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20 February 2018
Chilean whale hunts depicted in ancient rock art

Using makeshift harpoons and rafts, a hunter spears a large whale. It would have been a welcome kill for hunter-gatherers living in one of the world's driest regions, Chile's Atacama Desert, 1,500-years ago.
     The moment was frozen in time by ancient artists nearly 1,500 years ago. In bright red rock art, painted in iron-oxide, the ancient hunting tradition can still be seen. Whales, swordfish, sea lions, and sharks are among the depictions, say archaeologists
     Rock art was first found in this part of Chile by anthropologists in the early 20th century in a valley called El Médano, where the first rock art in this region was catalogued.For over a thousand years the rock art's existence was known only to local Paposo people who live in the region.
     The new study focuses on cave art found several miles north of El Médino, in the Izcuña ravine, where 328 different paintings were found on 24 different blocks of rock. Many have been degraded by moisture brought by camanchacas, or cloud banks that form over the Chilean coast and move inland. But enough of the art has been preserved to date it to the other El Médino art.
     The most common type of art shows the silhouettes of large fish. Other images show hunting scenes with rafts and weapons. The study's author, Benjamín Ballester, notes that the fish or whales are always drawn oversized to the hunters and their rafts, making the prey a daunting antagonist. "Overall, hunting is represented as a specialized, solitary, individual practice, led by a selected few people," the study notes.
     During previous excavations, archaeologists have found makeshift harpoons constructed from 10-foot wooden shafts, with detachable arrowheads dating as far back as 7,000 years ago.

Edited from National Geographic (15 February 2018)

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