Archaeologist Dean Snow of Pennsylvania State University analyzed hand stencils found in eight cave sites in France and Spain. (Agencies)
By comparing the relative lengths of certain fingers, Snow determined that three-quarters of the handprints were female. The finding overturns the long-held belief that ancient artists were predominantly male.
Since many of the early paintings showcase game animals - bison, reindeer, horses, woolly mammoths - many researchers have proposed that they were made by male hunters, perhaps to chronicle their kills or as some kind of "hunting magic" to improve success of an upcoming hunt.
For the study, Snow examined hundreds of hand stencils in European caves, but most were too faint or smudged to use in the analysis.
The study included measurements from 32 stencils, including 16 from the cave of El Castillo in Spain, 6 from the caves of Gargas in France, and 5 from Pech Merle.
Snow used an algorithm that used several measurements - such as the length of the fingers, the length of the hand, the ratio of ring to index finger, and the ratio of index finger to little finger - to predict whether a given handprint was male or female.
Snow's analysis determined that 24 of the 32 hands – 75 percent - were female. The study was published in the journal American Antiquity.
Archaeologist Dean Snow of Pennsylvania State University analyzed hand stencils found in eight cave sites in France and Spain.