Unprecedented mapping of Venezuelan rock art by UCL researchers

7 December 2017

Mapping of Venezuelan rock art (Image ©Philip Riris)

Rock engravings located in Western Venezuela, including some of the largest recorded anywhere in the world, have been mapped in unprecedented detail by UCL researchers.

All the rock art surveyed is located in the Atures Rapids (Raudales de Atures) area of Amazonas state in Venezuela, historically reported as the home of the native Adoles by Jesuit priests. Eight groups of engraved rock art were recorded on five islands within the Rapids. The engravings, some of which are thought to be up to 2,000 years old, include depictions of animals, humans and cultural rituals. Drone technology was used to photograph the engravings, some of which are in highly inaccessible areas. Historically low water levels in the Orinoco river at the time the research was carried out also meant more of the engravings were exposed.

Mapping of Venezuelan rock art (Image ©Philip Riris)

The results of this research, undertaken as part of the Leverhulme Trust-funded Cotúa Island-Orinoco Reflexive Archaeology Project have been published this week in Antiquity.

According to Philip Riris, Leverhulme Trust Research Associate and author of the Antiquity article:

  • "The Rapids are an ethnic, linguistic and cultural convergence zone. While painted rock art is mainly associated with remote funerary sites, 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. This is one of the first in-depth studies to show the extent and depth of cultural connections to other areas of northern South America in pre-Columbian and Colonial times."
Mapping of Venezuelan rock art (Image ©Philip Riris)

Cotúa Island Project Principal Investigator, José Oliver, said:

  • Our project focuses on the archaeology of Cotúa Island and its immediate vicinity of the Atures Rapids. Available archaeological evidence suggests that traders from diverse and distant regions interacted in this area over the course of two millennia before European colonization. The project’s aim is to better understand these interactions. Mapping the rock engravings represents a major step towards an enhanced understanding of the role of the Orinoco River in mediating the formation of pre-Conquest social networks throughout northern South America.

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