These “Hands” are not human

The roughly 8,000-year-old “hands” painted on a rock wall in the Sahara Desert aren’t human at all, as researchers originally thought, but are actually stencils of the “hands” or forefeet, of the desert monitor lizard, a new study finds.

These tiny lizard hands are intermingled with paintings of human adult hands, which ancient rock artists stenciled around using red, yellow, orange and brown pigments, the researchers said.

These tiny hands (see highlighted circles) are not human, but actually match those of the desert monitor lizard.
Credit: Emmanuelle Honoré

It’s unclear why these ancient people used both human and lizard hands as stencils, but the finding may provide clues about the mysterious people who lived in the Sahara about 8,000 years ago, the researchers said.


“It completely changes the way we think about prehistoric people,” said lead study researcher Emmanuelle Honoré, a research fellow at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. “We never imagined they had such complex practices in that area at that time.”

Researchers discovered the cave, called Wadi Sūra II, in the Egyptian part of the Libyan Desert in 2002. The cave is located about 6 miles (10 kilometers) from the renowned Cave of Swimmers (officially known as Wadi Sūra I), a site discovered in 1933 and made famous by the popular 1992 novel “The English Patient.”

The Wadi Sūra II cave, which can also be described as a shelter because it’s more of a rocky overhang, is about 66 feet (20 meters) long and 26 feet (8 m) deep. Roughly 900 stencil paintings of arms, feet, discs, sticks and tiny and large hands cover the rock walls inside the cave.


Emmanuelle Honoré holds up her hand in the Wadi Sūra II cave, located in the Egyptian part of the Libyan Desert.
Credit: Serge Sibert | COSMOS

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