'sistine chapel of the ancients' rock art discovered in colombian amazon

'sistine chapel of the ancients' rock art discovered in colombian amazon

a massive collection of paintings dating back to the ice age has been revealed, stretching across a cliff in colombia. dubbed the sistine chapel of the ancients, the discovery was made last year by a british-colombian team, founded by the european research council. the impressive finding consists of tens of thousands of animals and humans created up to 12,500 years ago and will be presented for the first time on channel 4 on a documentary series titled jungle mystery: lost kingdoms of the amazon.

'sistine chapel of the ancients' rock art discovered in colombian amazon
all images by marie-claire thomas/wild blue media/channel 4



ella al-shamahi, an archeologist and explorer presenting the documentary, told the observer: ‘the new site is so new, they haven’t even give it a name yet.’ located on the serranía de la lindosa, the paintings include fish, turtles, lizards and birds, as well as people dancing and others wearing masks. they are varied in size and some are located so high up the cliff that the team had to use drones to view them.

'sistine chapel of the ancients' rock art discovered in colombian amazon



‘it’s interesting to see that many of these large animals appear surrounded by small men with their arms raised, almost worshiping these animals,’ josé iriarte, professor of archeology at exeter university and an amazon and pre-columbian expert, commented when asked if the drawings could have a sacred purpose. ‘for amazonian people, non-humans like animals and plants have souls, and they communicate and engage with people in cooperative or hostile ways through the rituals and shamanic practices that we see depicted in the rock art.’

the sistine chapel of the ancients



‘we started seeing animals that are now extinct,’ iriarte continues. ‘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 horse hair. it’s fascinating.’

the sistine chapel of the ancients



as noted by the documentary, colombia is a country that even after signing a peace treaty in 2016, still suffers from the consequences of a more than 50-year long conflict. the territory where the sistine chapel of the ancients was found was completely off-limits until recently and still needs careful negotiation to enter safely. ‘when we entered farc territory, it was exactly as a few of us have been screaming about for a long time,’ ella al-shamahi comments. ‘exploration is not over. scientific discovery is not over but the big discoveries now are going to be found in places that are disputed or hostile.’

the sistine chapel of the ancients



overall, the sistine chapel of the ancients will help us increase our understanding of the global expansion of human populations while enabling assessment of key interactions between people and the environment that appear to have lasting repercussions for one of the most important and biologically diverse ecosystems in the world, comments the official paper




‘one of the most fascinating things was seeing ice age megafauna because that’s a marker of time,’ l-shamahi concludes. ‘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. they’re too big. not only are they giving clues about when they were painted by some of the earliest people – that in itself is just mind-boggling – but they are also giving clues about what this very spot might have looked like: more savannah-like.’

the sistine chapel of the ancients



project info:


name: the sistine chapel of the ancients

documentary: jungle mystery: lost kingdoms of the amazon

presented by: channel 4


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