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One of the Most Extensive Collections of Prehistoric Rock Paintings Discovered in the Amazon

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Dec 4, 2020

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Image Credit: Professor José Iriarte

Researchers have discovered rock paintings 13 kilometers long within the Amazon rainforest. They depict several now-extinct creatures from the Ice Age and provide insight into the lives of early humans, researchers say.

The paintings were drawn using ochre along cliffs in the Serranía de la Lindosa, a part of the Colombian Amazon, and were discovered by a British-Colombian research team funded by the European Research Council. Comprising thousands of small paintings, the rock surface includes handprints and geometric designs alongside a wide array of animals: small ones, like deer, tapirs, alligators, bats, monkeys, turtles, serpents, and porcupines; and large ones, including mastodons, giant sloths, camelids, horses, and three-toed hoofed mammals with trunks. Most of the giant animals, or megafauna, depicted in the paintings are now extinct.

The paintings were made between 12,600 and 11,800 years ago by the first humans to live in the western Amazon, researchers say, at a time when the region was transforming from a landscape of savannas, shrubs, and forests into the tropical rainforest we know today. The painters probably went to great lengths to create their art in nearly inaccessible caves, well above ground level, the researchers hypothesize, possibly constructing ladders to allow for visitors.


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Reportedly, the current local communities were aware of the rock paintings and helped researchers document them during 2017 and 2018. Their report was published in the Quarternary Journal this year, but so far, the discovery was kept under wraps until it recently featured in the U.K. television series Jungle Mystery: Lost Kingdoms of the Amazon.

Experts note the paintings provide interesting social and cultural insights as well into the geologically narrow window of time during which early humans lived alongside megafauna. “The pictures show how people would have lived amongst giant, now extinct, animals, which they hunted. It’s interesting to see that many of these large animals appear surrounded by small men with their arms raised, almost worshipping these animals,” José Iriarte, a professor of archaeology at Exeter University and a leading expert on the Amazon and its pre-Columbian history who was involved in the research, tells The Guardian.

The researchers were also in awe of the sheer attention to detail the paintings demonstrate. “We started seeing animals that are now extinct. The pictures are so natural and so well made that we have few doubts that you’re looking at a horse, for example. The ice-age horse had a wild, heavy face. It’s so detailed, we can even see the horse hair. It’s fascinating,” Iriarte adds.

The researchers say they are looking forward to exploring the region for more paintings as soon as the global pandemic eases.

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Written By Devrupa Rakshit

Devrupa Rakshit is an Associate Editor at The Swaddle. She is a lawyer by education, a poet by accident, and a painter by shaukh. She has her own podcast called #DateNightsWithD on Spotify. You can find her on Instagram @devruparakshit.

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