. The art in the cave dates from 13,000 to 9,000 years ago.[1] Several waves of people occupied the cave, and early artwork has been carbon-dated to ca. 9300 BP (about 7300 BC).[1] The age of the paintings was calculated from the remains of bone-made pipes used for spraying the paint on the wall of the cave to create silhouettes of hands.

Cueva de las Manos
UNESCO World Heritage Site
Hands, at the Cave of the Hands
Official nameCueva de las Manos, Río Pinturas
LocationSanta Cruz, Argentina
CriteriaCultural: (iii)
Inscription1999 (23rd Session)
Area600 ha (1,500 acres)
Buffer zone2,331 ha (5,760 acres)
Coordinates47°9′S 70°40′W
Location of Cueva de las Manos in Santa Cruz Province
Cueva de las Manos (Argentina)

The site was last inhabited around 700 AD, possibly by ancestors of the Tehuelche people.[1] It was entered on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1999.


The cave lies in the valley of the Pinturas River, in an isolated spot in the Patagonian landscape. It is most easily reached by a gravel road, which leaves Ruta 40 north of Bajo Caracoles and runs 43 km (27 mi) northeast to the south side of the Pinturas Canyon. The north side of the canyon can also be reached by rough, but shorter, roads from Ruta 40. A 3 km (1.9 mi) path connects the two sides of the canyon, but there is no road link.[2]

The main cave measures 248 m (814 ft) in depth, with an entrance 15 m (49 ft) wide, and it is initially 10 m (33 ft) high. The ground inside the cave has an upward slope; inside the cave the height is reduced to no more than 2 m (6.6 ft).


The images of hands are negative painted, that is, stencilled. Most of the hands are left hands, which suggests that painters held the spraying pipe with their right hand or they put the back of their right hand to the wall and held the spraying pipe with their left hand.

Besides these there are also depictions of human beings, guanacos (Lama guanicoe),[1] rheas, felines and other animals, as well as geometric shapes, zigzag patterns, representations of the sun, and hunting scenes. The hunting scenes are naturalistic portrayals of a variety of hunting techniques, including the use of bolas.[1] Bolas were weapons designed with cords, having weights on each end that were thrown at the legs of animals in order to trap them allowing them to be killed by hunters.[3] Similar paintings, though in smaller numbers, can be found in nearby caves. There are also red dots on the ceilings, probably made by submerging their hunting bolas in ink, and then throwing them up.

The binder is unknown but the mineral pigments include iron oxides, producing reds and purples; kaolin, producing white; natrojarosite, producing yellow; and manganese oxide, which makes black.[1]

Studies and preservation

Carlos J. Gradin has studied the cave.[1] Cueva de las Manos has been listed as a World Heritage Site since 1999.

See also


  1. "Cueva de las Manos, Río Pinturas." UNESCO World Heritage List. Retrieved 7 March 2012.
  2. "Moon Travel Guide, Argentina". Archived from the original on 2012-06-17. Retrieved 2010-07-08.
  3. "Cave of Hands". Atlas Obscura. Retrieved 2017-09-25.
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