Oldest Rock Art in the Americas Found in Brazil

The discovery in Brazil of a rock carving estimated to be over 10,000 years old could change theories about when humans first came to the Americas. Brazilian archaeologists found the petroglyph in 2009 in Lapa do Santo, an archaeological site in central Brazil about 35 miles from Belo Horizonte, the capital of Minas Gerais state. It is about 12 inches long and depicts a man with a C-shaped head, three fingers on each hand and a large phallus. A photograph of the figure, which was found about 30 millimeters below a hearth, can be seen via PLoS One.

Writing in the online scientific journal PLoS One, archaeologist Walter A. Neves says that the ”petroglyph found at Lapa do Santo is the oldest, indisputable testimony of rock art in the Americas.” Tests of the sediment covering the carbon have led Brazilian archaeologists to estimate that the petroglyph is older than 10,500 years and could even be as old as 12,000 years.

Neves notes that the petroglyph is invaluable evidence for learning about “the symbolic world of the first humans who settled the New World” due to the extreme rarity in the Americas of “artistic manifestations either as rock-art, ornaments, and portable art objects.” Indeed, says Neves,

These data allow us to suggest that the anthropomorphic figure is the oldest reliably dated figurative petroglyph ever found in the New World, indicating that cultural variability during the Plesitocene/Holocene boundary in South America was not restricted to stone tools and subsistence, but also encompassed the symbolic dimension.

Similar sorts of rock-art have been found in the same region, at Lapa do Ballet and Lapa das Caieiras, and also in other parts of Brazil to the northeast. Finding the petroglyph in Lapa do Santo suggests not only that humans living there had made greater cultural advances than previously thought, but that there was “cultural contact among groups as far apart as 1,600 km [about 994 miles] by the beginning of the Holocene in Eastern South America.”

According to the currently most widely accepted theory, it was 11,000 years ago that humans first crossed the Bering Strait from Siberia to Alaska, after which they gradually migrated southward. The alternate “Clovis theory” says that Clovis people from western north America were on the continent 11,500 years ago. The Lapa do Santo petroglyph provides further material evidence about how long we humans have been in the Americas; might more be found?

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Photo of a petroglyph in Costão do Santinho, Florianópolis, Brazil by Herr stahlhoefer via Wikimedia Commons

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56 comments

Edo F.
Edo F.3 years ago

Anyone who has read Graham Hancocks work "Supernatural" will understand the significance and symbology of this art :-)

Naomi A.
Naomi A.3 years ago

Australian Aboriginal rock art dates back at least 40,000 years and luckily, there are some who can still tell us what those paintings mean. There is so much of our world we have lost, will lose and yet, so much we can gain.
Let us hope we will, actually, learn from past and present mistakes and losses.

BMutiny TCorporationsAreE

The picture illustrating the article, is NOT the actual Petroglyph -- for that, you DO have to go to PloS One. I just did.
The "C"-shaped head, reminds me of figures, both male and female, with "bird" heads, that are maybe masks {the "C"-shape being like a bird's beak}. These are sculptures or drawings that are found in prehistoric sites all over. They may possibly represent Shamans on "Spirit Journeys" or something like that.
It is interesting that this Petroglyph figure, is holding another "C" shape in one of its 3-fingered hands. Maybe another "bird" mask? It must at any rate be something very important, but we'll never really know! Maybe the figure is represented as dancing.... or in a trance..... maybe a record, a reminder of something important.... fun to speculate about!
And, of course, that really, really blatantly prominent Phallus.... that WE are not used to seeing in art at all!!!

BMutiny TCorporationsAreE

"These data allow us to suggest that the anthropomorphic figure is the oldest reliably dated figurative petroglyph ever found in the New World, indicating that cultural variability during the Pleistocene/Holocene boundary in South America was not restricted to stone tools and subsistence, but also encompassed the symbolic dimension."
========
"Anthropomorphic" means "humanlike". I am chortling over those here who "saw" the obvious Phallus, on a blatantly Male figure, as a "tail" on a dinosaur or lizard-creature! Har har..
Take another look! {Also not so uncommon in "primitive" Art. You see it over & over again.....}

Nellie P.
Nellie P.3 years ago

Fascinating article.

Engele van Zyl
Engele van Zyl3 years ago

Thanks for sharing this interesting article

David N.
David N.3 years ago

Thanks for the article.

mahani t.
mahani t.3 years ago

People see what they want to see.

Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson3 years ago

love to learn about these types of things!

Isabel Ramirez
Isabel Ramirez3 years ago

Thank you for sharing:)