Patagonian rock art dated to as early as 8,200 years ago, millennia earlier than prior records

AMERICAN ASSOCIATION FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF SCIENCE (AAAS)—Scientists from Chile and Argentina have dated cave art from northern Patagonia to as early as 8,200 years ago, predating prior records from the region by thousands of years. The findings* suggest that the earliest human Patagonian inhabitants transferred traditional knowledge across generations during a period when arid climate conditions threatened their survival. “This diachronic rock art emerged as part of a resilient response to ecological stress by highly mobile and low-density populations,” Guadalupe Romero Villanueva and colleagues conjecture. Homo sapiens have been producing cave art for many thousands of years (see the 2021 Science Advances study referenced below). These visual expressions can reveal insights into past human societies, including the ways they interacted with each other and passed down knowledge. Patagonia, which encompasses southernmost South America, was among the last regions in the world to be settled by modern humans around 12,000 years ago. Several instances of ancient rock art have been discovered across Patagonia, but it’s been difficult to determine when they were created. Here, Romero Villanueva et al. evaluated motifs and pigments from 895 rock art paintings, along with artifacts such as shell beads and guanaco bones recovered from Cueva Huenul 1, a cave site located in the inland desert of northwestern Patagonia in Argentina. The paintings, which consisted of various geometric shapes and patterns, including comb-like shapes and human forms, were painted in different hues of reddish black, white, and yellow. Some pigments were derived from carbonaceous material, potentially wood from desert shrubs. The paintings spanned around 3,000 year,s and some were dated to as early as 8,200 years ago, making these the earliest known, and perhaps the longest, records of Patagonian rock art. The site was likely used to transmit knowledge across more than 100 generations, the authors speculate.

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