February 2023- Argentina
As we left the dirt roads and canyons where we were hunting for rock art, we spotted a woman sitting in an alcove of rocks near an intersection. She had a bicycle and a thermos and was trying to stay tucked in, out of the wind. As we grew closer her little thumb appeared and we realized she was hitchhiking. We stuffed her malfunctioning bicycle, heavily laden with panniers and gear, into the back of the camper and she settled on to the couch. We deposited her in the next city to seek technical assistance.
Our next stop would be the UNESCO World Heritage Site number 936. Cueva de los Manos, Argentina. This collection of rock art (arte rupestre in Spanish) has been dated to be about 12,000 years old. While we have no additional information about our last rock art find, this one has been heavily researched and explored. A large portion of it is open to public viewing, but it is a vast collection that continues all along this beautiful canyon. The park is over 1,500 acres in size. The improvements are respectful and make for easier access to see the mystery.
It is not actually a cave, but rather an overhanging, rock shelf. The trail begins with a collection of hand imprints. These were made by placing the hand on the wall and blowing mineral pigments through a hollow reed or animal bone. This left a negative imprint of the hand on the wall (and no doubt a stained hand).
This is not a small collection. There are estimated to be over 2,000 handprints in this area, some are repeated several times. Some show evidence of missing or curled fingers. The vast majority are left hands, indicated the artist was right-handed. There is at least one that has five fingers and a thumb visible. But there are other things represented in the rock art along this cliff face.
The three toed “hand” in the center of this photo is the foot of a South American rhea. This small, ostrich-like bird was a common prey and also perhaps a pet for the ancients. The rhea still roam the plains in this region.
Other art depicts guanaco in various hunting scenes. Guanaco (a smaller, camelid similar to an alpaca or llama) was the focus of hunting for these indigenous groups. The hide, fat, meat, teeth and bones all had a function in their daily living. There are also deer, moons, armadillo, birds and other designs depicted.
Many of the artistic designs along these walls are unclear to this day. They may represent counting of other people, hunting successes or possessions. Some may represent various creatures that the groups encountered or envisioned. Much of it remains a mystery to the visitors and researchers. Perhaps you can identify something here that makes sense in our modern knowledge and vocabulary.
As we turned to hike back to the visitor center, the wind increased dramatically and began blowing through the canyon. These photos show the dust being picked up from the dry plains and blown into the mysterious canyon. Due to these high winds, we were the last group allowed on the trails that day.
Driving back to the paved highway, we stopped for a dog walk and lunch break. Looking around in bushes, we found a beautiful, old, rusty, enamel pitcher and related household items. We even found an old, rusty license plate which may find its way to our kitchen wall in Pie Town. Stop by and see it some day!
Another interesting find was this partially decomposed fox skeleton, still bearing some of the fur of its original wearer. It laid completely intact, as if frozen in time. Not unlike the hand prints and messages preserved forever on the canyon walls.
Into the next town, we proceeded. Parked on a large, asphalt parking lot Mike did a little work on the truck and the dogs danced and played around him while he worked!
We parked at a popular, creekside spot for the night. The next morning, before departure we picked up several bags full of trash. Once these were deposited in a dumpster in town, we were off to the highway again.