The Tolada Mountains rise from the plains of
north-eastern Brazil. It's a harsh and inhospitable land, but people
have lived there 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 in the late 1980s raised the possibility of proving that humans
were living in this area tens of thousands of years before that.
It was a view that would radically change the acknowledged picture
of the movements of prehistoric humans.
The work of prehistoric artists, found at cave sites
in the area, were able to describe a lot about the kind of world in
which these humans lived. There are familiar animals there such as
deer, and exotic ones like the capybara, which today live only in
wet, tropical forest. So far, everything there suggested that the
unique and extensive art decorating the rock shelters had been
developed over a very long period of time.
At the site, archaeologists started a dig at the
base of the painted walls and found a later camp fire, which had
been used by the artists. It was dated at 9500 BC and was 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 was 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 around 10,500 BC,
which means that at the time they were they oldest known paintings
in the Americas.
In the nearby Pilau caves, settlements of around
the same age were unearthed. Camp fires and stone tools were also
found, along with the bones of extinct animals from the giant sloth
and mammoth to the sabre tooth cat, complete with its outsized
The land bridge known as Beringia existed at one or more points
prior to the end of the most recent ice age, allowing humans and
other animals to enter into North America