Edithe Pereira
Archeologists, Human Sciences Coordinator, Emílio Goeldi Pará Museum

An Art that Endures Time

In Amazonia, 12,000 years ago, hunter gatherer societies began painting and engraving cave walls, rockshelters and other rock formations, recording ideas that they both shared and intended to transmit to others.

Figures that we recognize as human beings, animals or just geometric forms were created in exquisite styles, becoming symbols of cultural identity.

This type of communication was not only displayed through rock art. The figures created and replicated by prehistoric societies were also exhibited on clay, wood, animal bones and skins. The less resistant materials perished due to the harsh tropical forest environment, while ceramic artifacts and rock implements survived.

In rock art throughout the world, shapes that we now perceive as geometric (circles, spirals, rectangles, etc) are universal, e.g., they are represented in similar ways by different societies. Nevertheless, the meaning attached to them varies cross-culturally. Human and animal depictions are also universal, in the sense that they occur elsewhere; however, their style - as well as their meaning - is specific to the type of culture that created them.

The human figure, widely depicted in Amazonia, is represented in a variety of ways across the region. In Prainha (Lower Amazon), for example, anthropomorphic figures are the central theme. Persons are typically depicted in frontal position, either with all their parts (e.g. head, body and limbs) or only the heads, characteristically showing emotions such as sadness or happiness. Other singular characteristic are represented by smaller details such as teeth and ears, which are represented in simplified way.

The deeper meanings of the symbols printed on rocks were inevitably lost. However, the depictions that survive until present-days show that prehistoric populations had dominated techniques of producing pigments and engraving elaborate designs on hard rock. It was the mastery of these techniques that allowed for one of the cultural manifestations of prehistoric peoples - the rock or parietal art - to be preserved through time and allow us to appreciate this proof of their symbolic beliefs.


Rupestrian inscriptions were found at Serra dos Martírios State Park. The figures carved in the rocks are from a civilization that lived in that region sometime between 6,000 and 7,000 years ago, similar to those found in Monte Alegre: the site where the first inhabitants of South America appeared 11,200 years ago.