Archaeologists have found tens of thousands of ice-age paintings showcasing animals and humans across a cliff that stretches nearly eight miles in Columbia, from almost 12,500 years ago in the Amazon rainforest.

Hailed as "the Sistine Chapel of the ancients", this discovery is now the world's largest collection of prehistoric rock art. The timeline of the artwork is based on the depiction of extinct ice age animals, such as mastodon—from the family of Mammutidae—that hasn't roamed South America for at least 12,000 years, an extinct camelid called as palaeolama, giant sloths, and ice age horses. These give a glimpse into a lost-ancient civilization.

Amazon forest
Amazon forest Reuters

The Discovery Was a Secret

The findings were made in 2019 at the site called Serranía de la Lindosa but researchers kept it a secret until now as the discovery was filmed for a Channel4 series that will be screened in December—Jungle Mystery: Lost Kingdoms of the Amazon. Ella Al-Shamahi, an archaeologist and explorer who is also the presenter of the documentary said, "The new site is so new, they haven't even given it a name yet."

It was a team of British-Colombian researchers who made the discovery and it was funded by the European Research Council. The lead researcher, José Iriarte, professor of archaeology at Exeter University and a leading expert on the Amazon and pre-Columbian history said, "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."

He added that during the exploration program the team started seeing animals that don't exist now. According to Iriarte, "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."

The paintings also include portrayals of turtles, fish, lizards, and birds. Even images of dancing people, while holding hands and a mask-wearing figure, resembling a bird with a beak, are noticed in those ancient paintings discovered at a remote site.

Amazon rock art
Discovery of rock art in Amazon rainforest Twitter

Explanation of the Paintings

As per the researchers, the rock arts vary in size, as there ate several handprints and many of the paintings are like geometric shapes. Archaeologists were stunned to see the position of some of these images. Al-Shamahi said, "I'm 5ft 10in and I would be breaking my neck looking up. How were they scaling those walls?" Some of these newly discovered ancient images are so high that they can be clearly viewed only using a drone.

While explaining the purpose of these paintings that is yet to be concluded, Iriarte said, "It's interesting to see that many of these large animals appear surrounded by small men with their arms raised, almost worshipping these animals."

As per The Guardian, the images include trees and hallucinogenic plants, and while explaining the imagery Iriarte said that for Amazonian people, animals and plants have souls which communicate and try to engage with humans "in cooperative or hostile ways through the rituals and shamanic practices that we see depicted in the rock art."

According to Al-Shamahi, one of the most fascinating things was identifying ice age animals as that helped the team to mark the timeline of the paintings. The expert also noted that the Amazon hasn't always been rainforest-like the way it is now and to explain that she said, "When you look at a horse or mastodon in these paintings, of course, they weren't going to live in a forest. They're too big."

According to the expert, the paintings are not only giving clues about when they were made but also give an idea about how the location was like thousands of years ago. However, the team of archaeologists is expected to return to the site when they will be allowed and find it safe to visit the place amid the Coronavirus crisis.