Serranía la Lindosa lies deep in the Colombian jungle in a border area that divides the basins of the Orinoco and Amazon Rivers. The rocky, table-top outcrops that characterize it, known as tepuis, lie above the Guayabero River, which floods lowland forests for months each year.
But while the surroundings may seem like it’s from another world, the rocks themselves are covered in aboriginal art depicting humans and wildlife. Jose Iriart, an archaeologist at the University of Exeter in the UK says:
Irriet drove the new Research Posted in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, who argues that some of the artworks depict megafauna of the Ice Age. He suggests that the creatures include giant sloths and species of elephants and horses native to South America that became extinct thousands of years ago.
If true, these plates date from before some of the first known people to colonize this part of what is today the Colombian Amazon, about 12,600 years ago. In the study, the authors conclude that “the early rock art of La Lindoza may have played a role in shaping the identity and territorial integrity of colonization seekers in the northern Amazon.” The problem is, not all researchers agree.
Fabulous paintings, mysterious discovery
The main controversy is whether the paintings at La Lindosa depicted the long-extinct megafauna. But this is not the only controversy surrounding rock art. In 2021, Erieart and colleagues published a study in International Quartet Dating the colonization of the first visitors to the area around the rocky sites. Different news outlets Wrongly reported The study’s authors first discovered rock art in La Lendosa in recent years, when indigenous people were still living in the area.
Even other scholars have reported the existence of rock art over a century ago. Agustin Codazzi, geographer and explorer whose name is now better known in Colombia National Cartographic Institute, mentioned rock art while making maps of the area in the mid-19th century. But according to Fernando Urbina, a professor at the National University of Colombia who was not involved in Iriart’s latest study, Kudazzi attributed it to the work of Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century.
“This is completely wrong, of course,” Urbina says.
Other scholars have also noticed rock art, including Richard Evans Schultz, a biologist who wrote a book on ethnobotany after spending years living among the indigenous people of the Amazon. Urbina says Schultz visited the area in 1943, and researchers photographed some of the cave art nearly four decades later.
The debate between the old or the old
Iriart and his team have visited the area in recent years, studying both the cave art and the archaeological remains buried at its base. In the latest study, the team writes that the various images of La Lendosa rock art can depict the long-extinct megafauna of the Ice Age. These creatures include giant sloths, mastodons, an extinct genus of South American horses, and camel-like creatures. They are all walking around in a wonderful display of art that also shows humans, abstract patterns, and handprints.
Since most of these creatures have been extinct for thousands of years, Erieart and his team believe that at least some of the artwork dates back approximately 12,600 years, when these large animals were still walking the earth.
“We probably have 13,000 years of paintings on these walls,” Eriart says.
While Urbina greatly respects Iriart and his team, he rivals the ages of these photos. He says they were most likely made after the Spanish conquistadors arrived in the area in the 16th century.
For starters, the horse-like figure is believed to likely depict a European mare. Cows and a bull seem to surround the depiction of a horse, he says – another animal that only arrived with Europeans. It looks like a horse has something like a collar around the neck.
Iriart replies that the heavy horse’s head does not conform to the image of local horses. “It is very different from the skinny Arabian horse that the Europeans brought to the region,” he says.
Meanwhile, Urbina says the camel statues could be a llama rather than an extinct species palyolama As Earriart’s team assumes. Urbina says that these South American camels are not usually found in the Amazon region of South America. But it is possible that people living around La Lendosa are familiar with them due to contact with the Andean people through trade and travel.
Mastodon figures could also be elephants that indigenous peoples learned from European schools already in the 16th century. As for the giant sloth, it is believed that it could represent a capybara – a large rodent that is still widely found in South America today.
However, to Iriarte, the contested sloth creature has giant feet, unique claws, and a body posture more consistent with that of a sloth. “There are paintings of capybara in La Lindosa, and they look very different than these,” says Iriart.
Finally, Urbina says that many of the photos appear to represent dogs that the invading Spanish army used to “create terror” among the indigenous population. The way they are shown jumping on the human figures seems like an artistic depiction of the horror that the aborigines felt towards these dogs. “They were the dogs of war that appeared in the characters in La Lindosa,” Urbina says.
Urbina doesn’t fully object to the idea that some of the rock art is more than 10,000 years old – he also believes that painting lasted for thousands of years. He just doesn’t think this series of paintings is that old.
It’s hard to say one way or the other, because the researchers did not use radiocarbon analysis or any other techniques to date any of the rock art. Some archaeologists developed New techniques for dating rock art In other parts of the world researchers could apply it here in the future, to settle the collective debate about the age of some of these images.
Iriart says that some other archaeological work at La Lindosa has already revealed traces of the red ocher used to paint the wall in much older deposits, but work on this is ongoing and not yet published.
What these fossils have yet to uncover are the bones of large animals related to the humans who lived there. “If they were drawing the megafauna, they didn’t eat them,” he says, or at least they wouldn’t eat them at this location.