Cueva de las Manos

Cueva de las Manos or Cave of hands in province of Santa Cruz, Argentina

Cueva de las Manos, meaning “cave of the hands” in Spanish, is a series of famous paintings on the walls of caves. Located in the Santa Cruz province of Argentina, the cave paintings date back to between 9,000 and 13,000 years ago, and were created by the hunter-gatherer people who resided in Patagonia. These communities were some of the earliest in South America, making this site very important. The caves were inhabited by several waves of people, though the most recent of these were probably ancestors of the Tehuelche people around 700 CE.

Archaeologists have found that the cave dwellers used pipes carved from bones to spray paint the cave walls, using their hands as stencils to create hundreds of silhouettes of their hands in varying shades of red, purple, yellow, and brown. Most of the hands are left hands, suggesting that the artists were right handed, and painted their own hands.

There is also art featuring humans and animals in hunting scenes, with the indigenous guanacos and rheas, as well as abstract designs like shapes and zigzags. The hunters are depicted using bolas, their traditional hunting weapons.

  • The cave paintings date back to around 7370 BC.
  • The main cave is 24 meters (79 feet) deep and 10 meters (33 feet) high, but the interior slopes upwards, so the back part of the cave is only 2 meters (7 feet) high.
  • The entrance to the main cave is 15 meters (49 feet) wide.
  • The color pigments are made from iron oxides (red and purple), kaolin (white), natrojarosite (yellow) and manganese oxide (black).

Cuevos de las Manos is situated in the valley of the Pinturas River in Patagonia. The caves are part of the Santa Cruz province of Argentina, about 163 kilometers (101 miles) south of Perito Moreno. The region is characterized by canyons and cliffs, and the distant caves must be reached by road, either by car or by bus, and visitors must take a tour to view the caves.

The temperate climate makes this a destination for much of the year, though as an outside site, it should be avoided during the full sun, and the middle of winter. Spring and summer are the best times to visit the caves.

Nearby Attractions: Bajo Caracoles, Parque Nacional Perito Moreno, Tierra del Fuego, El Chalten