Ancient rock paintings of snakes may be the first 'road signs'

Venezuela and Colombia along the Orinoco River are home to some of the largest and most mysterious rock art in the world. They depict people and animals, but snakes are especially common. For example, one of the drawings shows a giant snake about 40 meters long. Giant Amazon centipedes are also found. In a recent study, archaeologists mapped 14 rock art sites and concluded that they were not created for the sake of art, but served as a kind of road signs in ancient times.

Ancient rock paintings of snakes may be the first

Ancient rock paintings in Venezuela served as a kind of “road signs”. Photo source:

Ancient rock paintings

Nowhere else in the world is there such a large concentration of giant rock paintings as in Venezuela and Colombia. In other places on Earth, although rock paintings are found, they are isolated examples.

All the drawings here are high on the rocks. Their age is most likely about 2000 years. Of course, dating their age is not easy, but scientists have previously found ceramics in this region that were decorated with designs in a similar style. For example, the attention of archaeologists was attracted by a small urn discovered in a cave on one of the slopes of the hill. The artifact contained an image of a snake, the same as on the rock.

According to the study, the pattern includes horns, a spiral tail and a “distinct zigzag.” Most likely the author was trying to depict the snake Cerro Palomason. Perhaps whoever decorated the ceramic urn simply copied the image on one of the rocks. Scientists suggest that pottery and cave paintings were created at the same time.

Ancient rock paintings. Most often, ancient people depicted snakes on the rocks. Photo source: Photo.

Most often, ancient people depicted snakes on rocks. Photo source:

Ancient people painted giant snakes on the rocks

For the current work, the researchers involved local guides to film all the areas where the rock paintings are located with drones. Some of these engravings have been documented previously. However, during the current research, new images were discovered that had not yet been officially identified, although local residents knew about them.

The authors of the work believe that the location of the engravings will tell us why prehistoric people put so much effort into creating them. Basically, they are all located on a section of the Orinoco River called the Atures rapids, as reported in Antiquity. It is possible that this site was a prehistoric trade and tourist route.

Ancient people painted giant snakes on the rocks. A monumental 40-meter snake at number 11. Photo source: Photo.

Monumental 40-meter snake number 11. Photo source:

Obviously, monumental monuments have been completed specifically so that they can be seen from afar. This means they carried some kind of information intended for traders and tourists. It is possible that there was an aspect of territoriality. That is, local residents marked their territory in this way and made it clear to guests where they were.

According to the study's lead author, Philip Riris, the drawing communicated to other people that they (the locals) lived there. Obviously, the snakes were not chosen casually. Snakes are generally perceived as dangerous creatures that are capable of killing people and large animals. Therefore, the rock carvings could also indicate that people who entered this territory need to watch their manners, that is, guests are expected to behave accordingly in order to avoid getting into trouble.

Who created the rock engravings< /h2>

Researchers do not know exactly who exactly painted the pictures on the rocks. However, some images, such as boa constrictors and anacondas, played an important role in the myths and beliefs of several local indigenous peoples who live in the area to this day. From this we can conclude that the ancient drawings were created by the ancestors of the local population.

Who created the rock engravings. In addition to snakes, ancient people depicted centipedes on the rocks. Photo source: Photo.

In addition to snakes, ancient people depicted centipedes on rocks. Photo source:

After the researchers registered new objects with the national heritage authorities of Colombia and Venezuela. They also plan to work with indigenous peoples to ensure the protection of ancient monuments. This is especially important due to the fact that the region is becoming increasingly popular among tourists. The authors of the study believe that they can cope with the maintenance and protection of ancient drawings like no one else.

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Finally, we note that rock paintings allow scientists to obtain various valuable information about the ancient world. For example, one rock painting showed what the Sahara Desert looked like 4,000 years ago. However, some of the drawings were abstract images. You can find out why they were drawn by following the link.