Exquisite, ancient rock paintings spotted in remote Colombia
A crew of filmmakers discovered beautiful paintings that may be thousands of years old on rock walls in a remote part of the Colombian jungle in 2015. The region is almost inaccessible to modern people and remains unexplored except by the natives who are believed to still live there.
The Guardian reports that the crew, headed by director Mike Slee, took photos and video of the paintings from a helicopter. They have been described as ‘masterpieces’ and depict a holy man, hunters and different animals species.
“They reveal the hand of a master of painting,” Fernando Urbina, a rock-art specialist with the National University of Colombia, told the Guardian.
A view of Chiribiquete park, where the paintings were found (Carlos Castaño Uribe/Wikimedia Commons)
Urbina said the paintings could be as old as 20,000 years. But it will be impossible to estimate their age with radiocarbon dating because they were painted with mineral-based, iron oxide pigments rather than the organic charcoal that European rock paintings were made with.
Urbina expressed to the Guardian special interest in a seated human figure with his arms folded over his shoulders, a ritual position among people of the Amazon that may mean the man depicted was a sage.
It has been suggested that that the rock art was painted by Karijona tribe members. A few members of the tribe still live there. The area is Chiribiquete national park, a UNESCO world heritage site that covers 12,000 square kilometers (4,600 square miles) of unexplored territory with thick forest, rock towers jutting through the rainforest canopy, peaks and valleys and sheer cliffs.
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Rock art from another part of Chiribiquete shows animals, hand prints and anthropomorphic figures. (Carlos Castaño Uribe/Wikimedia Commons)
In 2018, Colombia Reports told the world that the prehistoric rock art has been declared a protected site. Now national authorities are working alongside the Guaviare governor’s office to try to find a way to make the archaeological site and the nature park around it accessible to the public.
The British wildlife filmmaker Slee was the first European to film the art, from a helicopter. He was making a movie titled Colombia: Wild Magic and was exploring the South American country for scenes. He made the movies Bugs! 3D and The Flight of the Butterflies.
There were reports of the rock art in the Cerro Campana area of Chiribiquete, and other paintings have been photographed in other parts of Chiribiquete, but the paintings Slee found were new to modern people.
Rock art from another part of Chiribiquete depicts a human figure. (Carlos Castaño Uribe/Wikimedia Commons)
The paintings include depictions of deer, crocodiles, snakes, large rodents called capybaras and anteaters. They show hunters and warriors celebrating.
Slee calls the places where the art was painted a chapel. He told the Guardian: “The peoples who once lived here have left in pictures testimony of their awe and respect for the wild. When I saw the images, I honestly felt an affinity with the artists. They were attempting to capture the power, grace, spirit and essence of the animal in pictures. Perhaps it was to make the hunt better the next day, but there is clearly careful observation in their art. It’s what contemporary photographers, painters, film-makers set out to do when they create a wildlife project.”
In his movie about Colombia, Slee would warn about the gold and emerald mining that is destroying forest and polluting rivers and the clear-cutting of the rainforest. “We’re taking out the rainforest, we’re losing species every week. We have the most beautiful country on Earth and we are in danger of destroying it,” he said.
He hopes to return to Cerro Campana and make a second movie about the rock art.
Featured image: Rock art in the Chiribiquete national park in Colombia, seen for the first time by non-native people. (Mike Slee image)
By Mark Miller