The handprint pictograph is the universal symbol for humanity

If there is a single symbol for humanity it is the pictograph of the human handprint. I’ve seen the handprint reproduced on 6 continents and across all ages of human creativity. From the Paleolithic to modern times the images persist in our visual vocabulary. They may well be the very first artistic expression. To me, they are the original ‘selfie’ the very first way that people recorded their passage. That urge to leave a visual mark that says “I was here” is uniquely human.

Symbol for Humanity, at 36,000 year old handprint
36,000-year-old handprints in El Castillo Cave, Spain part of our public sites list

One thing that I particularly enjoy about hand prints is their personal nature. True, the hand print is a symbol of all humanity but each person’s print is different. That leaves me feeling connected to the individual who made the print in an intimate way. Even a handprint that is as old as this one in El Castillo fills that sense of connection.

handprints in Argentina
Cueva de las Manos, Argentina photography by Gregory Crouch part of our public sites list
handprints are symbols in Utah
Ten negative handprints in Fish Canyon, Bears Ears National Monument, Utah

We have seen handprints on all continents that there is art. It does not matter if the images are as old and well defined as the images at Cueva de los Manos (above).

Or as recent as the Maya handprints in Belize (below).

Maya handprints in Belize
Maya handprint in Actun Uayazba, Belize part of our public sites list

How can you not look up such a personal representation and not feel connected to the long line of humanity?

Handprints are truly the universal symbol of our species.

See more handprint images in our archive (here)

-Stephen Alvarez