Photo: Bradshaw Foundation

Bolivia Is Losing Invaluable Ancient Rock Art to Wildfires

News Archaeology
by Eben Diskin Sep 6, 2019

The massive wildfires in the Amazon have legitimately drawn international attention this summer, but blazes in other parts of South America have also been quietly wreaking havoc. Bolivia is said to have lost at least 3.2 million acres of forest and grassland since May due to the fires raging in the eastern part of the country, and with them comes the destruction of invaluable ancient heritage.

Archeologists fear that Bolivia’s historic rock art sites, including engravings dating back thousands of years, have suffered greatly from the fires. Danilo Drakic, chief archeologist in the eastern Santa Cruz department, said to Agence France Press, “We believe that the damage is big and wide in terms of our heritage of rock art.” He added that a “dark layer of soot has covered all the paintings,” and the fire’s heat has “caused stones to break, even to collapse.”

According to the Bolivian Rock Art Research Society, the country is home to over 1,000 rock carving and painting sites, mostly gracing the walls of small caves and rock shelters, the sides of cliffs, and large boulders. The drawings take many forms, from a six-foot-long serpent to llama engravings to geometric patterns and petroglyphs.

Until the fires have ceased, experts will be unable to assess the damage inflicted on the rock art.

Much like the situation in Brazil, the fires have largely been set by farmers encouraged by President Evo Morales’ policies supporting pro-agrarian businesses.

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