Breathtaking ancient paintings dating back to about 12,500 years ago have been discovered in the Colombian jungle. The ancient artwork features animals and humans, and the paintings stretch over a distance of almost eight miles.
What makes these paintings particularly interesting is that some of them feature ice age animals that have been extinct for centuries.
On top of that, archaeologists were surprised to find numerous human handprints too.
The research was funded by the European Research Council, and it was not even clear what the researchers would stumble upon when they first started.
The research was done at the Chiribiquete National Park.
Some of the animals in the paintings include mastodons and paleolamas. These are ancient and prehistoric relatives of modern-day elephants and camels.
The artwork is on a cliff face, and it also includes ancient creatures like ice age horses and giant sloths.
Researchers Believe These Paintings Were Made By The First Humans To Get To The Amazon
The discovery has been called the "Sistine Chapel of the ancients." That's because the artwork has been done on such a broad scale.
In fact, researchers are nowhere close to analyzing all the artwork they have just discovered. Experts claim that it will take generations before the paintings are completely understood.
Some of these paintings were so high up that drones were needed to view them.
Jose Iriarte, the lead archaeologist in the research explained just how profound and significant the finding was:
"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."
But Why Did It Take This Long To Make This Discovery?
The reason it has taken this long to make the discovery is that the paintings are in a very remote place.
To get there, the team had to drive for two hours from Chiribiquete National Park and then take a four-hour hike.
In this Amazon area, it's rare to find such elaborate records from the past. With the high humidity and high acid levels in the soil, many traces of human presence in the area have been wiped out.
Only ceramics and arrowheads offered insights into the region's history. That is what makes the discovery of these paintings so groundbreaking.
The Discovery Will Reveal A Lot Of Unknown Things About Many Native Amazon Tribes
For instance, the handprints on the cliff wall are believed to be over 12,000 years old.
The artwork is also very detailed and meticulous. According to Iriarte:
"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 horsehair. It's fascinating."
But still, it's not clear which Amazon tribe made the paintings. Scientists suspect that the Yonamami and Kayapo tribes might be responsible as they have been in the area for thousands of years.
The journey the team took was extremely risky. Ella Al-Shamahi, a documentary presenter, recalls the perilous expedition:
"Caimans are everywhere, and we did keep our wits about us with snakes, the deadliest snake in the Americans with an 80 percent mortality rate. You're in the middle of nowhere."
The team also had to be on the lookout for guerrillas in the jungle, thanks to decades of civil war in Colombia. Luckily, the heavily armed militias allowed them in.
Paintings of psychoactive plants were also found drawn on the wall. For these tribes, plants and animals also have souls and can interact with people through rituals shown on the rock paintings.
Al-Shamahi was also fascinated by how high up some of the artwork was located. Drones were necessary to see some of the artwork.
She also called attention to the fact that the paintings prove that Amazon has not always been a forest:
"I don't think people realize that the Amazon has shifted in the way it looks. It hasn't always been this rainforest. When you look at a horse or mastodon in these paintings, of course, they weren't going to live in a forest."
According to Al-Shamahi, for these animals to live there, the place would have to be more savanna-like.
Although there have been challenges getting researchers to the area, the world will learn more about the region's cultures and history in general as more analysis is done on this discovery.