The Tolada Mountains rise from the plains of
north-eastern Brazil. It's a harsh and inhospitable land, but people
have lived here for thousands of years, and they left buried clues to
a vanished world - a record of occupation stretching so far back into
prehistory that it challenges accepted ideas about when people first
reached the New World.
Most archaeologists agree that there were no people
in the Americas before 12,000 years ago. But evidence unearthed at
Tolada could prove that Man was living in this area tens of thousands
of years before that It is a view that would radically change the
acknowledged picture of the movements of Prehistoric Man.
The work of prehistoric artists, found at cave sites
in the area, can tell us a lot about the kind of world they lived in.
There are familiar animals like deer, and exotic ones like the capybara,
which today live only in wet, tropical forest. So far, everything
suggests that the unique and extensive art decorating the rock
shelters developed over a very long period of time.
At the site, archaeologists have started a dig at the
base of the painted walls and found a later camp fire, used by the
artists. It is dated at 9,500 BC and is a good example of its kind,
containing the remnants of ash and charcoal. Animal bones were also
found, along with stone tools, especially flint tools. That's
significant because the nearest known source of flint is sixteen
kilometres away, so it could only have been carried to the camp fire
by the people themselves.
A deeper dig into older layers of sediment revealed
paintings that had been buried. These were made at around 10,500 BC,
which means that they are they oldest known paintings in the Americas.
In the nearby Pilau caves, settlements of around the
same age have been unearthed. Camp fires and stone tools have also been
found, along with the bones of extinct animals from Giant Sloth and
Mammoth to the Sabre Tooth cat, complete with its outsized canines.
At the foot of another cave, they are digging through
what was once an Ice Age lake. It is around this area that evidence
discovered began to point towards a much earlier settlement of the
Americas than has previously been accepted. Successive layers of
detriment have been found, dating from as recently as 8,000 BC to as
far back as 32,000 and 43,000 BC. Assorted weapons, blades, choppers
and some tools, have been discovered, pointing to a date of 48,000
BC for the first occupation of the area.