Oldest Cave Art In The Americas

The oldest cave art in the Americas. Credit: PLOS ONE.

Brazilian researchers say they have discovered the oldest cave art in the Americas.

The 10,000-year-old figure was engraved into bedrock in Central Brazil and is most definitely a “he”, as suggested by the oversized phallus.

The figure also has a C-shaped head and three fingers on each hand.

He was discovered during the last days of a seven-year excavation of ancient human shelters in Brazil’s Lapa do Santo region. Archeologists also found bone tools, 27 human burial sites and evidence that the inhabitants probably nourished themselves with small game and fruit.

The authors point out that stylistically similar (but younger) rock-art can be found in at least two other rockshelters in the same region.

All very interesting. But perhaps you are also wondering: Why the exaggerated anatomy?

Was this prehistoric porn, creative license, a lack of perspective drawing skills, or something else altogether?

It turns out oversized genitalia has spawned serious academic discussion in archeological circles. Last week Smithsonian Magazine published an excellent article about the debate surrounding an extremely well-endowed 40,000-year-old female figurine found in Germany.

As my friend Andrew Curry reports, some archeologists think these exaggerations may be “hallucinations experienced by tribal shamans” or in the case of corpulent women, “the hope for a well-nourished community.”

But back to the Brazilian find. The PLOS paper authors used radio carbon dating to age the figure as well as a technique that was new to me, optically stimulated luminescence dating.

I was also interested by what the authors had to say about other (nearly as ancient) art in the Americas:

In Oregon State, USA, geometric petroglyphs were found partially buried by Mount Mazama ash, which is dated to 7.7 kyr. Rock art showing mammoth-like figures are present in the Great Basin and in the Colorado Plateau of the USA, also suggesting great antiquity, although no direct dating was possible. Mud Portage site, in Canada, showed a rock pavement with petroglyphs, and covered by archaeological sediments dating between 5 kyr and 9 kyr. In Argentina, linear marks were found in the bedrock of Epullán Grande cave, partially covered by archaeological sediments, with a minimum age of 11.6 kyr (9,970±100 14C yr BP). However, there is a pending controversy about the anthropic origin of the marks. In this context, the petroglyph found at Lapa do Santo is the oldest, indisputable testimony of rock art in the Americas.

Author: Sarah Everts

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