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12,000 Year Old Rock Paintings Discovered in Colombia

An eight-mile wall of 12,500 years old prehistoric rock art featuring animals and humans has been discovered in the Amazonian rainforest. The red-ocher art features fish, lizards, birds, geometric patterns and humans, including people dancing. In at least one image, a human dons a mask suggestive of a bird’s face. Also shown are an extinct camelid known as a palaeolama and a type of horse that lived in the region during the Ice Age.

The historical artwork, which is now being called the 'Sistine Chapel of the ancients', was uncovered on cliff faces in the Chiribiquete National Park, Colombia, by a British-Colombian team of archaeologists funded by the European Research Council.

The researchers carried out the excavations in 2017 and 2018 but kept them under wraps until now as it was filmed for a major Channel 4 series to be screened in December: Jungle Mystery: Lost Kingdoms of the Amazon. The territory where the paintings have been discovered was only recently unsealed after being completely off limits due to Colombia's raging civil war that lasted for 50 years. And managing to enter the area still takes careful negotiation. 

The ancient rock painting shown prehistoric animals such as Mastodon and Palaeolama
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Some of the paintings are extremely high up on relatively sheer rock face, which at-first baffled the research team. However, Jose Iriarte, a professor of archaeology at Exeter University, believes that depictions of wooden towers among the paintings serve to explain how the indigenous people managed to get to such extreme heights. 

It is unclear whether the paintings had a sacred purpose but Iriarte noticed that many large animals are surrounded by humans with their arms raised - seemingly in a pose of worship. 

Human handprints can also be seen. In the Amazon most native tribes are believed to be descendants of the first Siberian wave of migrants who are thought to have crossed the Bering Land Bridge up to 17,000 years ago. 

The artists who created the images were very exacting in their materials as well as the siting of the paintings and the preparation of the surfaces, Iriarte said. For one thing, the walls they chose were sheltered from rain, indicating that the artists had a mind to the paintings’ preservation. 

They also chose fine-grained rock faces, Iriarte said, in order to have “a very smooth canvas.” In rock shelters located near the art, researchers discovered the remains of food eaten by the artists, including fruits, alligators, capybara and armadillos.


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