Were Women the First Artists?

Photograph courtesy Dean Snow

Photograph courtesy Dean Snow

By Rachel Sedaker

What did women contribute to prehistoric society? According to a new study, it appears that women may have been the first artists.

Dean Snow conducted a study, covered in this article by National Geographic, analyzing the ancient handprints found in prehistoric European caves. By comparing the relative lengths of the forefingers and ring fingers, Snow argues that most of the handprints belong to women. This information is ground-breaking, but why is this surprising?

For so long, it was simply assumed that these cave paintings were created by men. Who else would create an image of a bison or a deer? Men hunted these creatures, so surely they must be the ones depicting them in the caves. A look at any art history text will show that most artists through history were men, and part of the reason for that has to do with who has been writing history.

This study is a good reminder that history has been, and to some extent, still is, viewed through a male-centric lens. When we consider that women may have contributed more to prehistoric society and culture, I wonder, what else have we overlooked?

It is still unknown why these cave paintings were created at all. It is interesting to consider why women may have traced their hands in these prehistoric caves thousands of years ago. What might the prehistoric woman have been thinking as she traced her hand with pigment on the cave wall?

Perhaps even then, women longed to create something outside of their bodies. Why wouldn’t a prehistoric woman want to leave the image of her hand on a cave wall as a reminder that she existed there at that moment in time? This study not only brings up questions about women’s roles in prehistoric society, but also in the way history has been examined.

If women were, in fact, the first artists, what else have women accomplished that has been lost to history?

Rachel Sedaker is a writer whose work can be found on the blog Tossing the Script. Her diverse background ranges from a Bachelor of Arts in French and a minor in Art History to a career spent processing data and crunching numbers. She believes in girl power and her heroine is Scarlet O’Hara. Follow on Twitter and Facebook.

Image via National Geographic



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