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Columbia: More than 2.5 miles of cliff paintings found in the Amazon rainforest
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More than 12,000 years ago, near the end of the Ice Age, humans hunted mastodons: ancient mammals that resembled a cross between mammoths and elephants. But by around 11,600 BCE, humans had likely killed many of the mastodons off. 

At least, that's the leading theory among many paleontologists. A recent discovery bolsters it: Researchers recently uncovered thousands of drawings from an Ice Age-era tribe, hidden deep in the Amazon rainforest.

The drawings are spread across three rocky shelters in Colombia's Serranía La Lindosa region. They were first painted between 12,600 and 11,800 years ago. The largest shelter alone, Cerro Azul, has drawings covering more than 2.5 miles of its surface. The images show some of South America's earliest inhabitants and their interactions with Ice Age-era animals, including giant sloths, ancient llamas, and Ice Age horses.

Quote:Many of the images show unusual levels of detail for such ancient art, according to José Iriarte, a professor of archaeology at Exeter University and a leader of the team that made the discovery.

"The Ice Age horse had a wild, heavy face," Iriarte said. "It's so detailed, we can even see the horse hair. It's fascinating."

The researchers published a study about the three sites in April in the journal Quaternary International. But on Monday, the University of Exeter released a statement with information about the discovery to coincide with the sites' coverage in an episode of "Jungle Mystery: Lost Kingdoms of the Amazon," a documentary series set to air in the UK starting Saturday.

Quote:Mark Robinson, an environmental archaeologist at the University of Exeter and coauthor of the April study, said in a statement that the people who produced these paintings likely moved into South America at a time of "extreme climate change." The Ice Age was ending.

"The Amazon was still transforming into the tropical forest we recognize today," he said. "The paintings give a vivid and exciting glimpse in to the lives of these communities.

The paintings are so vast and numerous that they will likely take many years to study fully. Plus, Jeison Lenis Chaparro-Cárdenas, an anthropologist at the National University of Colombia and member of the research team, said that "the vast majority" of cliffs in the region have not yet been fully explored.

In addition to ancient megafauna, the cliff and cave drawings depict alligators, tapirs, monkeys, turtles, serpents, and porcupines. They also include geometric shapes.

Quote:"There are many things and moments of excitement and amazement," Chaparro-Cárdena said. He added that most images revolved around a common theme: "the majesty of the nature that surrounded them and with which they interacted in their daily lives."

The team conducted soil excavations around the rock-art sites to find clues about how the inhabitants scraped clay to extract ochre, a pigment they used to make the drawings.

The team first began studying the region in 2014, two years before the FARC struck a peace treaty with Colombia's government. The Serranía La Lindosa region falls under FARC territory, and entering safely still requires careful negotiations with the guerilla group.

The region also has many natural hazards. Poisonous snakes and caimans inhabit the area, which is an hours-long journey from the nearest town.

These cave paintings were revealed in a study and are thought to show (a) a giant sloth and its offspring (b) a prehistoric relative of an elephant called a mastodon © an early horse (d) another early horse (e&f) unidentified odd toed ungulates - the same family as tapirs and rhinos.
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Hand prints were also found.
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The painters depicted ancient horse creatures called Hippidion.
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Giant sloths, which have been extinct for tens of thousands of years, feature in the paintings.
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