The paintings were likely made from about 11,800 to 12,600 years ago, according to a press release issued by researchers at the University of Exeter, UK.
The paintings are set on three different rock shelters, with the largest of them, known as Cerro Azul, home to 12 paintings and thousands of individual pictograms.
Located in Serranía La Lindosa in modern Colombia, the rock art shows how early humans in the area had coexisted with megafauna in the Ice Age, with images showing what appear to be giant sloths, industrial sloths, camels, horses and three-toed ungulates with trunks.
“These are really cool pictures, produced by the first people who lived in the western Amazon,” said Mark Robinson, an archaeologist at the University of Exeter.
The paintings give a lively and exciting glimpse into Lives of these societies. It is unreasonable for us today to believe that they lived among the giant herbivores and confiscated them, some of which were the size of a small car. “
Other pictures show human shapes, geometric shapes, and hunting scenes, in addition to animals such as deer, tapirs, crocodiles, bats, monkeys, turtles, snakes and porcupines.
The red paintings, made using pigments extracted from revealing ocher, make up one of the largest collections of rock art in South America.
At the time the drawings were made, the Amazon forests was changing from a mixture of savannah, tropical forests, and thorny scrub to the broad-leaved tropical jungle we know today.
Experts say the artists used fire to peel rocks and create flat surfaces to paint on. While the paintings are exposed to the elements, they are protected by overhanging rocks, which means they remain in better condition than other rock art found in the Amazon.
Some were painted so high on the rock that “special ladders made from forest resources were necessary” to create them, according to the press release.
The people who drew the pictures were fishermen who ate palm fruits and tree fruits, and also hunted piranhas and crocodiles in the nearby river. The bones and plant remains also reveal that they ate snakes, frogs, armadillos and rodents, including bacca and capybara.
Researchers are working on the project to find out when humans first settled in the Amazon, and how their presence affected biodiversity.
Jose Erriart, professor of archeology at Exeter, told CNN the results are an initial stage in a project that will run for five years.
He said one of his immediate goals is to document all rock art in the region, and to work on depicting other animals.
“These rock paintings are astonishing evidence of how humans rebuilt the land, and how they hunted, planted and hunting,” Ariart said in a press release.
“It is possible that art was a powerful part of the culture and a way for people to socialize. The pictures show how people would have lived among the gigantic, now extinct, animals that they were hunting.”
Ariart was influenced by the realism of the paintings produced during a rare window in which early humans lived side by side with megafauna.
“The level of animal control was incredible,” he said.
The rock paintings appear in a new TV series, Jungle Mystery: Lost Kingdoms of the Amazon, on Channel 4 UK, and the results are described in an article in Quaternary International.
Robinson and Ariart worked on the project alongside Javier Acetono of the University of Antioquia in Medellin, Colombia, and Gaspar Morcot Rios of the National University of Colombia in Bogotá.
Local communities knew the rock paintings and helped researchers document them following the 2016 peace agreement between the Colombian government and the FARC, which was disarmed after 52 years of conflict. Researchers worked on the site in 2017 and 2018.