Paleolithic People Amputated Their Fingers In ‘Bizarre Religious Sacrifice’

Chopping off fingers was apparently a thing in Paleolithic societies. Scientists have recently revealed that Paleolithic people cut off their own fingers in part of a bizarre, previously unknown religious sacrifice.

Image: Jean Clottes/McCauley et al./Journal of Paleolithic Archaeology

As noted by experts, missing fingers of finger parts is a very common appearance in cave art around the globe.

Based on the careful study of cave art from all around the world, scientists determined that handprints outlined with the use of a number of ancient pigments show that different artists had amputated fingers.

Scientists found that missing parts of fingers were a regular thing in art, and believe that the widespread absence of the appendages was most likely the result of a bizarre and previously unknown religious sacrifice.

However, experts also indicate that amputated fingers may also be the result of harsh environments through which our ancestors lived thousands of years ago. Experts point to frostbite, accidents, and animals as all possible causes for missing phalanges.

“Finger amputation was a reasonably common behavior in many regions in the recent past,” explained Mark Collard of Simon Fraser University in Canada in an interview with New Scientist.

“The available data seem to fit reasonably well with the hypothesis that some Upper Paleolithic people engaged in finger amputation for the purposes of religious sacrifice,” he added.

Cutting off fingers was apparently a thing, thousands of years ago.

This is according to a vast database of ancient sites from Africa, Eurasia, Oceania, and the Americas, which revealed 121 separate societies that exhibited the same behavior.

One of the best examples is perhaps the Grotte de Gargas in France, where we can find around 231 hand stencils. According to experts 114 of them have one or more missing fingers.

But not everyone agrees that ancient people chopped off their fingers in religious sacrifices.

Some experts have suggested that ancient people may have simply bent their fingers or even painted around it. Other scholars suggest that cutting off fingers may have been an ancient way of coping with grief after the loss of a loved one.

However, the most likely explanation, according to researchers and their study published in the Journal of Paleolithic Archaeology, is a religious sacrifice.

But different academics have different views.

“None of the ethnographic cases they cite match the distinctive pattern seen in the ice age hand stencils – namely, a sequential shortening of fifth, fourth and third fingers, with the thumb spared,” archaeologist Ian Gilligan of the University of Sydney explained. 

“On the other hand, pun intended, this pattern matches precisely the effects of frostbite. The pattern corresponds to the differing susceptibility of fingers to frostbite, with the thumb not affected.”

And while all of this may be just a theory, the experts themselves acknowledged that their answer to the millennia-old mystery may not be the best and most accurate one

“While the case for favoring the amputation hypothesis is not airtight,” the authors write in the paper, “we are of the opinion that it is strong enough to warrant treating the hypothesis as if it is correct for the purposes of further investigation, and this is what we did in the study reported here.”


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

Via: New Scientist

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  1. Its not that weird at all.

    The Japanese samurai also used to cut their fingers when they offended their lord, and it is known that modern Yakusa still retain that tradition.

    What do you preffer, loose your life or chop a finger, Choose!

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