Drought in Brazil’s Amazon Reveals Ancient Face Engravings

Manaus, Brazil – An extreme drought in parts of the Amazon has led to a dramatic drop in water levels in the river, exposing dozens of usually submerged rock formations with carvings of human forms that may date back some 2,000 years.  The rock carvings are not usually visible because they are covered by the waters of the Negro River, whose flow recorded its lowest level in 121 years last week.

The surfacing of the engravings on the riverbank have delighted scientists and the general public alike but also raised unsettling questions. The engravings comprise an archaeological site of ‘great relevance,’ said Jaime Oliveira of the Brazilian Institute of Historical Heritage (Iphan). They are at a site known as Praia das Lajes and were first seen in 2010, during another period of drought not as severe as the current one. The rock carvings appear against a backdrop of dense jungle, with the low brownish waters of the Negro River flowing nearby. Most of the engravings are of human faces, some of them rectangular and others oval, with smiles or grim expressions.

For Beatriz Carneiro, historian and member of Iphan, Praia das Lajes has an ‘inestimable’ value in understanding the first people who inhabited the region, a field still little explored.

For the archaeologist, the abundant sites in such a small radius,  considering the size of the Amazon (similar to the European Union), prove that the jungle’s central region was densely populated.  At the moment, remains of ceramic funerary urns have also appeared in the municipality of Anamã, and more anthropomorphic engravings in Urucará and São Sebastião de Uatumã, less than 300 kilometers from Manaus.

In recent times, drought in Brazil’s Amazon has drastically reduced river levels, affecting a region that depends on a maze of waterways for transportation and supplies. The Brazilian government has sent emergency aid to the area, where ordinarily bustling riverbanks are dry littered with stranded boats. According to experts, the dry season has worsened this year due to El Nino, an irregular climate pattern over the Pacific Ocean that disrupts average weather, adding to the effect of climate change.
  • Brazilian Institute of Historical Heritage
  • Jaime Oliveira