Friday, May 31, 2019

Stories on Stone

Image from my Facebook Author Page

While I love this quote by one of my favorite authors, I treasure more the image I pasted it onto. These hand-prints were found in the Lascaux cave, in France. Each hand is a story in itself.

Some months ago, I happened to see the Antonio Banderas film Altamira, which portrays the discovery of similar cave paintings in Spain by Marcelino de Sautuola in the 1870s. Near the end of the film, Sautuola's wife places her petite hand in a print just like these. The fit is perfect. "You didn't tell me they were women," she says. This rocked me. Could it be true? We, from our patriarchal societies, have assumed the painters were men. But what if caves, like wombs, were the province of women?

And so when I look at the image depicted here, from Lascaux, I imagine generations of women trekking into the dark, a bowl of pigment in one hand, and some kind of light source in the other. Why did they venture into the darkness to leave their mark? Was it new motherhood and gratitude that drove them into the womb of the earth? Was it, perhaps, a prayer for fertility? Or coming into a position of leadership like a priesthood or lore-keeping?

Nearly every hand seen here is a left hand. Was it the bowl of pigment each woman held in the right? Red, black, white pigments. Now see the woman earlier in the day, crouching on the ground and grinding the colored minerals to powder and mixing it with water. Did each color have a different taste? Is the color dependent on the generation?

With what awe did each woman stand and gaze upon the hands of the women who came before her? "This one is my mother's. This one belonged to my grandmother..." They would have remembered the women and the names and stories attached to each print. The only lasting chronicle of their people.

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