"Sistine Chapel of the Ancients"

I’ve seen several articles today announcing an archaeological site in the Amazon, which was discovered in 2019, but kept under wraps while a documentary was being made.

It is an 8-mile long rock face with 12,000 year old art. Some of the animals appear to be ice-age megafauna. A news article says “There are depictions of creatures resembling a giant sloth, mastodon, camelids, horses, and three-toe ungulates with trunks.”

The upcoming documentary is Jungle Mystery: Lost Kingdoms of the Amazon. It’s supposed to be out this month. It will be on Channel 4 in Britain. I don’t know yet how to watch it anywhere else.

Finally, 2020 has provided something amazing that is not also terrible!

Sounds interesting and if from 12,600 years ago helps to support humans being in the Americas earlier.

I read about it a little while ago and it’s great!

I already have so many questions. Was the art in this condition when they found it, or has it been cleaned/stabilized/conserved to get it looking like this? Since the articles don’t seem to be concealing where it is located, what are they doing to protect the site so boneheads don’t mess it up? I guess I have to wait for the documentary.

Well, they were only able to re-enter this part of the Amazon recently due to the truce w/ FARC rebels that controlled the area. How this new Wonder of the World is preserved is very important question,

That’s awfully densely-detailed, for ancient rock art. And there’s 8 miles of this? That’s a huge amount of information.

To me, the images in the various articles look to be from the same area. I wonder if there are batches scattered along the rock face, and not one giant continuous artwork. Nothing has shown a view looking sideways down the length of this 8-mile rock face.

That one on the bottom near the right is clearly an Apache attack helicopter.

This one? :grin:

The location is the Chiribiquete National Natural Park. Here are some views of the rock faces from different perspectives.

Too true, a wonderful addition to the human story, although technically found some years ago and only now being revealed after first stage of analysis done, so 2020 remains Worst Year Ever.

Naah, the density and detail is about right for the rock art I know. In fact, it’s quite monochrome compared to a lot of Southern African stuff. But the quantity is off the charts.

Although I think we’re obviously seeing the best bits, other photos in GIS are much more faded.

Still, this find is stunning. I was literally whooping when I found out.

Oh, and I have to say, the block-animals (llamas?) are my favourite. Real Russel the Sheep vibes:

What kept the paintings from being washed off over all that time?

I’m not questioning the truth of the articles, but I’m very curious. I went to see a lot of rock art in Utah when I lived out there, and most of the surviving old stuff was chipped into the rock. Things that had only been painted on the surface was frequently washed away (You could tell it had been there because when the painting got to a place where it was protected by an overhang, the painting was still there – but it obviously had extended being the protected face). I’ve seen pictures and read description of similar things happening with painted rock art elsewhere in the world (Arthur C, Clarke describes some in his novel The Fountains of Paradise). I suspect most of these examples are considerably more recent than 12,000 years. The pictures shown look as if they’re on an exposed rock wall in a well-forested area (a lot of the Utah stuff is in desert). How did it survive?

Here is an article about red ochre, with which the artwork in question is made. From the article:

Because ochre is a mineral, it doesn’t wash away or decay, allowing it to persist through the ages.

The article also cites artwork many times older than this Amazon artwork, although it doesn’t go into how well this older artwork is protected from the elements.

I wonder if the chemical makeup of the substrate rock has anything to do with the longevity of the ochre? Possibly the ochre forms stronger chemical bonds with certain type of rock?

That is magnificent! I have only seen some pictures and I already love it. I wonder when I will be able to see more details on a channel I can receive, I hope soon. Seems a shame having to suscribe to be able to see something that is clearly part of human heritage.

I’ll have to read the articles, but I have to say that this doesn’t explain anything. Lots of pigments are very stable materials that don’t decay, and last practically forever. The problem is that the medium – that stuff that binds the pigment to the substrate – can decay or dissolve, leaving that nice permanent pigment in a heap at the base of the wall.

Many media used in painting – linseed oil in oil pants, casein in casein paints, acrylic in modern acrylic paints – are essentially glues or polymers that help the pigment stick to the substrate, be it canvas, polyboard, or rocks. I’d bet that whatever they were working with wasn’t as sophisticated. It could be that red ochre does bond directly with the rock (as you suggest), or maybe abrades it (like so many Utah petroglyphs), but something more than “Red ochre doesn’t break down” is need to explain the longevity.

The article says the ground red ochre pigment was mixed with water, saliva, or egg whites, and lumps of red ochre can also be used like chalk or crayon. It sounds like it mostly just sticks all by itself. (Other than when they added egg whites.)

At Chiribiquete National Natural Park in the Amazon, it looks like the photos with the well-preserved rock art are from an area with an overhang above.

Side story: Red ochre is a mixture of clay and hematite, with the red color coming from iron oxide in hematite. Old barns are the same color as red ochre cave paintings because farmers used to make their own paint on the cheap by buying powdered iron oxide pigment and mixing up the paint base from stuff they already had on hand - milk, flax seed oil, and powdered lime (generally used to adjust soil acidity). Killing two birds with one stone, the iron oxide also acted as a fungicide, helping preserve the barn siding.

OK, so it can be used like chalk or crayon. But both of those wash away, too.

The answer will vary considerably according to the mix of materials in the applied ‘paint’, the mineral and erosive properties of the substrate, and the types of processes that affect the painted surface over time, which would include weather, organic growth, exposure to light and so on.

I was quite surprised to see their vividness when the 12,000 BP date came out. However, from the pics and an interview with the lead investigator, that is a maximum date based on finding ochre ‘crayons’ in the archaeological deposits associated with some of the panels. On close inspection there is quite a bit of super-positioning, so the most vibrant and recent work may not be of that vintage.

Chemical bonding from ochre can give it as much strength as the substrate, which looks to be a fairly robust limestone, so it would only be lost when a section of the limestone skin fell off. With kilometres of the stuff we may also be seeing the best but not necessarily representative bits.