Archaeologists from the ERC LASTJOURNEY project have discovered spectacular rock pictographs in three separate rock shelters in the department of Guaviare in Colombia. The drawings, made around 12,600 and 11,800 years ago, prove that the first inhabitants of the Amazon rainforest lived alongside now extinct ice age animals, such as giant sloths and behemoths.
“These are truly incredible images, produced by the original inhabitants of the western Amazon,” said Dr Mark Robinson, archaeologist in the Archeology Department at the University of Exeter.
“They settled in the area at a time of extreme climate change, which was causing changes in vegetation and forest composition. “
“The Amazon was still transforming into the rainforest we know today.”
“The paintings provide a vivid and exciting glimpse into the life of these communities,” he said.
“It is incredible for us today to think that they lived and hunted giant herbivores, some of which were the size of a small car. “
Dr Robinson and his colleagues from the LASTJOURNEY project found the ancient paintings in three rock shelters at the archaeological sites of Cerro Azul, Limoncillos and Cerro Montoya in the Serranía La Lindosa, on the northern edge of the Colombian Amazon.
The vibrant red images were drawn using mineral pigments, especially ocher, which gives them their characteristic red-terracotta color.
They have been produced over a period of hundreds, if not thousands of years.
The most abundant motifs recorded by the team are anthropomorphic, zoomorphic, geometric and vegetal themes.
Many of them depict scenes of hunting and rituals, showing humans interacting with plants, forest and savannah animals.
Among the most abundant zoomorphic figures are deer, tapirs, alligators, bats, monkeys, turtles, snakes, and porcupines, among others.
Importantly, the cave paintings depict what appears to be extinct Ice Age megafauna.
They include images that appear to resemble giant sloths, mastodons, camels, horses, and three-toed ungulates with trunks.
By the time the drawings were made, temperatures were rising, beginning the region’s transformation from a mosaic landscape of uneven savannahs, thorny scrub, gallery forests and rainforests with mountain features into the tropical Amazon rainforest in broad leaves today.
The rock shelters of Cerro Azul, Limoncillos, and Cerro Montoya are far from modern settlements and trails, but were known to some local communities, who helped researchers explore them.
“These cave paintings are spectacular evidence of how humans rebuilt the earth, and how they hunted, cultivated and fished,” said Professor José Iriarte, also from the Archeology Department at the University of Exeter. .
“It is likely that art was a powerful part of culture and a way for people to connect socially.”
“The images show how people are said to have lived among giant, now extinct animals that they hunted.”
The discovery is described in an article published in the journal Quaternary International.
Gaspar Morcote-Ríos et al. Colonization and early settlement of the Colombian Amazon during the Upper Pleistocene and early Holocene: new evidence from La Serranía La Lindosa. Quaternary International, published online April 29, 2020; doi: 10.1016 / j.quaint.2020.04.026