A Cross-cultural Perspective on Upper Palaeolithic Hand Images with Missing Phalanges

Journal of Paleolothic Archaeology Vol/Iss. 1 Springer Switzerland Published In Pages: 314-333
By McCauley, Brea, Maxwell, David, Collard, Mark


The authors use ethnographic data to try to shed light on the prevalence of missing phalanges in Upper Paleolithic cave images. Searching eHRAF World Cultures, they found evidence of finger amputation in 121 societies. These accounts cast doubt on two common theories: 1) that cave images reflect sign language or 2) counting systems. Researchers argue the intentional removal of fingers could be sorted into the 10 following categories: sacrifice (for deities), mourning (for grief), identity (for group membership), medical (to heal sickness), marriage (status marker), punishment (for deeds), veneration (for worship), offering (post mortem for deities), trophy (an enemies fingers), and talisman (assist with magic). They argue that sacrifice was the most likely reason for the missing finger images in Upper Paleolithic caves.


Sample Used Coded Data Comment
eHRAF World Cultures

Documents and Hypotheses Filed By:noah.rossen