Image from http://neanderthal.de/blog/
I cannot wait for July 17, when the findings from this interesting and informative project are released! I'm going on the presumption (for now) these are ancient Homo Sapiens prints. If the results are that they're Neanderthal, well then that's another blog! Update: another article about these prints dated them to 13000 years ago...so that takes care of any Neanderthal prints. Dern it...
Cave in the Pyrenees, +/- 13,000 years ago
The sun was going down, but there was still time to finish the meet, and walk to the fires. Mato and Vako stood still, pondering. Vako's son of nine winters, Vaki, walked back and forth, practicing his spear stance. Mato stood quietly, looking at the cave floor. His held his spear in his quiet hand, gripping it firmly. Vako saw that Mato put weight on the foot and spear side. Mato would not say it, but he was was getting tired. As Mato had no sons any more, Vako and his son Vaki were next to lead.
Vako turned his head to the lowering sun again, still waiting for Mato to speak. Vaki continued pacing back and forth. At length he stopped and wandered to the Wall of the Old Ones. Mato's father, and his father before him had left their Hands on the Wall. Vaki reached out to measure his hand against one of them.
"Ssst!" hissed Vako. Vaki turned and his father was signaling for him to sit down. Vaki did so, he hadn't planned to touch the handprints...that was taboo, and would bring bad luck to the Leader.
Mato glanced up, broken from his thoughts. He shook his head sadly at the boy, but there was just a glimmer of a smile. Mato had understood it was just curiosity.
With a heavy sigh, Mato walked over. He gestured with his working hand for Vaki to leave. Vaki was already on his feet before glancing at his father. Vako reached out and put a strong hand on Vaki's shoulder, ushering him outside the cave.
Mato stood in front of the Wall of the Old Ones. Something in him knew he could touch the hands now. Looking to be sure Vaki and Vako could not see him, he reached out. He touched his father's hand, now smaller than his own. He touched his father's father's hand, which was even smaller. Mato touched all the hands on the Wall of the Old Ones. He felt like a huge weight had been lifted.
Quietly, he pulled out the rolled leather he had carried up with him. Kneeling on the floor, he made sure all the objects were still there. Two hollow bones. A piece of red crumbling stone. A small old dried gourd, that held a precious amount of spring water. A small stone, hollowed in the middle from generations of use. A smaller oblong stone.
Mato had only seen this done once before, when his father's father had done this. The green time his father had done it, he had been away on a hunt. He had come back, feeling proud that he and the other warriors had found and killed an adult mammoth, only to find his father had died. A rogue bear had come out of the woods. Even though his father was a great hunter and great leader, that day he had been too slow. Some had said his father waited for the beast to get him. Mato had felt great grief that his father couldn't put his hand on the Wall. Then, he saw the faded red stains on his fathers working hand. This red wasn't blood. Somehow, his father had known.
And now, Mato knew. He felt tired in his bones. He felt the cold winter coming. He did not care if he saw the next green time, or not. Since he had lost his mate and sons, little interested him as it had before. And so, he readied himself to put up his hand.
He ground the red stone, adding water a drop at a time, until it was right. He carefully poured the mixture into one of the hollow bones. Carefully, he stood up, and put his working hand amongst the Wall of the Old Ones. He then stopped.
"Vaki" he called.
Vaki appeared at the opening of the cave, his eyes big.
"Come" Mato spoke firmly, gesturing with his head.
Vaki came in slowly, in awe of what he was about to witness. An arm's length away from Mato, he stopped. Mato positioned his working hand on the wall until it felt right. Using his quiet hand, he put the hollow bone stuffed with the red stone mixture into his mouth. He breathed in deeply through his nose, then blew the red onto his hand. His thumb and first two fingers were covered in red.
"More." he said to Vaki. Vaki looked at the objects and with a little prompting from Mato, filled the second hollow bone with the remaining mixture. Mato blew again. This time it all his fingers were covered. Very slowly, Mato pulled away his hand.
Both Mato and Vaki gasped quietly. Seeing a fresh hand on the Wall of the Old Ones was a powerful experience.
After a little, Mato turned to Vaki and smiled. He put out his hand and Vaki took it. Gently, he put Vaki's hand into his freshly made one, being ever so careful not to touch the fresh red spray. He then had Vaki touch the other hands of the Wall of the Old Ones.
Quietly, they picked up the objects and wrapped them in the leather. Mato stood straighter than he had in a long time. He gave the leather roll to Vaki to carry. Vako's eyes widened when he saw the two emerge from the cave. He gave a quiet nod to Mato, who pretended he didn't see it. He went to smile at Vaki, but Vaki had his head turned, looking at the cave, seeing the footprints they'd left.
As they walked down the mountain to the fires, Mato absently scratched an itch on his chest with his freshly stained red hand.
Vaki saw, and was sad to see there would be blood on Mato sometime soon.