Rock Art Research & Art History Home Reinaldo Morales Jr.
Ph.D. Dissertation

Chapter 2

6 July 2002



CHAPTER 2 (excerpt)


Iconography rather than form was precedent in the original designations of the styles outlined in the preceding chapter, resulting in occasional ambiguities and reassessments. Central to this chapter is a panel of paintings identified by Guidon as the Salitre Subtradition:1 the single composition at the site of Angelim do Barreirinho. Formally, these paintings are radically different than any at the site of Salitre, or other Salitre Style compositions. Figures in this same style, however, occur throughout the Serra da Capivara region. The following observations will show that these compositions represent a unique style of rock painting that, as of yet, has not been recognized in the corpus of Nordeste Tradition rock art: the Angelim Style, exemplified by its eponymous site, Angelim do Barreirinho.

Angelim do Barreirinho

The site of Angelim do Barreirinho (figs. 54 and 55) is at the top of the talus along the southern rim of the Serra Nova, in Serra da Capivara National Park (north of the village of Barreirinho). The single composition at the site is in a slightly recessed area of the creamy yellow sandstone wall. Much of the pigment was either very thin originally, or has faded considerably. In the decades since it was shown to the Franco-Brazilian archaeological mission, a large hive of arapoá (black bees) in an angelim tree next to the panel have been partially responsible for keeping the paintings free from vandalism. The landowner, and original guide for the Franco-Brazilian mission, Sr. Nivaldo, is most responsible for the pristine condition of the site, thanks to his excellent stewardship.2

A total of six anthropomorphs and two cervids are still visible, each outlined in light red or orange. Four of the anthropomorphs are filled with white or light yellow.3 Three central anthropomorphs dominate the panel (fig. 56). Each are elongated cigar-shaped orant figures with attenuated appendages, apparent headdresses, and individual internal designs. Two show clear phalli. They were each most likely executed interior first, with fingers, then outlined with a small (3-4 mm) brush, leaving the appendages open-ended. Two smaller anthropomorphs also have 'headdresses' and are less elaborate versions of the central figures (fig. 57 and 58). These were possibly painted by a second artist (probably at the same time as the two cervids, based on their line quality and lack of interior fill). One is ithyphallic, and the other has a single interior zigzag design. The last (sixth) anthropomorph is different from the others in the composition (fig. 59). It has more naturalistic proportions, and lacks any internal patterns or headdress. This might be a later addition by a different hand (a third possible painter). This is also suggested by the fact that it has the most well preserved white pigment-much more visible than the white or light yellow fill in the other figures.

The two cervids (incomplete or exfoliated; figs. 60 and 61) share the same graceful contour lines as the white pair from Invenção (fig. 8). Some pairs of legs are shown as individual appendages separated by a short connecting torso line, while others are suggested by three parallel, open-ended curved lines-the 'negative' space between the lines is used as a design element. This same use of negative space is also seen in the treatment of the lower cervid's rack. Like the rack on the right-hand cervid from Invenção, it is represented by a series of short parallel unconnected lines, like a herringbone pattern. The heads are ovals, at a right angle to the line of the neck, with the ears represented as one or two smaller ovals at the back of the head. The tails are either tangent with the line of the back or the rump. The tail of the lower cervid from Angelim do Barreirinho is also open-ended.

The composition is predominantly horizontal, with the primary anthropomorphs following a slight upward-tilting (left to right) geological seam. Each of their legs lie in this seam. The two framing anthropomorphs, while smaller, are positioned with their arms along the same line as the arms of the three central figures. The far left anthropomorph breaks this tableau, but is actually at the same height as the far right anthropomorph. The cervids frame the right side of the composition vertically. The lower cervid is juxtaposed with its back running along the same geological seam that runs through the legs of the primary figures.

Other Angelim Style Compositions

Angelim do Barreirinho is rare among other Angelim Style compositions, having numerous anthropomorphs and associated zoomorphs in a single panel. Angelim Style motifs are almost always limited to a very few isolated examples at each site. The solitary figure at Caboclo (fig. 20) and one from Calderão da Vaca (fig. 62) are examples of this. The Caldeirão da Vaca anthropomorph (in the Serra Branca region) is strikingly similar to the figures from Angelim do Barreirinho (over thirty kilometers to the south), and in a remarkable state of conservation (perhaps painted much later than the adjoining panel, or with a much more durable paint recipe). Other solitary anthropomorphs include one from Pedra Furada (fig. 63), and one from Levada do Caldeirão do Dentro (fig. 64). This last site is in the higher elevations of Serra da Capivara National Park, at the west end of the Serra Talhada system of canyons.

Pedra Furada and Angelim do Barreirinho each have the most examples of this style (in the sites studied to date). Pedra Furada has hundreds of motifs representing many different styles, but only a handful in the Angelim Style scattered across the site. Angelim do Barreirinho, on the other hand, is one of the rare sites in the region with only a single style of rock art present. Solitary zoomorphs are the most common compositions in this style, although some compositions with groups of zoomorphs are also found. Angelim Style cervids include a pair from Arapoá do Gongo (fig. 65), cited as examples of the Serra Branca Style in Guidon's doctoral thesis,4 as well as some from Pedra Furada (fig. 9 and 66), and Viaduto I (fig. 67).5

Other animals are represented in this style,6 although much less frequently. Examples of 'fish' occur at Mulungú, Extrema II, and Roça do Raimundão (figs. 68 and 69); 'cats' occur at Serrinha I and Viaduto I (figs. 70 and 71); 'rheas' occur at Invenção and Roça do Raimundão (fig. 72); and, a pair of 'monkeys' are found at Cajueiro (fig. 73). A zoomorph from Mulungú (fig. 73) is perhaps a representation of an animal similar to a cotia or mocó (a small rodent-based upon its hind legs), but this attribution stretches the reasonable limits of suggesting animal species based upon interpretations for which there is no ethnographic reinforcement.7 The single Angelim Style zoomorph from Roça do Clovis is best considered as simply a "quadruped" (fig. 74). One unidentifiable (abstract or non-representational?) motif, consistent with the Angelim Style, is found at Baixão da Perna I (fig. 74).

