An 8-mile-long “canvas” with ice-age depictions of enormous sloths, mastodons, and other extinct monsters has been uncovered deep within the dense Amazon jungle of modern-day Colombia.
The incredible ochre drawings – a red natural clay pigment extensively used as paint in the ancient world – are found in the Colombian Amazon at a secluded location known as Serrana de la Lindosa. They cover roughly 8 miles (13 kilometres) of rock above three rock shelters. The intricate illustrations date from between 11,800 and 12,600 years ago, just as the planet was warming up and emerging from the Ice Age.
The public is only now receiving a first look at this prehistoric site, discovered in 2017 by British and Colombian archaeologists. The “Sistine Chapel of the Ancients,” a beautiful specimen of prehistoric art, promises to disclose significant information about early South Americans.
These “truly amazing drawings” were created by the early inhabitants of western Amazonia, claims study co-author Mark Robinson, an archaeologist at the University of Exeter who examined the rock art alongside Colombian officials.
To investigate Serrana de la Lindosa’s drawings, academics had to clarify their mission with the Colombian government and the region’s unallied rebel forces. Then they had to walk for 5 hours to get to the location.
The experts were astounded by the sheer quantity of individual artworks, estimated to number in the tens of thousands. These represent prehistoric humans in the midst of the vegetation and fauna that formerly inhabited the Amazon region. Modern viewers will recognize fish, lizards, and porcupines, but the images also show extinct prehistoric creatures such as enormous sloths, palaeolama, and mastodons. These critters lived in a grassland and scrub brush set that differed from the contemporary rainforest.
The old artwork also depicts prehistoric humans wearing masks, hunting, and dancing. Yet, the archaeologists viewing the paintings can only make educated guesses as to what certain scenarios genuinely imply at this moment. Yet, they are confident that the Serrana de la Lindosa paintings will illuminate prehistoric human behaviour and human-animal relationships.
Among the acts represented in the pictures, one stands out: persons suspended or jumping from wooden towers. The research team believes structures like these could explain how ancient artists created pictures on the rock face at heights far above the average person.
The cliff art depicts a world in transition near the conclusion of the last Ice Age. “The Amazon was still developing into the tropical forest we know today,” Robinson explained. Increasing temperatures transformed the Amazon from a patchwork environment of savannas, thorny scrub, and forest to the green tropical rainforest it is today.
“One of the most exciting things was witnessing ice period megafauna since that’s a marker of time,” said archaeologist and explorer Ella Al-Shamahi, who also visited the rocks. I don’t think people comprehend how Amazon has changed in appearance. It hasn’t always been like this.”
According to Robinson, “the paintings provide a vivid and fascinating view into the life of these communities. To imagine that they hunted and coexisted with enormous herbivores, some of which were the size of small cars, seems incomprehensible to us now.
The researchers claim that numerous huge creatures from South America went extinct towards the end of the last Ice Age, most likely due to human hunting and climatic change.
According to excavations carried out inside the rock shelters, these camps were some of the first human settlements in the entire Amazon. According to the experts, they provide information about the diet of these early hunter-gatherers together with the paintings. For instance, the discovered bone and plant remains to show that their diet included paca and capybara mice, piranhas, snakes, alligators, frogs, and armadillos.
Following the 2016 peace agreement between the Colombian government and the FARC, a rebel guerrilla group, the rock bunkers were unearthed in 2017 and 2018. After the peace agreement, researchers launched the Last Journey project to look at the beginnings of human habitation in the Amazon and how farming and hunting impacted the region’s biodiversity.
According to José Iriarte, a co-researcher on the project and an archaeologist at the University of Exeter, the rock paintings offer “great evidence” of how humans recreated the land and how they hunted, farmed, and fished. “It is likely that art was a significant part of society and a way for individuals to connect socially.”
The epidemic has put a stop to studies at the site, but the team thinks the neighboring rainforest holds additional prehistoric treasures waiting to be found.