Recently, a record-breaking drought in the Amazon rainforest has significantly reduced water levels in one of the largest rivers in the region, exposing ancient rock carvings of human faces, animals, and geometric shapes.
These engravings are called petroglyphs and were made by Indigenous peoples thousands of years ago. They were found at an archaeological site where the Negro River converges into the Amazon River.
Researchers aren’t sure exactly how old the petroglyphs are. But with the help of radiocarbon dating, they analyzed ceramics found on the banks of the Negro River near the petroglyphs and were able to determine that they dated back roughly 2,000 years ago.
According to Carlos Augusto da Silva, an archaeologist from the Federal University of Amazonas, researchers have glimpsed the carvings before.
Some of them were revealed in 2005, 2009, and 2010 when milder droughts hit the region. Now, the petroglyphs have become visible once again due to a much more devastating drought, which has caused the dark waters of the Negro River to drop by about fifty feet, the lowest levels it has ever reached since 1902.
While at the site, Silva counted more than a hundred petroglyphs, the most he had ever seen on the Negro River. The artwork on the rocks was located at “Encontro das Águas,” which is Portuguese for “Meeting of the Waters.”
Encontro das Águas is a Brazilian Cultural Heritage Site due to its gorgeous scenic views and the important artifacts that have been discovered there in the past.
The water levels of the Negro River are continuing to decrease. In the month of October alone, the shoreline fell an average of 4.2 inches each day. The Brazilian Ministry of the Environment announced that climate change and dead, brittle organic matter fueling wildfires have contributed to the current hot, dry spell.
Archaeologists are concerned about what the exposure of the carvings means for their preservation. Usually, the water covers the carvings, effectively shielding them from damage. But now that they are visible, people have been drawn to the location to see the artifacts for themselves.