How I Found Humanity in a Dark Cave | National Humanities Center

Humanities Moments

How I Found Humanity in a Dark Cave

July 17, 2020

Kaighn, Michelle (High School History Teacher, Medford, NJ)

Art History; Cave Paintings; Ancient History; Teaching;

The most literal definition of the word humanities as always fascinated me. What could be cooler than getting to the very crux of what it means to be human by studying all the unique, beautiful, and awe inspiring things humanity has created? Humanists get to study the “whoa” and the “wow” moments of the human story. We get to look at something, read something, or hear something, and for a magical instant possibly feel the exact something the creator felt when he or she made that awesome something. How lucky are we?

“Excuse me,” random 15 year old student in my Ancient Civilizations class interrupted, “but, um, like you’re starting class with human evolution, and like these people were kinda boring. All they did was hunt and gather and sleep in caves. What’s so awesome about them?”

This was the conversation that broke my heart. This was the moment I was saddened to realize, that no, most of the populace does not care about all the wonderful things humans have done in the same way that I do. This was the moment when I realized that state standards and required curriculums can suck the awe and passion out of each and every wonderful moment of human expressions. This was the moment when I felt as though I had completely lost to the world of technology and social media.

And so I thought, and I planned, and I researched, and I brainstormed, and I then I saw…the most beautiful, simple expression of humanity I have ever seen.

Photos of La Cueva de las Manos (The Cave of Hands) in Argentina flashed across my computer screen. In an effort to develop any exciting lesson on ancient cave art, I had found my “ah ha” moment. I had found the artifact to anchor my story and the story of my fifteen year old student with the story of some human painter who lived 10,000 years ago. In that moment, the world had suddenly become a lot smaller and the human family grew so much tighter, for I had discovered ancient Instagram.

Why are my students consumed with posting on social media’s various platforms? Because they want to be seen. They are screaming out into a very noisy world, “Look at me! See me! I was here.” And why did some artist or shaman or wandering traveler put his or her handprints all over this cave in Argentina? I do not know for certain, but I feel the artist was saying “Look at me! See me! I was here.” The Cave of Hands is awesome and I have only seen it through photos. I have never felt so close to some person I have never met before in my life. I look at these photos and I want to shout across the layers of time “I see you!”

Each school year, I put the photos up for my students to view on the big screen and I always fit my hand perfectly into one of the outlines. I can’t stop myself, I need to make this connection. And I know, in that moment, thanks to some ancient ancestor, what it is to be human.


History / Art / Art History / Cave Paintings / Ancient History / Teaching /

Read More Humanities Moments