Archaeologists in Venezuela have discovered a massive set of petroglyphs that is being hailed as an “extraordinary” find. Researchers have known for decades that ancient cultures painted elaborate petroglyphs on the sides of rock faces overlooking powerful rapids in the Orinoco River, but the difficulty in reaching the petroglyphs has meant that archaeologists have only had glimpse, bits, and pieces to work with. In this latest study, aerial drone photography was used to completely catalogue, measure, and record these elaborate petroglyphs for the first time, and the results are breathtaking.
Rather than depicting the usual hunting scenes or funerary rites, “these engravings are embedded in the everyday — how people lived and travelled in the region, the importance of aquatic resources and the seasonal rhythmic rising and falling of the water”, says University College London’s Dr. Philip Riris who led the project. Some of the petroglyphs depict typical animals, while another seems to be a massive snake-like creature with dozens of legs and horns. Others show groups of people surrounding what researchers can only assume is a person playing a flute, a scene thought to depict some type of unknown ritual.
The study has been published by the journal Antiquity and is part of a larger effort by archaeologists to understand how pre-Columbian cultures in the area interacted with one another to shape modern South America. So far, the prevailing theory for the strange scenes and entities depicted in the petroglyphs is that they display a “constellation” of different beliefs and practices from the diverse groups of people who lived there between 2,000 and 300 years ago. However, there is also the possibility, however small, that these could display something else. Strange creatures, beings with odd-looking technology – these are scenes found in unexplained ancient art throughout the world. Are the people of the past trying to tell us something, or is this merely a record of an awesome dance party?