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Monumental snake engravings of the Orinoco River

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2024-06-10 01:30:02

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Rock art of the Middle and Upper Orinoco River in South America is characterised by some of the largest and most enigmatic engravings in the world, including snakes exceeding 40m in length. Here, the authors map the geographic distribution of giant snake motifs and assess the visibility of this serpentine imagery within the Orinoco landscape and Indigenous myths. Occupying prominent outcrops that were visible from great distances, the authors argue that the rock art provided physical reference points for cosmogonic myths, acting as border agents that structured the environment and were central to Indigenous placemaking along the rivers of lowland South America.

In this article, we report on a unique South American tradition of monumental rock art and link it to the extant archaeological and ethnographic knowledge of the Orinoco River in its regional context. In concert with a growing interest in pre-Columbian art across the lowland tropics more broadly, Orinoco rock art has seen a recent rise in research attention (Riris Reference Riris 2017; Riris & Oliver Reference Riris and Oliver 2019; Tarble de Scaramelli & Scaramelli Reference Tarble de Scaramelli and Scaramelli 2021; Pérez-Goméz et al. Reference Pérez–Gómez, Antczak, Antczak and Brewer-Carias 2022). Areas of focus include the role of rock art in the peopling of the Americas, connections between Indigenous myth and art production, and the historical ecological knowledge that the art can embody (Valle et al. Reference Valle, Lopez, Tuyuka and Munduruku 2018; Castaño-Uribe Reference Castaño-Uribe 2019; Pereira & Moraes Reference Pereira and Moraes 2019; Castiblanco Muñoz Reference Castiblanco Muñoz 2020; Morcote-Rios et al. Reference Morcote-Ríos, Aceituno, Iriarte, Robinson and Chaparro-Cárdenas 2021; Villar Quintana Reference Villar Quintana 2021). The number of motif types shared across large parts of northern South America has led scholars to suggest the existence of several, sometimes overlapping, traditions of Indigenous art production (Williams Reference Williams, Wendell and Close 1985; Reichel-Dolmatoff Reference Reichel-Dolmatoff 1987; Greer Reference Greer 1995; Overing Reference Overing and Arnold 1996; Pereira Reference Pereira, McEwan, Barreto and Neves 2001; Valle Reference Valle 2012; Castaño-Uribe Reference Castaño-Uribe 2019).

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