Giant Cats, Reptiles, and … White-Lipped Peccaries?

Sony Salzman
BU News Service

White-lipped peccary ©siwild

A hog-like creature called the white-lipped peccary dashed through the Brazilian rainforest. Tracking the signal from the animal’s radio collar tagging device, a team of wildlife conservationists was not far behind. Their mission is to preserve the rainforest, and that’s why they’re tracking the strange mammals that live there.

On this day, however, these ecologists were distracted from their peccary quest when they stumbled upon a sandstone cave. Inside the cave, they found ancient human paintings. Archeologists later confirmed that these painting were scrawled by hunter-gathers between 6,000 and 2,000 BC.

CavePainting ©Liana Joseph:WCS

The ecologists, members of the Wildlife Conservation Society and a Brazilian NGO called Instituto Quinta do Sol, acted quickly and professionally after this accidental discovery.

“Since we often work in remote locations, we sometimes make surprising discoveries, in this case, one that appears to be important for our understanding of human cultural history in the region,” said Dr. Alexine Keuroghlian, researcher with WCS’s Brazil Program said in this press release.

In fact, this discovery was made in 2009. The story is just now coming to light because all members kept quiet until archaeologists were able to assess the paintings and publish a paper in Revista Clio Arqueológica.

Keuroghlian studies white-lipped peccaries because the herd’s movements through a rainforest indicate how much that rainforest has been affected by human activities like deforestation and hunting. When Keuroghlian came upon the paintings, she contacted a local archeologist named Rodrigo Luis Simas de Aguiar,

Keuroghlian and the other ecologists kept mum about their discovery for four years, which allowed the archeologists to conduct their work away from the preying eyes of sight-seers, or worse, looters.

What Aguilar and his partner Keny Marques Lima found is remarkable. Possibly painted up to 10,000 years ago, some of the cave drawings actually depict a northeastern Brazilian artistic style. The cave is in central Brazil, and also reflects some drawings in the expected central Brazilian style. These cave paintings have expanded the view of regional differences among early hunter-gatherers.

The ancient paintings depict some geometric shapes and figures. Mostly, the people there painted animals – giant cats, armadillos, deep, birds and reptiles. The ancient Brazilians, did not, however, draw a single white-lipped peccary.