Cave Paintings Found In Brazil Date Back To Ancient Hunter-Gatherers
November 12, 2013

Hunt For Peccary Trails Yields New Cave Paintings In Brazil

April Flowers for - Your Universe Online

A team of researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society and a local non-governmental organization, Instituto Quinta do Sol were recently tracking white-lipped peccaries (Tayassu pecari) and gathering data in Brazil's Pantanal and Cerrado biomes when they discovered ancient cave drawings made by hunter-gatherer societies thousands of years ago.

The findings, published in the journal Revista Clio Arqueológica, demonstrate that the diversity of the renderings add significantly to our knowledge of rock art from the Cerrado plateau region that borders the Pantanal.

"Our work with the Wildlife Conservation Society focuses on promoting sustainable land use practices that help protect important wildlife species and the wild places where they live," said Dr. Alexine Keuroghlian, researcher with WCS's Brazil Program. "Since we often work in remote locations, we sometimes make surprising discoveries, in this case, one that appears to be important for our understanding of human cultural history in the region."

Keuroghlian and her team were conducting surveys of white-lipped peccaries - herd-forming pig-like animals that travel long distances - on Brazil's Cerrado plateau in 2009. Peccaries, found in Central and South American, are important as an environmental indicator of forest health because they are vulnerable to human activities, such as deforestation and hunting. The animals are disappearing  from large swaths of their former range from southern Mexico to northern Argentina. The team followed signals from radio-collared white-lipped peccaries and the foraging trails of peccary herds, finding a series of prominent sandstone formations. The formations had caves containing drawings of animals and geometric figures.

Keuroghlian contacted archeologist Rodrigo Luis Simas de Aguiar, a regional specialist in cave drawings from the Universidade Federal de Grande Dourados (UFGD). Aguiar determined that the drawings were made between 4,000 and 10,000 years ago by hunter-gatherer societies that used the caves either as dwellings or specifically for their artwork. Aguiar, collaborating with UFGD Post-graduate student Keny Marques Lima, found that the style of some of the drawings was consistent with what archaeologists call the Planalto (central Brazilian plateau) tradition. He was surprised to find that others were more similar to Nordeste (northeastern Brazil) or Agreste (forest to arid-land transition in NE Brazil) style drawings.

The drawings consist of human figures, geometric designs and animals, including armadillos, deer, large cats, birds, and reptiles. The scientists were surprised to find that the peccaries were absent from the drawings. Aguiar intends to conduct cave floor excavations and geological dating at the sites in order to fully interpret the drawings.

"These discoveries of cave drawings emphasize the importance of protecting the Cerrado and Pantanal ecosystems, both for their cultural and natural heritage," said Dr. Julie Kunen, Director of WCS's Latin America and the Caribbean Program and an expert on Mayan archeology. "We hope to partner with local landowners to protect these cave sites, as well as the forests that surround them, so that the cultural heritage and wildlife depicted in the drawings are preserved for future generations."

Image 2 (below): Cave drawing showing an assortment of animals. Credit: Alexine Keuroghlian/WCS