An extreme drought has seen river levels fall to record lows throughout parts of the Brazilian Amazon, exposing a series of pre-Hispanic rock carvings. Last seen over a decade ago when the region experienced a similar water shortage, the ancient engravings depict human faces and other forms, though it’s unclear who sculpted the artworks or for what purpose.
Usually submerged by the waters of the Rio Negro, the hauntingly expressive faces were spotted at a site called Ponta das Lajes, close to the city of Manaus. The Rio Negro is currently at its lowest level for 121 years, having dropped below 13 meters (42 feet) in depth for the first time over the past week.
Situated at the point where the Rio Negro meets the Amazon River, the faces were last seen in 2010 when a regional drought caused water levels to fall to 13.63 meters (44.7 feet). Speaking to AFP, Manaus resident Livia Ribeiro said she had heard about the carvings following their last appearance but wasn’t convinced of their existence until she saw them for herself.
"I thought it was a lie... I had never seen this. I've lived in Manaus for 27 years," she said.
Speaking to local media, archaeologist Jaime Oliveira explained that the latest drought has exposed a greater number of carvings than the 2010 dry spell. And while he can’t say which pre-Columbian culture might have been responsible for the engravings, he did explain that the region “is a pre-colonial site which has evidence of occupation dating back some 1,000 to 2,000 years," BBC News reports.
"What we're seeing here are representations of anthropomorphic figures," added Oliveira. Alongside the faces, archaeologists found another rock featuring grooves that may have been made by ancient Indigenous hunters or warriors sharpening their arrows.
The current drought in the Brazilian Amazon has already produced catastrophic consequences, with more than 120 river dolphins having been found dead during the last week of September due to unusually high water temperatures. It’s likely that the situation has been exacerbated by this year’s El Niño event, which has caused precipitation levels in the rainforest to fall well below their historical average.
Notwithstanding the additional factors affecting weather patterns this year, climate change is likely to result in more frequent droughts across much of the world in the future. The exposed relics may therefore be something of a harbinger of what’s to come if the current situation can’t be halted.
"We come, we look at (the engravings) and we think they are beautiful. But at the same time, it is worrying... I also think about whether this river will exist in 50 or 100 years," said Ribeiro.