Sahara Desert handprint mystery solved: Wadi Sura II prints 'not human'
THEY are the ancient sketches which some believe belong to babies or small children.
But one anthropologist believes she may have solved the mystery behind the tiny handprints on a Saharan rock shelter, and it turns out they're not human at all.
And while they might bare an eerie resemblance to alien life, Emmanuelle Honore believes the explanation behind them is far more organic.
According to the archeologist from the McDonald Institute for Archaeologist Research in the UK and Centre national de la recherché scientifique in France, the prints were made by a reptile.
Yes, as in lizards.
When the site of Wadi Sura II was discovered in Egypt's Western Desert in 2002, experts were left gobsmacked by the thousands of sketches and prints adorning the prehistoric site.
Estimating they were made between 6000-8000 years ago, the cave which features images of animals, humans and headless creatures, soon became known as Cafe of the Beasts and is one of the greatest ancient rock sites in the Sahara.
But it was the tiny human-like "hands" which interested researchers the most, with at least 13 prints noted.
Dr Honore noticed the small prints when she first visited the site in 2006 and recognised they were much smaller than baby hands with very long fingers so questioned whether they were actually human at all.
She told news.com.au when she went back to the site a few years later she decided to test the hypothesis that they didn't belong to babies, children or even premature infants.
The anthropologist first analysed hands from her children and babies in her own family and realised the prints were even smaller than those of her relatives.
She then brought together a team of experts to analyse the hand size of premature infants and found they didn't fit either so looked at the possibility of them belonging to primates.
The results of the study, which found the hands were unlikely to be human, have been published the Journal of Archeological Science.
"I had to admit that the proportions and measurements of non-human primates were not matching 100 per cent with the tiny hand stencils," she said.
"After many discussions with my colleagues of the Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris, especially Professor Brigitte Senut, a great primatologist and palaeoanthropologist, we decided to investigate the reptile hypothesis."
She said after consultation with several zoos and reptile experts her research showed the proportions were more closely aligned to the legs of desert monitor lizards, or the feet of young crocodiles.
"We are not sure if we will get a definitive answer, but our first results are also very convincing," she said of the latest research.
She said regardless of what the stencils were made by, the site still generated a lot of interest and the ongoing research was exciting.
"Wadi Sura II can be considered as the most important rock art site in all North Africa, because of the huge number of paintings," she said.
"The shelter is located in a very remote area and was only discovered recently."
Dr Honore said there has not been a lot of attempts to read and interpret the rock art, which she guessed dated back 6000 years, and researchers were still deciphering traces of prehistoric societies from which we know very little so far.
She said animal sketches were more common in Australia and South America but rare in the Sahara.