University of Illinois at Chicago
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Touched the Sky

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journal contribution
posted on 2019-07-30, 00:00 authored by Christopher Davis
I study rock art paintings, some of which are 13,000 years old, near the city of Monte Alegre along the Amazon River in Brazil. There, the ancient artists made pigments from natural earth minerals (ochre) probably mixed with tree resin or animal fats. However, after 13,000 years in a tropical environment, even the best-preserved paints can fade or become encrusted over time. New correlation d-stretch photo enhancement techniques allow the various red and yellow components of the image to be contrasted, revealing once faded portions of the art panel. The top image is a monochrome red enhancement made into a sepia tone. Comparing the top image to the original photo at the bottom, several handprints on the right side and other details can be seen. I used this technique to argue that the original artist(s) depicted the visibility of a star and comet during a solar eclipse, an event that occurred in front of this art panel 13,000 years ago. Sometime later, other artists with less preserved paint techniques left their handprints in recognition and homage to the original image. Perhaps they strived to capture the "magic" of the event by "touching the sky".


This exhibit competition is organized by the University of Illinois at Chicago Graduate College and the University Library.


Publisher Statement

Anthropology; Honorable Mention; Copyright 2014, Christopher Davis. Used with permission. For more information, contact the Graduate College at


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