On the finish of the final ice age, South America was residence to unusual animals which have since vanished into extinction: large floor sloths, elephant-like herbivores and an historic lineage of horses. A brand new examine means that we are able to see these misplaced creatures in enchanting ocher work made by ice age people on a rocky outcrop within the Colombian Amazon.
These dazzling rock artwork shows at Serranía de la Lindosa, a web site on the distant banks of the Guayabero River, have been lengthy identified to the realm’s Indigenous folks however have been just about off limits to researchers due to the Colombian Civil Battle. Latest expeditions led by José Iriarte, an archaeologist on the College of Exeter in England, have sparked renewed curiosity and heated debate over the interpretation of the animals within the work.
“The entire biodiversity of the Amazon is painted there,” Dr. Iriarte stated, each aquatic and land creatures and crops, in addition to “animals which are very intriguing and look like ice age giant mammals.”
Dr. Iriarte and his colleagues, who’re a part of a venture learning human arrival in South America, defend the case that the rock artwork depicts ice age megafauna in a examine that was printed on Monday within the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. However because the examine itself acknowledges, the identification of extinct animals in rock artwork is extraordinarily controversial — and the location at La Lindosa is not any exception.
Ekkehart Malotki, a professor emeritus of languages at Northern Arizona College who has printed analysis about petroglyphs that depict extinct megafauna, referred to as the group’s claims “wishful pondering” in an e mail. In his view, the ice age interpretation is the results of an “eyeballing” strategy that guesses on the nature of the work.
Fernando Urbina and Jorge Peña, archaeologists on the Universidad Nacional de Colombia, additionally pushed again towards an ice age origin for the work. The group argued in 2016 that many scenes at La Lindosa may depict animals launched by Europeans, making them just a few centuries outdated. Dr. Malotki additionally advised that the distinctive preservation of the rock artwork, regardless of its publicity to the weather, hinted at a youthful origin.
These disputes may very well be resolved later this 12 months when age estimates of the work are refined, Dr. Urbina stated in an e mail.
Probably the most evocative pictures at La Lindosa portrays a stocky animal with a small offspring in tow. Dr. Iriarte’s group imagine these figures signify an grownup large floor sloth and its pup, noting its idiosyncratic body and claws.
“This animal is vastly totally different than the 1000’s of different work in regard to its prevalence and anatomical depiction,” stated Michael Ziegler, a doctoral scholar on the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human Historical past and co-author of the brand new examine, including that this portray provided potential proof of interactions between ice age megafauna and people.
The researchers additionally recognized different potential extinct species within the work, together with family members of elephants, camels, horses and weird hoofed mammals from the Litopterna household.
The place Dr. Iriarte’s group sees potential large floor sloths and Pleistocene horses, Dr. Urbina and Dr. Peña see fashionable capybaras and horses. Dr. Malotki stated the portray that Dr. Iriarte’s group believed to be potential elephant family members, generally known as gomphotheres, bore “completely no resemblance” to the extinct animals.
Dr. Iriarte and his colleagues counter these critiques by pointing to archaeological and paleontological proof that people coexisted with a few of these ice age megafauna earlier than they went extinct. In addition they be aware that ocher has been present in sediments that have been laid down at La Lindosa in the course of the finish of the ice age, suggesting that the rock artwork may very well be that outdated.
“We’re fairly certain they have been portray very early on,” Dr. Iriarte stated.
Extinct megafauna have beforehand been recognized in rock artwork in different elements of the world, however the burden of proof is exceptionally excessive.
“The interpretation of rock artwork pictures is all the time topic to debate, particularly when it’s argued that extinct animals have been depicted,” Paul Tacon, a professor of archaeology and anthropology at Griffith College in Australia, stated in an e mail.
“On this case there’s a sturdy argument utilizing a number of traces of proof to assist the competition that some surviving work within the Colombian Amazon are of extinct megafauna from the late Pleistocene or early Holocene,” he added. “The subsequent problem is to scientifically date the work to assist or refute this competition.”
If these efforts do find yourself supporting an ice age origin, the La Lindosa work could seize a uncommon and fleeting glimpse of animals doomed to oblivion, opening an eerie window into the misplaced ecosystems of the previous and the individuals who inhabited them. Even when the artwork is way youthful, it should assist researchers perceive cultures that thrived on this lush wilderness.
“At Serranìa de la Lindosa, the individuals who made the work have been depicting issues vital to them that actually would have been related to tales, data sharing and features of each home and religious life,” Dr. Tacon stated.