mexico cave painting

Archaeologists in Mexico have discovered a marvelous collection of pre-Hispanic paintings in 11 sites different sites in the caves and mountain gaps of the municipality of Burgos in the state of Tamaulipas, which borders the United States. In all, the researchers have numbered so far 4,926 paintings, however it’s been very difficult for them to date them. It’s believed these were made by local hunter-gatherer people and could be as old as 6,000 years.

The findings were unveiled at the Historic Archaeology meeting held recently in Mexico’s National History Museum. The paintings are colored in hues of red, yellow, black, and white and depict various scenes from the authors’ lives, like fishing, hunting, animals, insects and of course people. Astronomical, religious, as well as abstract scenes were also reported, and remarkably most of the paintings are well preserved. One of the paintings stands out in particular as it depicts an atlatl, a pre-Hispanic hunting weapon.

5,000 cave paintings tucked away in the Mexican mountainside

mexico cave painting

What’s makes the findings even more remarkable is that for years archaeologists and anthropologists believed the Burgos area had never been inhabited by pre-Hispanic cultures, like hunter-gatherers.

“It’s important because with this we were able to document the presence of pre-Hispanic groups in Burgos, where before we said there were none,” said archeologist Martha Garcia Sanchez of the Autonomous University of Zacatecas.

An age of persecution

mexico cave painting

The paintings were made by at least three groups known as the Guajolotes, Iconoplos and Pintos, and around the time the conquistadors’ persecutions were in full, other groups like the Cadimas, Conaynenes, Mediquillos, Mezquites, Cometunas and Canaimes also migrated towards the San Carlos mountain range.

“These groups escaped Spanish control for almost 200 years,” Garcia Sanchez said. “They fled to the San Carlos mountain range where they had water, plants and animals to eat. The Spaniards didn’t go into the mountain and its valleys.”

mexico cave painting

The History blog has some interesting info for a bit more of context:

There are references to indigenous groups who fled the conquering Spaniards and hid out in the San Carlos mountains for 200 years. As late as 1750 there are records of these nomadic peoples making it hard to evangelize Burgos. There are no official names of the tribes. They are referred to by nicknames assigned them based on perceived characteristics like “painted” or “mangy,” clothing or activities like “shoemakers,” or the family names of ranchers by the random assortment of conquistadors, religious men and indigenous peoples who ran into them.

There wasn’t much in the way of congress, therefore. The Spanish avoided following them into the mountains, and since there was a literal bounty on their heads — 25 pesos for every indigenous scalp and 60 pesos for every ransomed “captive” — these groups were destroyed before anything about them was recorded. We know basically nothing about their languages, religious rituals and cultural traditions. This huge cache of art, therefore, is an immensely important anthropological resource.

One of the eleven sites made for a particularly popular cave canvas as no less than 1,550 different scenes have been identified at the location now dubbed as “The Cave of Horses”. How were these paintings rendered, though? Early North Americans used organic dyes and minerals, and there’s no reason to believe the Burgos caves were made otherwise. Still, chemical analysis is currently in the process of precisely establishing the nature of the paintings, as well as their age.

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The latter aspect has been extremely aggravating to archaeologists, who are always looking to pinpoint their findings even in the most loosest of time frames. No artifacts were discovered at either of the sites, which means that no dating can be made until the chemical analysis is over.

via io9 / Photos ©AFP PHOTO / INAH

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