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Sistine Chapel of the Ancients

Updated: Jan 9, 2023

One of the world’s largest collections of prehistoric rock art has been discovered in the Amazonian rainforest.

Prehistoric rock art in Colombia

Thousands of ice age paintings on cliff faces - stretching across nearly 8 miles - shed light on people and animals from 12,500 years ago in Colombia. Hailed as “the Sistine Chapel of the ancients”, this extraordinary discovery of prehistoric art has been kept secret until now. Archaeologists have dated the find partly based on the painting's depictions of now-extinct ice age animals, such as the mastodon, a prehistoric relative of the elephant that hasn’t roamed South America for at least 12,000 years. There are also images of the palaeolama, an extinct camelid, as well as giant sloths and ice age horses.

The pictures, drawn by some of the first humans to reach the Amazon, give a glimpse into a lost, ancient civilisation. Such is the sheer scale of paintings that they will take generations to study.

The site is in the Serranía de la Lindosa and the documentary’s presenter, Ella Al-Shamahi, an archaeologist and explorer, told the Observer: “The new site is so new, they haven’t even given it a name yet.”

The paintings vary in size. There are numerous handprints and many of the images are on that scale, be they geometric shapes, animals or humans. Others are much larger. Some of the paintings are so high they can only be viewed with drones. The answer to the height may lie in depictions of wooden towers among the paintings, including figures appearing to bungee jump from them.


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