One of the largest collections of prehistoric rock art in the world has been discovered in the Amazon rainforest. Acclaimed as the Sistine Chapel of the Ancients, archaeologists have found tens of thousands of animal and human paintings on cliffs stretching almost 13 kilometers in the Colombian Amazon
The antiquity of some of these works goes back in time as 12,500 years, something evidenced by the depiction of animals from the Ice Age already extinct (such as mastodons, and giants sloths)
These animals were seen and painted by some of the first humans to reach the Amazon. His images give a look at an ancient lost civilization. Such is the magnitude of the paintings that will take generations to study them
The discovery was made last year, but it has been kept secret until now, as it was filmed for a major Channel 4 series that will premiere in December: Jungle Mystery: Lost Kingdoms of the Amazon. The site is located in the Serranía de la Lindosa where, along with the Chiribiquete National Park, rock art had been found
The presenter of the documentary, Ella Alshamahi, an archaeologist and explorer, told The Observer: The find is so recent that they haven’t even given the site a name yet. When you’re there, your emotions flow
We are talking about several tens of thousands of paintings. It will take generations to register them all. Every turn you make is a new wall of paintings, said José Iriarte, professor of archeology at the University of Exeter and leader of the British Colombian team that found the wall.
We started to see animals that are now extinct. The images are so natural and so well made that we have little doubt that you are looking at a horse, for example. The Ice Age horse had a wild and little stylized face.
It’s so detailed that we can even see horsehair. It’s fascinating. Images include fish, turtles, lizards, and birds, as well as people dancing and holding hands, among other scenes.
The site is so remote that after a two-hour trip from San José del Guaviare, a team of archaeologists and filmmakers walked on foot for about four hours. Somehow they avoided the most dangerous inhabitants of the region. The alligators are everywhere, and we kept alert to snakes, Alshamahi said, recalling a huge bushmaster (chochoana mute rattle, America’s deadliest snake with an 80% mortality rate) that blocked its way into the jungle. They had been delayed in returning and it was completely dark. They had no chance to pass in front of the snake, knowing that, if they were attacked, there was little chance of getting to a hospital.
You’re in the middle of nowhere, he said. But it was worth 100% to see the paintings, he added. As the documentary points out, Colombia is a land torn after 50 years of civil war between FARC guerrillas and the Colombian government, now with an awkward truce. The territory where the paintings have been discovered was completely out of limits until recently and still requires careful negotiation to enter safely. AlShamahi said, when we entered FARC territory, it was exactly as some of us had thought. The scan is not over. The scientific discovery is not over, but the great discoveries will now be found in disputed or hostile places. Paintings vary in size
There are numerous handprints and many of the images are on that scale, whether geometric, animal, or human shapes. Alshamahi was surprised at how high many of them are: I measure 1.55 meters and it would make my neck hurt so much to look up. How will they climb those walls?? In fact, some of the paintings are so high that they can only be seen with drones. Iriarte believes that the answer lies in the representations of wooden towers among the paintings, including figures that seem to jump in bungee from them. These paintings have a reddish terracotta color. We also found chunks of ochre that scraped to make them, said the expert. Speculating whether the paintings had sacred or other purposes, he said, It is interesting to see that many of these large animals appear surrounded by small men with their arms up, almost worshiping these animals. For Amazonian peoples, non-humans, such as animals and plants, have a soul and communicate and relate to people in a cooperative or hostile manner through the shamanic rituals and practices we see represented in rock art, he explained.
One of the most fascinating things was seeing the megafauna of the ice age because it is an indicator of time. I don think people realize that Amazon has changed in its appearance. It hasn’t always been this rainforest. When you look at a horse or a mastodont in these paintings, of course, they weren’t going to live in a jungle. They’re too big. Not only are they giving clues about when they were painted by some of the first people, that in itself is simply amazing, but they are also giving clues on how this same place could have been: more like the savannah, concluded AlShamahi. The team believes that what was found is just the tip of the iceberg and plans to return to the place soon in search of more.