One of many world’s largest collections of prehistoric rock artwork has been found within the Amazonian rainforest.
Hailed as “the Sistine Chapel of the ancients”, archaeologists have discovered tens of hundreds of work of animals and people created as much as 12,500 years in the past throughout cliff faces that stretch throughout practically eight miles in Colombia.
Their date relies partly on their depictions of now-extinct ice age animals, such because the mastodon, a prehistoric relative of the elephant that hasn’t roamed South America for at the least 12,000 years. There are additionally pictures of the palaeolama, an extinct camelid, in addition to large sloths and ice age horses.
These animals had been all seen and painted by a number of the very first people ever to succeed in the Amazon. Their photos give a glimpse right into a misplaced, historical civilisation. Such is the sheer scale of work that they’ll take generations to check.
The invention was made final 12 months, however has been stored secret till now because it was filmed for a significant Channel four sequence to be screened in December: Jungle Thriller: Misplaced Kingdoms of the Amazon.
The location is within the Serranía de la Lindosa the place, together with the Chiribiquete nationwide park, different rock artwork had been discovered. The documentary’s presenter, Ella Al-Shamahi, an archaeologist and explorer, instructed the Observer: “The new site is so new, they haven’t even given it a name yet.”
She spoke of the thrill of seeing “breathtaking” pictures that had been created hundreds of years in the past.
The invention was made by a British-Colombian staff, funded by the European Analysis Council. Its chief is José Iriarte, professor of archaeology at Exeter College and a number one knowledgeable on the Amazon and pre-Columbian historical past.
He mentioned: “While you’re there, your feelings move … We’re speaking about a number of tens of hundreds of work. It’s going to take generations to file them … Each flip you do, it’s a brand new wall of work.
“We began seeing animals that are actually extinct. The photographs are so pure and so effectively made that we now have few doubts that you simply’re a horse, for instance. The ice-age horse had a wild, heavy face. It’s so detailed, we are able to even see the horse hair. It’s fascinating.”
The pictures embody fish, turtles, lizards and birds, in addition to individuals dancing and holding palms, amongst different scenes. One determine wears a masks resembling a hen with a beak.
The location is so distant that, after a two-hour drive from San José del Guaviare, a staff of archaeologists and film-makers trekked on foot for round 4 hours.
They someway prevented the area’s most harmful inhabitants. “Caimans are everywhere, and we did keep our wits about us with snakes,” Al-Shamahi mentioned, recalling an unlimited bushmaster – “the deadliest snake in the Americas with an 80% mortality rate” – that blocked their jungle path. They’d been delayed getting again, and it was already pitch black.
They’d no selection however to stroll previous it, understanding that, in the event that they had been attacked, there was little probability of attending to a hospital. “You’re in the middle of nowhere,” she mentioned. Nevertheless it was “100%” worth it to see the work, she added.
Because the documentary notes, Colombia is a land torn aside after 50 years of civil battle that raged between Farc guerrillas and the Colombian authorities, now with an uneasy truce in place. The territory the place the work have been found was utterly off limits till just lately and nonetheless entails cautious negotiation to enter safely.
Al-Shamahi mentioned: “When we entered Farc territory, it was exactly as a few of us have been screaming about for a long time. Exploration is not over. Scientific discovery is not over but the big discoveries now are going to be found in places that are disputed or hostile.”
The work fluctuate in dimension. There are quite a few handprints and most of the pictures are on that scale, be they geometric shapes, animals or people. Others are a lot bigger.
Al-Shamahi was struck by how excessive up lots of them are: “I’m 5ft 10in and I would be breaking my neck looking up. How were they scaling those walls?”
A number of the work are so excessive they’ll solely be seen with drones.
Iriarte believes that the reply lies in depictions of wood towers among the many work, together with figures showing to bungee soar from them.
He added: “These paintings have a reddish terracotta colour. We also found pieces of ochre that they scraped to make them.”
Speculating on whether or not the work had a sacred or different function, he mentioned: “It’s interesting to see that many of these large animals appear surrounded by small men with their arms raised, almost worshipping these animals.”
Observing that the imagery consists of bushes and hallucinogenic vegetation, he added: “For Amazonian individuals, non-humans like animals and vegetation have souls, they usually talk and interact with individuals in cooperative or hostile methods via the rituals and shamanic practices that we see depicted within the rock artwork.”
Al-Shamahi added: “Probably the most fascinating issues was seeing ice age megafauna as a result of that’s a marker of time. I don’t assume individuals realise that the Amazon has shifted in the best way it appears. It hasn’t all the time been this rainforest. While you take a look at a horse or mastodon in these work, in fact they weren’t going to reside in a forest. They’re too large. Not solely are they giving clues about after they had been painted by a number of the earliest individuals – that in itself is simply mind-boggling – however they’re additionally giving clues about what this very spot might need appeared like: extra savannah-like.”
Iriarte suspects that there are various extra work to be discovered: “We’re just scratching the surface.” The staff might be again as quickly as Covid-19 permits.
Jungle Thriller: Misplaced Kingdoms of the Amazon begins at 6.30pm on Channel four on 5 December. The rock artwork discovery is in episode 2, on 12 December