A team of British and Colombian archaeologists has reportedly discovered tens of thousands of rock paintings in Colombia believed to have originated around 12,500 years ago.
Stretching across eight miles of cliff faces, the discovery has been hailed as the “Sistine Chapel of the ancients.” The immense size of the discovery means it will likely take generations to completely study, reported The Guardian.
The age of the drawings is estimated by what is depicted, such as a long-extinct relative of the elephant called the mastodon that has not been in South America for at least 12,500 years, according to the British newspaper, which added that other ancient animals such as the palaeolama, giant sloths and ice-age horses are also depicted.
The drawings, located in the Serranía de la Lindosa, an extremely remote area where other rock paintings have been discovered before, were first discovered last year but have been kept secret until now, The Guardian noted. In order to reach the site, team members had to drive two hours out of San José del Guaviare before making a four-hour trek to the location.
“The new site is so new, they haven’t even given it a name yet,” archaeologist and documentarian Ella Al-Shamahi said, according to The Guardian.
“We started seeing animals that are now extinct,” added project leader José Iriarte, professor of archaeology at Exeter University and expert on the Amazon and pre-Columbian history. “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.”
Iriarte also reportedly said the drawings, which appear to show smaller groups of figures raising their arms around animals, could be depictions of worship.
“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,” said Iriarte, according to The Guardian.
Iriarte further explained that this discovery was important for its depiction of megafauna, as it indicates how drastically the region has changed over the past eons. The animals depicted in the drawings would not have been able to live in a rainforest. When they existed, the region would have been more “savannah-like” according to Al-Shamahi.
Iriarte says there are likely more paintings waiting to be found.
“We’re just scratching the surface,” he said.