Upper Paleolithic Handprints with Missing Fingers: An Ethnological Perspective

Author(s): Brea McCauley; David Maxwell; Mark Collard

Year: 2019


This is an abstract from the "SAA 2019: General Sessions" session, at the 84th annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology.

Handprints with missing fingers occur at a number of Upper Palaeolithic rock art sites in Europe. It has been argued that they represent hand signals or a counting system, but there are reasons to believe that they were actually produced by individuals whose fingers had been amputated. Here, we report a cross-cultural study that was designed to shed light on this phenomenon. We identified 121 societies from Africa, Asia, the Americas, and Oceania that engaged in finger amputation at the time of ethnographic data collection, and we were able to distinguish ten different finger amputation practices within this sample. When the contexts and what we know about the participants are taken into account, the scenario that best fits the incomplete handprints is removal of fingers during life in order to appeal for supernatural assistance. This has interesting implications for social life in the Upper Palaeolithic, for traumatic religious rituals have been found to foster strong interpersonal bonds among group members and hostility towards members of other groups.

Cite this Record

Upper Paleolithic Handprints with Missing Fingers: An Ethnological Perspective. Brea McCauley, David Maxwell, Mark Collard. Presented at The 84th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Albuquerque, NM. 2019 ( tDAR id: 449830)

This Resource is Part of the Following Collections

Spatial Coverage

min long: -13.711; min lat: 35.747 ; max long: 8.965; max lat: 59.086 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 22780