Several drawings, including the only known portrait of the now-extinct giant sloth lemur, have been discovered by an international team of scientists on the walls of a rock shelter located in the western part of Madagascar.
Dr. David Burney from Hawaii’s National Tropical Botanical Garden as well as other experts from the United States, United Kingdom, and Madagascar, found the drawings in Andriamamelo Cave which is close to the small village of Anahidrano. The drawings were created with black pigments that were made from charcoal or iron minerals.
The pictures included natural scenes with human-like figures as well as zoomorphic figures (animal forms or gods in the form of animals), and animal-human hybrids. Numerous living animals were depicted in the pictures, but there were also three drawings found of the elephant bird, tortoise, and giant sloth lemur.
The giant sloth lemur was drawn in a hunting scene where a hunter was pointing his weapon (maybe a bow) towards the upside down animal and two dogs. As for the hunter in the drawing, “There are two distinct legs, and a third appendage pointing backward in the manner of a tail or a sheathed sword. The posture and detail evoke classical images of the conspicuous constellation Orion,” the researchers noted. It is believed that the upside down animal with its legs in the air was in fact the giant sloth lemur. “These large primates are known as abundant subfossils from Anjohingidrobe Cave also in Beanka, such as Babakotia radofilai. They are generally reconstructed with long forelimbs, a short snout, and small rounded ears.”
Additionally, there were several symbols of an M-shaped motif (ሐ) found on the walls which is quite significant. “We have not found this figure in other rock art around the Indian Ocean, except a rare occurrence in Borneo, believed to have been created about 2,000 years ago,” the researchers explained, adding, “It also matches one distinctive character found in the Amharic alphabet of Ethiopia.”
They went on to say, “Eight instances were noted where images and themes suggest Ptolemaic Egyptian mythological characters and symbols, some possibly of stellar constellations.” “There are no characters from the Latin alphabet. No cattle images, nor any Judaeo-Christian, Muslim, or Hindu symbology.” (A picture of the rock art can be seen here.)
It is believed that the rock art was made around the start of the Christian Era or perhaps even a few centuries prior to that time. “The local people associate the images with a different ethnic group from themselves (Vazimba or Bosy), from an unknown time, who made them in connection with divination,” claimed the researchers. Their paper was published in the Journal of Island and Coastal Archaeology which can be read in full here.