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Drawing conclusions

‘Sistine Chapel of the ancients’ rock art found in Amazon forest

Paintings thought to have been made up to 12,500 years ago, found stretched across 8 miles of cliff face in Colombia

This November 22, 2019, aerial photo shows trees at the Renascer Reserve in the Amazon rainforest in Prainha, Para state, Brazil (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
This November 22, 2019, aerial photo shows trees at the Renascer Reserve in the Amazon rainforest in Prainha, Para state, Brazil (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

Tens of thousands of paintings dating back to the ice age have been revealed for the first time since they were discovered in the Amazonian rainforest a year ago.

Dubbed “the Sistine Chapel of the ancients,” the drawings of animals and people were drawn up to 12,500 years ago on nearly eight miles of cliff in Colombia.

Experts dated the drawings on the basis of animals that are now extinct such as the mastodon, a prehistoric ancestor of the elephant that is thought not to have been in the area for 12,000 years, as well as pictures of the extinct palaeolama, and giant sloths and ice age horses, the Observer reported. Human handprints can also be seen in the drawings.

The drawings are to be revealed in full for the first time in an upcoming documentary called “Jungle Mystery: Lost Kingdoms of the Amazon.”

Ella Al-Shamahi, an archaeologist and explorer who presents the film, told the Observer that the images were “breathtaking” and that the site in the Serranía de la Lindosa was so new that it hadn’t yet been named.

The paintings vary in size and some are so high up on the cliff face that they can only be viewed with drones.

José Iriarte, professor of archaeology at Exeter University and an expert on the Amazon and pre-Columbian history who led the team, speculated to the Observer that the depictions of wooden towers with people appearing to bungee jump from them may be a clue as to how the artists reached the highest points on the rock.

“It’s interesting to see that many of these large animals appear surrounded by small men with their arms raised, almost worshiping these animals,” he said, when asked about whether the drawings could have a sacred purpose. “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.”

According to the Daily Mail, it was unclear which tribe may have been responsible for the paintings, but two indigenous tribes of the Amazon are believed to have been around for the correct time period — the Yanomami and the Kayapo.

Iriarte spoke of how it felt to look at the drawings, as well as the enormity and detail of the site.

“When you’re there, your emotions flow… We’re talking about several tens of thousands of paintings. It’s going to take generations to record them … Every turn you do, it’s a new wall of paintings,” he said.

“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,” he said.

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