Art in the Amazon

1 min read
A large rock-face decorated with many red images showing human and animal figures and geometric patterns
[Images: ERC Last Journey Project]

At a time of great climatic and environmental change during the transition from the Pleistocene to the Holocene, humans entered the western Amazon for the first time. As they adapted to the unknown habitats and resources, they sought to understand their place within this world. Hundreds of thousands of vibrant images painted on rock faces in the Serranía La Lindosa in the Colombian Amazon provide insight into how these pioneers saw and experienced the world around them.

Human figures are depicted in groups, dancing and hunting. Decorated handprints connect the viewer to the individual, while depictions of flora and fauna, including now extinct megafauna, document interaction with these species in the ancient landscape. New radiocarbon dates from multiple contexts, including newly discovered rock shelters, establish the earliest sustained activity c.12,500 years ago. Preliminary archaeobotanical and zooarchaeological analyses record a diet of fish, reptiles, and small mammals, supplemented with plant-foraging, including the use of at least ten palm species. The interactions of humans, plants, and animals has long-term implications for animal and plant communities, including the hyper-dominance of certain plant taxa and the demise of the mega-herbivores. The archaeology and painted images hold the key to understanding this coupled ecological and cultural history of Amazonia, the world’s most biodiverse landscape.

A large outcrop of rock covered with trees in the Amazon rainforest

Text: Mark Robinson

This article appeared in issue 106 of Current World ArchaeologyClick here for more information about subscribing to the magazine.

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