Incredible images from 12,500 years ago have been discovered on cliff faces in the Amazon rainforest in Columbia. The tens of thousands of images from the last Ice Age have been found across a cliff face stretching almost eight miles. In fact, the art is so incredible that it has been nicknamed “the Sistine Chapel of the ancient”.
Archaeologists were able to determine how old the art was based on the fact that several now-extinct animals were depicted in the images, like the mastodon and the palaeolama (which is an extinct camelid) in addition to prehistoric horses and giant sloths. Other images include turtles, lizards, fish, birds, and a picture of a figure wearing a mask that looked like a bird with a beak. There were also images of handprints as well as people dancing around and holding hands. They were painted in a reddish terracotta color and pieces of ochre were discovered at the site.
The location where the art was found, which is in the Serranía La Lindosa, was first discovered last year by a British-Colombian team that was funded by the European Research Council. But since the discovery is so new, the site has yet to be officially named. In an interview with the Observer, Ella Al-Shamahi, who is an archaeologist and explorer as well as the presenter in the upcoming documentary “Jungle Mystery: Lost Kingdoms of the Amazon” (which will feature the rock art), noted that the images were “breathtaking”.
José Iriarte, who is a professor of archaeology at Exeter University and a leading expert on the Amazon and pre-Columbian history as well as the leader of the discovery, explained how magnificent and huge the art collection is, “Every turn you do, it’s a new wall of paintings.” “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.”
The images varied in size with some of them being so high up that only a drone can see them. “I’m 5ft 10in and I would be breaking my neck looking up. How were they scaling those walls?” Al-Shamahi said.
Another interesting thing to note was that several of the large animal images had small men next to them with their arms up in the air as if they were worshiping them. “For Amazonian people, non-humans like animals and plants have souls, and they communicate and engage with people in cooperative or hostile ways through the rituals and shamanic practices that we see depicted in the rock art,” Iriarte explained, adding that many more images will likely be found in the near future.
As for the large extinct animals, Al-Shamahi provided an explanation as to why they would have been painted in the rainforest, “I don’t think people realize that the Amazon has shifted in the way it looks. It hasn’t always been this rainforest. When you look at a horse or mastodon in these paintings, of course they weren’t going to live in a forest. They’re too big. Not only are they giving clues about when they were painted by some of the earliest people – that in itself is just mind-boggling – but they are also giving clues about what this very spot might have looked like: more savannah-like.”
Pictures of the rock art can be seen here.