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Mysterious symbols found near footprints highlight ancient humans' awareness of dinosaurs

Mysterious symbols found near footprints highlight ancient humans' awareness of dinosaurs

(CNN) – A new study has found that prehistoric humans in Brazil carved drawings into the rock next to dinosaur footprints, suggesting they may have found them meaningful or interesting.

The rock carvings, which archaeologists call petroglyphs, are at a site called Cerote do Letrero in Paraíba, an agricultural state on the eastern tip of Brazil. Researchers first noticed the marks in 1975. But they are now interpreted as being related to footprints after recent drone-assisted field surveys, which revealed previously unseen carvings. The remains belong to dinosaurs from the Cretaceous period, which ended 66 million years ago.

“People usually believe that indigenous people were not aware of their surroundings or did not have any kind of scientific spirit or curiosity,” said study co-author Leonardo Troiano, an archaeologist at the National Historical and Artistic Heritage Institute in Brasilia. “But that's not true. It's very clear that they were interested in footprints. We'll never know if they knew anything about dinosaurs, but they were clearly curious about the prints and thought they were meaningful in some way.”

The Cerote do Letrero petroglyphs are not the first examples of rock art found near dinosaur prints, but the study's authors said they believe the unprecedented clarity of the link between the two at this particular site could have important implications across paleontology. Archeology and cultural heritage studies.

Geometric shapes

It is not clear how long ago the petroglyphs were made. But the study — published in March in the journal Scientific reports – He points out that radiocarbon dating has found burial sites in the area to be between 9,400 and 2,620 years old, suggesting that the tribes who left them must have lived during that period.

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“These people may have been living in small communities, using the natural rock shelters that are abundant in the area,” Troiano said.

These carvings, called petroglyphs, are in the shape of stars or circles with internal divisions on a rocky outcrop where footprints of sauropod dinosaurs were found at the Cerote do Letrero site in the Brazilian state of Paraiba. | Leonardo Troiano via CNN Newsource

“This area in Brazil is like the Australian outback – it's very hot and there's no shade, so it's not easy to stand there and carve the rock. It takes a lot of effort, so when they chose this location, they were very intentional,” he added. “They could use many other rock outcrops in the surrounding areas, but they chose this one.”

The drawings vary in style, suggesting that several artists may have had a hand in making them. Some have shapes reminiscent of plants, others resemble geometric shapes, including squares, rectangles and circles. The circles have crosses or lines inside them, which may look like stars, Troiano said. However, what these signs mean remains a mystery.

“They all look abstract, and if they represent something to the people who made them, we don't know what it is,” he said.

The tracks found at Serrote do Letreiro belong to three types of dinosaurs: theropods, sauropods, and ornithopods. The researchers suspect that the people who carved the rock may have mistook some of them for footprints of rhesus birds, large native birds that resemble ostriches and have tracks that look almost identical to the footprints of theropod dinosaurs.

It is difficult to imagine what prehistoric people would have thought about sauropod tracks, left behind by some of the largest herbivorous dinosaurs that ever lived, and thus unlike any animal they were familiar with. For this reason, the study noted, the intentional connection between the drawings and these specific prints may be less clear.

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Dinosaur rituals

Petroglyphs
This rock carving is the most famous and visible at the site, according to Troiano. The circle is divided internally by lines and is of large dimensions. | Leonardo Troiano via CNN Newsource

Troiano said he believes the marks may have been left during mass gatherings.

“I think the creation of rock art was part and parcel of some kind of ritual context: people would gather and make something, and maybe use some psychoactive substance. We have a plant called gorema, which causes hallucinations, and it is still used to this day.” “We can speculate that people They used it in the past also because it is abundant and popular in the area. I think they were interested in what the footprints represented, and I assume they identified them as footprints. They noticed that it wasn't random.

There are other sites with petroglyphs near dinosaur footprints — in the United States and Poland — but they don't appear “at all near the same level of intent,” Troiano said. Intent is defined not only by how close the drawings are to the prints but also whether or not they overlap with them. The study indicates that if they are not overlapping, this indicates “thinking” by their makers.

Troiano added that he is working on a follow-up paper that will delve deeper into the interpretation and analysis of the Cerote do Letrero petroglyphs, based on the results of the current study.

The direct association of the drawings with dinosaur fossil tracks is unique and may shed more light on the importance, meaning and importance of rock art, according to Radoslaw Palonka, an associate professor of archeology at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland, who has worked on similar research. Petroglyphs but were not involved in the study.

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“The fact that the locations of the rock art paintings were specifically chosen is shown by, among other things, the fact that representatives of the communities that created the rock paintings or petroglyphs often placed them very close to ancient images left by other cultures,” Palonka said via E-mail. “This was the case in various parts of the world where rock art was practiced, and is very evident in, among other regions, in the southwestern North America/southwestern United States, where my scientific interests are focused.”

Jan Simek, distinguished professor of anthropology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, agrees. “The paper provides an interesting new example of how ancient people noticed fossils found in the landscape and incorporated them into their religious experiences and interpretations,” said Simic, who was also not involved in the study of the new petroglyphs.

“Historian of science (Stanford University) Adrian Mayor has shown how the ancient Greeks and Romans saw fossils as evidence of giants and monsters from their own myths and how indigenous North American peoples saw accounts of their ancestry in the fossils they observed scattered across their landscape,” Simek said via email. “The case of Brazil.” “It is another archaeological example of this human tendency to connect the spiritual world created by the imagination to unexplained things in the world around us.”

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