Who Holds Your Light?

Revealing Relationships Through a Forensic Approach to Upper Paleolithic Cave Art
  • Leslie Van Gelder


The study of finger flutings, lines drawn with fingers in the soft surfaces of cave walls and ceilings, allows for the identification of unique individuals within a cave’s context. In early years of research, we were able to identify men, women, and children in some of the 15 caves which have been studied. These led to discoveries as to which individuals were often found together in their movement through the caves. The intimacy of cave spaces with artists working side by side, sometimes in very small spaces, and in a variety of combinations of children and adults, males and females, allows us to begin to imagine the embodied experiences and relationships of these people. Through looking at the cave artists with a forensic approach and a relational lens, we begin to shine a light on themes of intimacy, cooperation, community, and play in the Upper Paleolithic. Finally, this paper considers how our discipline might be radically changed were it to focus research agendas on questions of looking for evidence of intimacy, relationships, and the invisible but powerful impact of the generosity of the human heart in something as simple as holding another’s light in a darkened cave.


Cave art Upper Paleolithic Figure flutings Relations 



I give thanks for the assistance of many people and organizations who have contributed to this work and have held the light for me. Kevin Sharpe, Frédéric Goursolle, Nicolas Ferrer, Jessica Cooney, Keryn Walshe, April Nowell, Gustavo Sanz Palomero, Raul Gutierrez Rodriguez, Eduardo Palacio Pérez, Roberto Ontañon Peredo, the Plassard Family (Rouffignac), the Mayor and Commune of Aventignan (Gargas), the Gobierno de Cantabria Consejeria de Educación Cultura y Deporte (Cantabria), South Australian Museum (Koonalda).


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  • Leslie Van Gelder
    • 1
  1. 1.Senior Contributing FacultyWalden UniversityMinneapolisUSA

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