Ritual mutilations responsible for missing Paleolithic fingers?

Brian G Turner

Fantasist & Futurist
Staff member
Nov 23, 2002
A report this weeks suggests that missing fingers - common in palm-print art from the Paleolithic - may represent a culture of ritual mutilation: Researchers suggest ritual finger amputation may explain missing fingers in Upper Paleolithic people

In Grotte de Gargas, in France, for example, 114 out of 231 hand images have missing fingers. In another cave in France, the average is even higher, 28 out of 49. The researchers also note that hand paintings on the cave walls at Grotte de Gargas appear quite flat, ruling out the possibility that some fingers were simply held back as the print was being made. They also looked at history books and found that 121 groups of people living on different continents have been found to engage in finger amputation rituals.

I'd have to look into the issue of finger amputation rituals - because at the moment I struggle to understand how such blatant self-harming could be useful for the survival of our species!

My first thought is that it's actually a form of trophying - that only those who have been injured in the defence and protection of the tribe as being allowed to leave their marks in sacred caves. Then again, the converse argument is that only specific members with a sacred mandate would be eligible to mutilate themselves and therefore trophy their prints.

I've just run a quick search, and there are examples of cultures cutting off fingers as a form of grieving in the Dani culture of New Guinea - however, the few articles I've clicked through to on the topic all reference this one tribe as illustrative of the practice:

Why Does This Indonesian Tribe Amputate Women’s Fingers? - DCODE | Discovery
Grief: Ritual Finger Amputaion | Anthropological Perspectives on Death
I prefer all my mutilations be ritualistic. Never did care for casual mutilation.

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