Controversial Amazon Rainforest Rock Art May Depict Extinct Ice Age Giants

“(The paintings) showcase the full diversity of the Amazon. From turtles and fish to jaguars, monkeys and porcupines,” said study author Jose Iriarte, a professor in the Department of Archeology at the University of Exeter in the UK.

Iriate calls the frieze, which would likely have been painted over centuries or even millennia, “the last voyage”, because he said it depicts the arrival of humans in South America – the last region to be settled by Homo sapiens during its propagation. around the world from Africa, their place of origin. These northern pioneers would have faced unknown animals in an unfamiliar landscape.

“They encountered these large mammals and they probably painted them. And although we don’t have the final say, these paintings are very naturalistic and we can see the morphological characteristics of the animals,” he said. .

But the discovery of what scientists call “extinct megafauna” among the dazzlingly detailed paintings is controversial and disputed.

Other archaeologists say the exceptional preservation of the paintings suggests a much more recent origin and that there are other plausible candidates for the creatures depicted. For example, the giant ground sloth identified by Iriarte and his colleagues might actually be a capybara – a giant rodent common today throughout the region.

Last word?

Although Iriarte admits the new study is not the final word in this debate, he is confident that they have found evidence of early human encounters with some of the extinct giants of the past.

The team identified five such animals in the paper: a giant ground sloth with massive claws, a gomphothere (an elephant creature with a domed head, flared ears and a proboscis), an extinct line of a horse with a thick neck, a camelid like a camel or a llama, and a three-toed ungulate, or hoofed mammal, with a proboscis.

"Last trip"  offers clues to an ancient civilization

He said they are well known from fossilized skeletons, allowing paleontologists to reconstruct their appearance. Iriarte and his colleagues were then able to identify their defining characteristics in the paintings.

While the red pigments used to make the rock art have not yet been directly dated, Iriarte said ocher fragments found in layers of sediment during excavations of the soil beneath the painted vertical rock faces dated 12,600 years ago.

The painting of camelids at the La Lindosa rock painting site in Colombia.

The hope is to directly date the red pigment used to paint the miles of rock, but the dating of rock art and cave paintings is notoriously tricky. Ochre, an inorganic mineral pigment that does not contain carbon, cannot be dated using radiocarbon dating techniques. Archaeologists hope that ancient artists mixed the ocher with some kind of binder that will allow them to get an accurate date. The results of this survey are expected perhaps later this year.

Further study of the paintings could shed light on why these giant animals became extinct. Iriarte said no bones of the extinct creatures had been found during archaeological digs in the immediate area – perhaps suggesting they weren’t a food source for the people who created the art.

The research published in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B on Monday.

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