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Large petroglyphs found in Western Venezuela. Oblique aerial view of western panel on Picure, with interpretative overlay of main engravings.

Man and Beast Depicted in Huge 2,000-Year-Old Petroglyphs Revealed in Venezuela

A team of UCL researchers has announced the discovery of rock engravings spotted in Western Venezuela. According to the experts, a few petroglyphs included are some of the largest ever recorded worldwide.

Impressive Petroglyphs Mapped in Venezuela

The recently mapped petroglyphs, include portrayals of animals, humans and cultural rituals. As Phys Org reports , some of the engravings are considered to be around 2,000 years old. Eight groups of engraved rock art were recorded on five islands within the Rapids. According to the experts, one panel is 304m² and contains a minimum 93 individual engravings, the largest of which is many meters long. Even more impressively, another petroglyph that depicts a horned snake measures more than 30 meters in length. The researchers from the University College London mapped the petroglyphs in the Atures Rapids area of Amazonas state in Venezuela, which, according to Jesuit priests, has historically been the home of the native Adoles people.

Aerial photograph of monumental Cerro Pintado petroglyphs with enhanced image overlay.

Aerial photograph of monumental Cerro Pintado petroglyphs with enhanced image overlay. (Image: Dr Philip Riris )

The paper's author Dr. Philip Riris (UCL Institute of Archaeology) said as Phys Org reports ,

"The Rapids are an ethnic, linguistic and cultural convergence zone. The motifs documented here display similarities to several other rock art sites in the locality, as well as in Brazil, Colombia, and much further afield. This is one of the first in-depth studies to show the extent and depth of cultural connections to other areas of northern South America in pre-Columbian and Colonial times.”

He went on explaining,

“While painted rock art is mainly associated with remote funerary sites, these engravings are embedded in the everyday - how people lived and traveled in the region, the importance of aquatic resources and the seasonal rhythmic rising and falling of the water. The size of some of the individual engravings is quite extraordinary.”

Top-down aerial perspective of east panel on Picure, with interpretative overlay of main engravings.

Top-down aerial perspective of east panel on Picure, with interpretative overlay of main engravings. (Image: Dr Philip Riris )

Drone Technology Helps Researchers to Spot the Engravings

Researchers note that even though the rock engravings have been studied before, this is the most detailed study of the carvings.  Drone technology was used during research in order to help the experts to photograph accurately the engravings, some of which were located in very harsh and unwelcome areas. The extreme low water levels in the Orinoco River during the time research was taking place, also favored the researchers to expose even more petroglyphs.

The Atures Rapids. a) View of Raudal Wayuco and Picure (background), facing south; b) Raudal Yavarivén looking west, c) overview of the Atures Rapids from mainland Venezuela (photograph by José Oliver); d) view from Picure looking north towards Cotúa

The Atures Rapids. a) View of Raudal Wayuco and Picure (background), facing south; b) Raudal Yavarivén looking west, c) overview of the Atures Rapids from mainland Venezuela (photograph by José Oliver); d) view from Picure looking north towards Cotúa. (Image: Dr Philip Riris )

The Role of Water Levels in the Area

According to Dr. Riris all of the petroglyphs were found to be affected by seasonally rising and falling water levels in the Orinoco. As Phys Orgs reports , depending on rain upstream, the relative height of the river also varies each year by numerous meters during the extremes of both seasons. In one panel surveyed, a motif of a flute player accompanied by other human figures possibly portrays part of an indigenous prayer of renewal. Furthermore, the researchers added that performances occurred at the same time with the seasonal emergence of the petroglyphs from the river just before the onset of the wet season, when the islands are easier to be approached and the harvest takes place.

Six human figures on the western panel of Picure, including a Yuruparí flutist. Inset: polynomial texture mapping detail of flutist.

Six human figures on the western panel of Picure, including a Yuruparí flutist. Inset: polynomial texture mapping detail of flutist. (Image: Dr Philip Riris )

The Archaeology of Cotúa Island

Conclusively, Dr. José Oliver principal investigator, stated that the project focuses on the archaeology of Cotúa Island and its immediate vicinity of the Atures Rapids. “Available archaeological evidence suggests that traders from diverse and distant regions interacted in this area over the course of two millennia before European colonization. The project's aim is to better understand these interactions,” he said as Phys Org reported . And added that mapping the petroglyphs is a big challenge for all people participating in this ambitious project, “Mapping the rock engravings represents a major step towards an enhanced understanding of the role of the Orinoco River in mediating the formation of pre-Conquest social networks throughout northern South America.”

Top image: Large petroglyphs found in Western Venezuela. Oblique aerial view of western panel on Picure, with interpretative overlay of main engravings. (Image: Dr Philip Riris )

By Theodoros Karasavvas

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