In December 1993 I visited the World Travel Market, a major international trade event for the travel industry held in London every year, to see the representative of the Pousada Caiman on the Brazilian group stand. As I walked onto the stand I saw a huge mural of prehistoric rock paintings, including two birds, which I recognised immediately as macaws. I then met Dr. Eduardo Bagnoli, who was there promoting the location of the prehistoric paintings - Soledade Rock - as a tourist destination. He kindly sent me more information and some photographs, which formed the basis for the following short article. From the outlines I believe that these two ancient representations of macaws are more likely to be blue macaws, either the Hyacinthine Macaw or Lear's Macaw.
Cave paintings of prehistoric macaws have been discovered by a geologist in limestone caves in Brazil. In 1987 a geologist working for Petrobras, the Brazilian state-owned petroleum company, was working in the limestone area 220 miles from Natal, the state capital of Rio Grande do Norte State in north-east Brazil.
He was taken by local people to see some paintings on the roof of a limestone cavern. The paintings depicted birds and animals from thousands of years before, when the area was covered by a vast shallow inland sea. Today the area is semi-arid thorn scrubland called caatinga.
The paintings are estimated to be between 3,000 and 5,000 years old. Precise carbon-dating is still being carried out to determine the actual age more accurately and the paintings are being preserved using the most advanced techniques available.
The caverns have been placed under protection in case local people start quarrying for limestone. Petrobras has already donated money to help set up a visitor centre, museum and other tourist facilities.
As well as two paintings of Macaws-the earliest discovered depiction of Parrots - other birds, animals and geometric patterns were found painted on the rock. The fossil remains of prehistoric animals such as the giant sloth, armadillo, sabre-toothed tiger and mastodon have also been found in the area.
Sightseeing is being organised by Icaro Brazil Ecotours. The contact there is Dr. Eduardo Bagnoli, scientific advisor to the project, Rua Auta de Souza 275, Nata1 (RN), 59.025-060 Brazil; Tel: + 55 84-2226674 or fax +55 84-2112204.
" Naturam expellas furca, tamen usque recurret "
( If you drive out nature with a pitchfork, she will soon find a way back)
Horace (65-8 BC)