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The ‘Sistine Chapel Of The Amazon’ Was Just Discovered In Colombia And It’s One Of The Largest Rock Art Collections Ever Found

All too often artists from Latin America – particularly Indigenous artists – are overlooked for their contribution to the world’s art scene. This isn’t just true of today’s artists but also dating back hundreds of years.

White-centric art critics have praised the works of artists like Rembrandt and Van Gogh, while ignoring the immense contributions that artists on the other side of the Atlantic were making hundreds or even thousands of years earlier.

Now, as a nearly 13,000-year-old rock art collection is discovered by researchers deep in the Colombian Amazon, this long lost history of Indigenous art is finally having its moment in the spotlight.

Researchers discovered one of the world’s largest and oldest collections of ancient rock art.

One of the world’s largest collections of prehistoric rock art has been discovered in the Amazon Rainforest. Researches are hailing it as the “Sistine Chapel of the Ancients,” and it’s guaranteed to bring a new level of attention on both the art and civilization of ancient America.

The rock art paintings, which number in the tens of thousands, are said to have been created up to 12,500 years ago. Perhaps even more staggering, they’re painted on well-worn cliff faces that stretch across nearly eight miles deep in the Colombian jungle. Experts say that because of the size of the site, it will take generations to study.

Although news of the rock art is just being released to the public, it was actually discovered last year as part of a film by the BBC: Jungle Mystery: Lost Kingdoms of the Amazon.

The site is in the Serranía de la Lindosa where, along with the Chiribiquete national park, other rock art had been found. 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 discovery highlights the lives of some of the very first people who called the Americas home.

The team who made the discovery is a joint British-Colombian group, funded by the European Research Council. Its leader is José Iriarte, professor of archaeology at Exeter University in the U.K. and a leading expert on the Amazon and pre-Columbian history.

He said: “When you’re there, your emotions flow … 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.”

The team found it hard to keep it a secret given the level of excitement and emotion they felt upon the discovery.

“We started seeing animals that are now extinct. 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 images include fish, turtles, lizards and birds, as well as people dancing and holding hands, among other scenes. One figure wears a mask resembling a bird with a beak.

It’s estimated that the thousands of pieces of rock art are nearly 13,000 years old.

Although no official carbon dating has been carried out to gauge the age of the art, experts are estimating its age based partly on the depictions of long-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.

These animals were all seen and painted by some of the very first humans ever to reach the Amazon. Their pictures give a glimpse into a lost, ancient civilization that many of our ancestors call on as part of our history.

The site is deep in rebel-controlled territory so it’s unlikley to become a tourist hotspot anytime soon.

Credit: Luis Acosta / Getty Images

The site of the discovery, the Serranía La Lindosa, sits deep in the rebel-controlled Colombian rainforest. As the documentary notes, Colombia is a land torn apart after 50 years of civil war that raged between FARC guerrillas and the Colombian government, now with an uneasy truce in place.

The territory where the paintings have been discovered was completely off limits until recently and still involves careful negotiation to enter safely.

Al-Shamahi said: “When we entered Farc territory, it was exactly as a few of us have been screaming about for a long time. 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.”

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