Ancient Rock Art Depicting Marine Animals Sheds Light On Hunter-Gathers’ Strategies

It’s well-known that hunter-gatherers in many regions of the world spent much of their time hunting marine animals. Yet many mysteries still exist about the common practice. But recently discovered ancient rock art may shed light on how humans caught their prey thousands of years ago.

The art, which is described in a study published in the journal Antiquity, was found in the Atacama Desert coast in Chile and provides “one of the most spectacular and expressive representations of ancient marine hunting and maritime traditions,” study author Benjamin Ballester, a doctoral student at Pantheon-Sorbonne University in Paris, wrote.

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2_16_ Izcuña ravine close up
2_16_ Izcuña ravine close up

A whale hunt is depicted in a painting found in the Izcuña ravine. Credit: Benjamin Ballester, UMR7041 ArScAN, Équipe Ethnologie Préhistorique, Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, Paris

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The hundreds of paintings drawn using iron oxide offer clues about how whales and other large marine life were hunted. Based on the rock art, the hunters likely used multiple harpoon lines to reel in the animals—a discovery that would be hard to make without the art, according to Ballester.

“The art reveals several aspects from the [hunting process] that are impossible or very difficult to study from other archaeological sources,” Ballester told Newsweek via e-mail.

For example, the rock art reveals “hunting strategies, crew members, number of sailors, prey selectivity and hunting devices,” he added.

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2_16_ Izcuña ravine
2_16_ Izcuña ravine

One of the 324 paintings discovered in the Izcuña ravine. Credit: Benjamin Ballester, UMR7041 ArScAN, Équipe Ethnologie Préhistorique, Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, Paris

Although many similar paintings have been discovered in the country before, these were the first to be found in the Izcuña ravine. Ballester and his colleagues identified 328 paintings spanning 24 slabs of rock. Many of the paintings are very poorly preserved, but enough detail exists to analyze their form, style and other intricate details.

In the published paper, several similarities are pointed out about the paintings: many of them feature large fish, nearly all of them exclude the ocean and the prey is always represented as significantly larger than the rafts and their crew.

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“This style intentionally places the prey as the protagonist, as evidenced by the detailed, meticulous depictions of the anatomy and physiology of the animals,” Ballester explains.

And interestingly enough, the paintings also reveal that the hunts were likely done alone, leaving room for only a few select for people who were skilled in the practice.

This article was first written by Newsweek

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