8 Mile Long Painting of Ice Age Animals Discovered in the Amazon Rainforest

Thousands of rock art images depicting huge Ice Age creatures such as mastodons, giant sloths, camelids and horses have been revealed by researchers in the Amazon rainforest. Based on their depictions of now extinct Ice Age animals, the paintings must have been made at least 12,000 years ago.

The paintings are set over three different rock shelters, with the largest, known as Cerro Azul, home to 12 panels and thousands of individual pictographs. There are also paintings of geometric shapes, human figures, handprints and hunting scenes, as well as all kinds of small animals like snakes, birds, turtles, alligators, deer and monkeys. Researchers say the red paintings, made using pigments extracted from scraped ochre, make up one of the largest collections of rock art in the world.

At the time when the drawings were made, the Amazon was changing from a patchwork of savannas, tropical forest and thorny scrub into the broad-leaf tropical forest we know today. While the paintings are exposed to the elements, they are protected by overhanging rock, which means they remain in better condition than other rock art found in the Amazon.

The artists would have used fire to exfoliate the rock and make flat surfaces on which to paint, experts say. Some of the images were painted so high up on the rock that special ladders or towers crafted from forest resources would have been needed to create them.

The people who painted the pictures were hunter-gatherers who ate palm fruit and tree fruits, as well as fishing in the nearby river for piranha and alligators. Bones and plant remains also reveal they ate snakes, frogs, armadillos and rodents, including paca and capybara.

The discovery was made by a British-Colombian team, funded by the European Research Council. Its leader is José Iriarte, professor of archaeology at Exeter University and a leading expert on the Amazon and pre-Columbian history.

“These rock paintings are spectacular evidence of how humans reconstructed the land, and how they hunted, farmed and fished. It is likely art was a powerful part of culture and a way for people to connect socially. The pictures show how people would have lived amongst giant, now extinct, animals," said Professor Iriarte.

Observing that the imagery includes trees and hallucinogenic plants, he added: “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.”

"The paintings give a vivid and exciting glimpse into the lives of these communities. It is unbelievable to us today to think they lived among, and hunted, giant herbivores, some of which were the size of a small car" said Mark Robinson, an archaeologist at the University of Exeter.

The paintings were found in the Serranía La Lindosa, in modern-day Colombia. The site is so remote that, after a two-hour drive from San José del Guaviare, the archaeologists trekked on foot for around four hours. Due to the civil war that has raged between Farc guerrillas and the Colombian government, the territory was completely off limits until recently and still involves careful negotiation to enter safely.

The discoveries, already made in 2017 and 2018, feature in a new series on the Amazon, coming to Channel 4 in December 2020 - Jungle Mystery: Lost Kingdoms of The Amazon. Fronted by Ella Al Shamahi, the series explores lost civilizations and uncovers never seen before hidden ancient settlements and rock art.

(November 2020)

Professor José Iriarte