Photo credit: Emmanuelle Honoré
The study, led by Emmanuelle Honoré of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, analysed stencil paintings believed to date to the Early or Mid-Holocene, around 8,000 years ago. First findings strongly suggest comparisons to reptile feet.
"Animal hand or foot stencils are not as common as human ones in the rock art record." said Honoré. "As far as we know, the Wadi Sura II shelter would represent the first record ever identified of non-human pentadactyl hand stencils in the world."
Using a morphometric study to compare the archaeological material with samples of hands of babies born at term and pre-term, the results show that the rock art small hands differ significantly in size, proportions and morphology from human hands.
Honoré found that proportions of prints were more closely aligned with the forelegs of varan (desert monitor lizards) or even young crocodiles.
All were stenciled around the same time with the same pigment. It's impossible to say, however, whether the foot of a live creature was pressed against the wall of the rock shelter for stenciling or whether a freshly severed limb was used.
The findings raise new perspectives for understanding the behaviour and symbolic universe of the populations who made them. Said Honoré: "It's very challenging for us as researchers to interpret these paintings since we have a culture that's totally different."
"We try to decipher traces left by prehistoric societies from which we know very little so far. With this interdisciplinary research, we are progressively entering their intellectual background.".