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28 February 2012
Oldest rock carving of the Americas found in Brazil

A stick figure man with a giant phallus is the oldest rock carving found yet in the Americas, researchers say. Scientists discovered the ancient carving in a cave named Lapa do Santo in central-eastern Brazil. The region is home to Luzia, the oldest human skeleton found to date in South America.
     Lapa do Santo is one of the largest rock shelters excavated yet in the region, a limestone cave covering an area of about 14,000 square feet (1,300 square meters). Here, researchers have found buried human remains, tools made of stone and bone, ash from hearths, and leftovers from meals of fruit and small game.
     In 2009, digging about 13 feet (4m) below the surface, the scientists found a rock carving or petroglyph of a man packed into the side of the cave. The figure, which appears to be squatting with his arms outstretched, is about 12 inches (30cm) tall from head to feet and about 8 inches (20cm) wide. [Photos of Phallus Petroglyph and Cave]
     "We discovered this petroglyph in the final moments of excavation at the site," said researcher Walter Alves Neves, an archaeologist and biological anthropologist at the University of São Paulo in Brazil. The engraving is also depicted with a relatively oversized phallus about 2 inches (5 cm) long, or about as long as the man's left arm. "The figure is probably linked to some kind of fertility ritual," Neves said. "There is another site in the same region where you find paintings with men with oversized phalluses, and also pregnant women, and even a parturition (childbirth) scene."
     Carbon dating and other tests of the sediment covering the petroglyph suggest the engraving dates between 9,000 and 12,000 years old. This makes it the oldest reliably dated instance of such rock art found yet in the Americas.
     When this carving is compared with other examples of early rock art found in South America, it would seem that abstract forms of thinking may have been very diverse back then, which suggests that humans settled the New World relatively early, giving their art time to diversify. "It shows that about 11,000 years ago, there was already a very diverse manifestation of rock art in South America, so probably man arrived in the Americas much earlier than normally is accepted," Neves said.

Edited from Plos One (February 2012), LiveScience (22 February 2012)

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