Scientists Say 8000-Year-Old Hand Prints in Ancient Cave Were NOT Made by Humans

March 1, 2016 Updated: March 1, 2016
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Tiny handprints that date back some 8,000 years were actually made by lizards, scientists said.

The site of Wadi Sura II was discovered in Egypt’s Western Desert back in 2002. At the time, researchers were stunned to find thousands of decorations on the walls of the rock shelter—some of which dated back thousands of years.

Along with designs showing wild animals, human figures, and headless creatures, researchers also found the outlines of numerous human handprints—which had never been seen before at a Saharan rock site.

But anthropologists recently revealed that the handprints were not made by small humans.

Emmanuelle Honoré of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, one of the anthropologists, told National Geographic she was initially “shocked” by the shape of the small hand outlines when she first saw them.

“They were much smaller than human baby hands, and the fingers were too long,” she explained.

She compared measurements from the hands of newborn human infants, as well as newborn premature babies—and the results, which were published earlier this year in the Journal of Archaeological Science., show there’s an extremely low probability that the “baby” hands in the so-called Cave of the Beasts are actually human.

It’s very challenging for us as researchers to interpret these paintings since we have a culture that’s totally different [from the one that created it].
— Emmanuelle Honoré, McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research

Honoré then measured for monkey paws, but found those off as well. So she turned to lizards, and found that the prints were likely made from the forelegs of desert monitor lizards, or the feet of young crocodiles.

“We are not sure if we will get a definitive answer, but our first results are also very convincing,” she told news.com.au of the latest research.

But she’s hesitant to analyze the meaning too much.

“We have a modern conception that nature is something that humans are separate from,” she says. “But in this huge collection of images we can detect that humans are just part of a bigger natural world. It’s very challenging for us as researchers to interpret these paintings since we have a culture that’s totally different [from the one that created it].”

In any case, the site itself is still very important.

“Wadi Sura II can be considered as the most important rock art site in all North Africa, because of the huge number of paintings,” she said. “The shelter is located in a very remote area and was only discovered recently.”