Archaeology: Village turns to tourism to save cave paintings: David Keys on a Brazilian 'rock band'

VILLAGERS in a remote part of one of South America's poorest regions have banded together to protect an extraordinary series of prehistoric cave paintings of international importance.

Three years ago the villagers - from a drought-stricken area of north-east Brazil - were about to destroy the artworks by quarrying away the painted limestone rock faces in order to make and sell lime for use as whitewash. Four hundred square metres of 2,000-to-7,000-year old Stone Age rock paintings were threatened with obliteration.

But now, after discussions with scientists, local quarrymen and peasants have set up a unique community-based archaeological preservation organisation. The villagers have decided not to quarry the limestone in the rock art area and plan to promote the prehistoric art gallery as a tourist attraction capable of generating more income for their poverty-stricken community than the lime extraction work would have done.

The site - near the village of Solidade, six miles north-west of the town of Apodi in the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Norte - covers 25 acres and includes 55 painted and engraved prehistoric rock shelters.

In Stone Age times the complex appears to have been an important sacred site. Yet the paintings - many of which depict parrots, cranes, macaws, lizards, frogs, turtles and plants - were made by prehistoric Indian tribes, the descendants of whom have long since vanished. Forty per cent of the local villagers are part Indian - but almost certainly from a people who entered the area long after the rock art tribe had disappeared.

Solidade's prehistoric 'art gallery' was first discovered by a Jesuit priest in the mid 18th-century, but had largely been forgotten about till now. It was pure chance that the scientists - geologists from Brazil's national oil company Petrobras - stumbled on the gallery just as it was threatened with destruction. Petrobras's aerial photographic research had revealed a spectacular limestone outcrop in a remote area of semi-desert thornbush wilderness 1,200 miles north of Rio de Janeiro. In their search for petrocarbons the scientists thought that a surface exploration of the outcrop might prove fruitful. But what they found was not oil - but thousands of prehistoric rock paintings.

One of the geologists, Eduardo Bagnioli, then decided to persuade the villagers to protect the paintings - and to persuade Petrobras to pay dollars 40,000 to build a museum in the village to explain to the local community and the world at large why the rock art is so important.

One of the state's top architects, Adler Fontenell, gave his services free to plan the museum - and decided, in recognition of what the villagers had given up, to base its design on that of the local lime kilns. Twenty-three local teenagers have been trained to act as guides and a tourist centre and souvenir shop has been created. Now Solidade's lime quarrymen-turned-archaeology enthusiasts are waiting for the tourists.

Solidade's rock art is probably the largest single concentration of prehistoric paintings in South America.

'The scope for further research is immense,' says Eduardo Bagnioli, who works on a voluntary basis as head of a scientific commission attached to the Solidade villagers' community archaeology association. Besides the rock paintings there are 100 square metres of engravings - by far the largest group of its kind in Brazil. Small- scale excavations over the past year have also yielded the bones of dozens of large prehistoric animals - giant armadillos, giant sloths, sabre-toothed tigers and mastodons.

Preliminary study of the site suggests that it may have functioned as an Indian religious and ceremonial centre for up to 7,000 years. Some of the art work may have been painted by artists in some sort of religious drug-induced trance. What appear to be the oldest paintings consist of black or red grid-like patterns. Slightly later paintings - still thousands of years old - portray highly stylised animals, and what appear to be animal traps, painted in black.

The next style depicts mainly macaws and other birds, reptiles, possible maize plants and geometric and abstract designs. What may be the final style (still probably several thousand years old) are human hand prints, bearing unique designs 'printed' directly from prehistoric Indians' hands rather than painted on to the rocks.

Now archaeologists and rural development aid workers hope that Solidade's community archaeological preservation and tourism scheme might be emulated in other poor areas of the Third World.

(Photograph omitted)

Arts and Entertainment
'The Great British Bake Off' showcases food at its most sumptuous
tvReview: Bread-making skills of the Bake Off hopefuls put to the test
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architecture
Arts and Entertainment
Cliff Richard performs at the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam on 17 May 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Educating the East End returns to Channel 4 this autumn

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush

music
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Mark Crown, DJ Locksmith and Amir Amor of Rudimental performing on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park, Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison star in political comedy The Thick of IT

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judy Murray said she

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
Gary Lineker at the UK Premiere of 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Bale as Batman in a scene from
film
Arts and Entertainment
Johhny Cash in 1969
musicDyess Colony, where singer grew up in Depression-era Arkansas, opens to the public
Arts and Entertainment
Army dreamers: Randy Couture, Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren and Jason Statham
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off 2014 contestants
tvReview: It's not going to set the comedy world alight but it's a gentle evening watch
Arts and Entertainment
Umar Ahmed and Kiran Sonia Sawar in ‘My Name Is...’
Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
This year's Big Brother champion Helen Wood
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Full company in Ustinov's Studio's Bad Jews
Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Harari Guido photographed Kate Bush over the course of 11 years
Music
Arts and Entertainment
Reviews have not been good for Jonathan Liebesman’s take on the much loved eighties cartoon
Film

A The film has amassed an estimated $28.7 million in its opening weekend

Arts and Entertainment
Untwitterably yours: Singer Morrissey has said he doesn't have a twitter account
Music

A statement was published on his fansite, True To You, following release of new album

Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
    eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

    eBay's enduring appeal

    The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

    'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
    Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

    Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

    Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
    Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

    Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

    After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
    Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

    Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

    After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
    Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

    Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

    Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
    7 best quadcopters and drones

    Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

    From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home