In the Amazon rainforest, ice age drawings of mastodons, giant sloths, and other extinct animals were found on an 8-mile-long “canvas.”
According to a recent study, the stunning artwork covers nearly 8 miles (13 kilometers) of rock on the hills above three rock shelters in the Colombian Amazon. It was created using ochre, a red pigment that was frequently used as paint in antiquity.
The rock art was examined by Colombian researchers and University of Exeter archaeologist Mark Robinson, who said, “These really are incredible images, produced by the first people to live in western Amazonia.”
Around 12,600–11,800 years ago, at the end of the last ice age, indigenous people most likely began creating these paintings at the archaeological site of Serrana La Lindosa, on the northern edge of the Colombian Amazon. The Amazon “was still transforming into the tropical forest we recognize today” at that time, according to Robinson. The Amazon was once a patchwork of savannas, thorny scrub, and forest, but warming temperatures transformed it into the lush tropical rainforest it is today.
The ice age paintings, which number in the thousands, feature geometric patterns, handprints, and a wide variety of animals, ranging in size from “small” (such as deer, tapirs, alligators, bats, monkeys, turtles, and serpents) to “large” (such as camelids, horses, and three-toed hoofed mammals with trunks). Other figures show humans, hunting scenes, and interactions between people and savannah animals, plants, and trees. Although there is also ice age animal rock art in Central Brazil, the new discoveries are more thorough and provide information on the appearance of these extinct species, according to the researchers.
According to Robinson, “the paintings provide a vivid and fascinating glimpse into the lives of these communities. To think that they hunted and coexisted with enormous herbivores, some of which were the size of small cars, is unbelievable to us today.
The researchers said that many of South America’s large animals went extinct at the end of the last ice age, probably as a result of human hunting and climate change.
These camps were among the earliest human settlements in the Amazon, according to excavations carried out inside the rock shelters. The paintings and camps provide information about the diets of the earliest hunter-gatherers; for example, plant and animal remains and bone fragments suggest that the diet of these people included armadillos, paca, capybara, piranhas, alligators, snakes, and frogs.
Following the 2016 signing of a peace agreement between the Colombian government and the FARC, a rebel guerrilla group, scientists began to excavate the rock shelters in 2017 and 2018. Following the peace accord, scientists led the Last Journey project, which sought to determine when people first inhabited the Amazon and what effect their farming and hunting had on the region’s biodiversity.
According to a statement from study co-researcher José Iriarte, an archaeologist at the University of Exeter, “these rock paintings are spectacular evidence of how humans reconstructed the land, and how they hunted, farmed, and fished.” “It is likely that art was a potent component of culture and a means of social connection for people.”
The University of Exeter released a statement today (Nov. 30) in conjunction with a new television documentary on the discovery called “Jungle Mystery: Lost Kingdoms of the Amazon,” which was based on research that was published in the journal Quaternary International in April.