Symbolic expressions in the Santa Elina shelter, Mato Grosso, Brazil: rock art images, artifacts, and adornments from the Pleistocene to the late Holocene
Abstract The Santa Elina site, located in the Serra das Araras (Mato Grosso), offers a remarkable conjunction of two extraordinary archaeological complexes: a series of wall paintings (approximately 1,000) closely fitted to the morphology of the shelter, at the bottom of a tall limestone cliff, as well as a series of occupations in two stratified sequences, one dating back to the Pleistocene (27,000 years ago), and the other a dense group of occupations during the Holocene (dated between 11,000 and 2,000 years ago). The first inhabitants of the site lived alongside and hunted the megafauna species Glossotherium lettsomi, which become a fossil in the early Holocene; three ornaments made from small bones of this animal show its importance. The inhabitants intensively utilized pigments from minerals (mainly red, from hematite) as well as plants (wood, fibers, and leaves), particularly in “paved flooring” made of red-stamped blocks or braided body adornments. The lithic assemblages, which mainly were made of the local hard and easily chipped limestone, are present in large numbers in the occupations, while notched tools predominated during the Pleistocene. Santa Elina is one of South America’s oldest sites, and demonstrates the intensity of prehistoric settlements in the center of this continent.