In a rock art discovered about 14 years ago, researchers found figures of all sorts including tiny handprints that were so little they could have belonged to a baby human. Scientists now believe that these tiny hands were not likely from a human, but rather lizards.

Way back in 2002, archaeologists stumbled upon a rock shelter in Egypt where they found thousands of decorations painted on the walls that could date back to 8,000 years old. The rock art contained figures of animals, humans and headless drawings found in what they now call, the Cave of Beasts.

This included 13 tiny handprints in the cave that spurred great interest from experts. The cave became popular because of these hand prints. One of the most popular is a touching scene that shows a pair of baby hands inside the outlines of a large pair.

Researcher Emmanuelle Honoré of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research was not convinced that the handprints belonged to a human baby since they were much smaller than usual.

She decided to compare the measurements of these handprints to those taken from babies born in a French hospital. Since the size of the cave handprints were so small, they also included measurements from premature infants.

The results showed that the handprints are less likely from humans. The handprints and the position of its fingers showed that they were flexible. Further investigation led her to narrowing her ideas into lizards or young crocodiles.

"Evidence suggest that the hand stencils belong to an animal, most probably a reptile," the researchers concluded in the study.

"The identification of non-human pentadactyl hand stencils is unique in the field of rock art and raises new perspectives for understanding the rock art at Wadi Sūra, and the behaviour and symbolic universe of the populations who made it," they added.

Lizards still live in the area today and considered protective creatures. The discovery that those handprints are not from humans became a shock to the researchers.

The researchers speculate that the art may have included prints of important cultural or religious symbols like lizards, which up to this day still exist in the area and are considered protective animals of nomadic tribes.

"We have a modern conception that nature is something that humans are separate from. But in this huge collection of images we can detect that humans are just part of a bigger natural world," Honoré said.

"It's very challenging for us as researchers to interpret these paintings since we have a culture that's totally different [from the one that created it]," she added.

The findings of the study shed light on new perspectives for understanding the behavior of people who made this art in the past.

The study was published in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

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