The Hands of Time

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Handy reminders of the past

It’s a spooky sight. The coloured handprints creep out from the darkness and upwards, along a large gallery of rock, as if trying to claw their way out of history.

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Ninety per cent of the prints are of the left hand

We have driven 40 minutes outside of the small, lakeside town of Los Antiguos to visit the Cueva de las Manos (Cave of Hands) – a fascinating collection of strange artwork that dates back 10,000 years – so long that experts don’t know the names of the tribes that created it.

Young and old tribespeople would mix up all sorts of liquids, from blood to urine to natural dyes and then either dip their palms into it and imprint it onto the wall, or spurt it out of an animal bone onto their outstretched hands to create this stamp of identity.

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Llamas were among the other animals drawn on the walls

At times they use guanaco feet for the same effect, and there’s one case of a particularly eerie six-fingered hand.

Beside these creations there are pictures of tribesmen hunting guanacos and others of pregnant animals under a full moon, symbolising fertility.

We walk through the vast canyon past the trickling river water and learn that when the tribes would journey here during the summer to gather food, they would leave behind their elderly relatives.

Their grandparents were unable to make the journey from their winter residence – which later became known as Los Antiguos, or the ‘old ones’.

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The incredible valley at Cueva de las Manos

We get a lift back to ‘The Old Ones’ and wander around the sweet little town, which just last week was swelling with the weight of visitors arriving for its annual cherry festival.

Cherries are big business here – even the local pharmacy stocks them. And so as the sun sets we make our very own imprints on the sticky fruit stocks of this sleepy and ancient little place.

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Cherries with a cherry on top

About travellingtoothbrushes

We are a couple of journalists with restless toothbrushes. Our teeth scrubbers seem unable to leap out of their respective washbags to take up a permanent residency on the bathroom shelf. So, we've decided to let them live the way they want to and take them on a trip around South America...
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