Forensic technique reveals sex of prehistoric hand stencil artists
Prehistoric ancestors creating human hand stencils in caves 40,000 years ago can now be identified as male or female with more than 90% accuracy.
|The ‘Cave’ in daylight. An artificial portable cave wall which allows students and researchers to produce rock art |
without having to go underground [Credit: Jason Hall, University of Liverpool]
University of Liverpool biological anthropologist, Dr Emma Nelson led the study, which is published in the Journal of Archaeological Science. She said: "Archaeologists are interested in hand stencils because they provide a direct, physical connection with an artist living more than 35,000 years ago.
"Now, using a new experimental application, results from our study indicate it is possible to determine with more than 90% accuracy the sex of someone who lived tens of thousands of years ago from the shape and size of their hand outline.
"We have even applied the method to hand stencils where digits are missing – common in Palaeolithic art – something prior studies have not been able to do."
|The forensic biometric landmarks used in this study applied to an experimental hand stencil |
[Credit: Patrick Randolph-Quinney, UCLan/Wits]
Previously, researchers focused on hand size and finger length, often producing conflicting results. Here, a technique called geometric morphometrics was utilised to detect sex-based differences in hand shape and form.
Known-sex hand stencils were digitised and a series of 2D landmarks were applied to statistically evaluate the true shape and relative size of each example.
Dr Patrick Randolph-Quinney, a forensic anthropologist at UCLan and Wits, said: "The problem with focussing on hand size and finger length is that two different shaped hands can have identical linear dimensions and ratios.
|Experimental reproduction of cave art in simulated cave conditions by researchers and students |
at the University of Liverpool [Credit: Jason Hall, University of Liverpool]
"This geometric approach is very powerful as it allows us to look at the palm and fingers independently.
"It revealed that the shape of the palm is actually most indicative of the sex of the individual, rather than the finger size or length."
University of Liverpool archaeologist, Jason Hall said: "As part of this study we built a replica cave wall to allow us to experiment with how art was made, and how it might look under different lighting conditions – without having to go deep underground.
|Researchers at the University of Liverpool were able to identify the sex of stencil artists |
with 90 per cent accuracy using methods borrowed from forensic science
[Credit: Jason Hall, University of Liverpool]
Project co-ordinator, Dr Anthony Sinclair, a Reader in Archaeology at the University of Liverpool and an expert in Palaeolithic archaeology, said: "This is a great example of how archaeological science and forensic science are working together to advance our understanding of the past, and the social and cognitive systems that evolved during the Upper Palaeolithic.
"We would encourage other researchers to apply this method to different human populations so we can build a more global understanding of hand variation."
Source: University of Liverpool [December 13, 2016]