General characteristics

In general, Angelim Style paintings are frequently polychrome; the interiors of the figures executed in white or yellow, primarily with finger-width lines. The outlines are usually red or orange, executed with brush strokes about 3-4 mm wide. Some white interiors are still very clear, but others have faded considerably. The outlines conform to the interior shapes, indicating that they were most likely painted after the interiors, rather than serving as an outline to be subsequently filled in. Perhaps the most unique feature of these paintings is the use of open-ended forms. This was addressed by Guidon and Pessis in their analyses of the other styles, as indicated in the previous Chapters. Appendages are usually outlined with the ends terminating in either parallel or slightly fluted lines.

The most formally consistent figures from site to site are the cervids. Their legs are frequently suggested by three parallel curving lines, and when present, the rack is suggested by a series of short parallel brushstrokes. The torso shapes are never compromised. The torso line between the front and hind legs is perfectly consistent with the contour on either side. Transitions from torso to neck to head always maintain the integrity of the interior shape. This further supports the idea that, in some figures, the interiors were executed first, establishing the shape of the figure, with the outlines executed later. This is important to understand, since the white pigment recipes used were less permanent than the red or orange recipes. This has resulted in the almost complete loss of the interior pigment in some figures. What appear at first glance to be monochrome figures may in fact have been polychrome originally. Monochrome figures also occur, such as those from Invenção (fig. 8) and Cajueiro (fig. 73), yet even in these instances the same integrity of form is maintained.

Angelim Style compositions do not appear to be intentionally juxtaposed with figures of other styles, although the reverse is suggested. The Angelim Style cervid from Pedra Furada (fig. 9) is located in the center of a small oval niche in the massive rockshelter's wall. This selection of a natural niche is common in the style. Above and below the Angelim Style cervid are several Serra da Capivara Style figures, which were most likely added later since they are relegated to the periphery of the niche. The solitary zoomorphs from Serrinha I (fig. 70), Cajueiro (fig. 73), and Emas do Bras II (fig. 75), likewise were placed in small oval niches at each site.


Iconography of the Angelim Style

The iconography of the Angelim Style is consistent with the Serra Branca and Salitre Styles, as far as the recurring orant figures or groups of zoomorphs (primarily cervids) are concerned. Isolated figures, whether solitary or in groups of two or three, are characteristic of the style. Zoomorphs are the most common representations. While the position of the cervids' legs suggest movement (consistent with the Serra da Capivara Style), the anthropomorphs are characteristically static, frontal, orant figures (consistent with the Serra Branca and Salitre Styles). Despite this limited iconography, the anthropomorphs are each unique, individual expressions of a few basic forms and patterning schemes (rectangles, zigzags, and vertical lines, for the most part).

The most significant iconographic quality of the Angelim Style is the lack of any 'hunting' or 'warfare' iconography. It would be presumptive to call this a 'pastoral' or 'passivist' style, but accurate to notice that no indications of violence are found in these compositions. Weapons (whether utilitarian or ritual) are depicted in other styles, such as the previously discussed "execution" scene from Caboclo (fig. 15), and the line of composite figures from Perigoso (fig. 82).

Dart-thrower iconography is particularly prevalent in the region. The Serra da Capivara Style compositions from Serrinha I (fig. 6) and João Arsena (fig. 83) show large groups of figures wielding dart-throwers and darts, as well as other probable weapons. The figures in these scenes appear to represent a group effort, either against an animal (the cat, at Serrinha I) or each other (João Arsena). The pair of figures at Canoas da Serra Vermelha (fig. 84), on the other hand, do not seem to be interacting with the other figures in the composition. This painting appears to represent a display of their status as 'hunters' or 'warriors' (perhaps mythological). The trio from Baixa da Cabaceira (figs. 85 and 86) suggests this idea of status display even more profoundly. The anthropomorphs resemble the primary figure from Caboclo (fig. 17), with the same refined draftsmanship and elongated rectilinearity. This composition is arranged along a fairly consistent ground plane, as opposed to the 'floating' figures from Canoas da Serra Vermelha (a typical Serra Branca Style composition, as opposed to a Serra da Capivara Style arrangement).



1. Guidon, Peintures préhistoriques, 55.

2. The arapoá (Trigona ruficus) do not sting, but they do bite furiously at the base of the unwary visitors' hair. This is only mildly painful, but rather intimidating when they swarm (within minutes of anyone approaching the panel, three meters away).

3. These paintings are fairly difficult to see, and very difficult to photograph due to the thin or faded quality of the pigments, combined with the natural yellow color of the support.

4. Guidon, "L'art rupestre du Piaui," 183 pl. 65b.

5. Viaduto I is called Estevo III in the published texts (Monzon and Ogel-Ros. La Toca do Estevo III; Guidon, Peintures rupestres, 84-85). Viaduto is used here, as it is the name the local people (original guides) have for the site. It gets its name from a natural arch at the head of the canyon, where erosion has washed out the sandstone bedding, creating a feature that looks like a Roman viaduct (viaduto).

6. The "animals" cited here are merely the author's interpretations based upon formal similarities between the paintings and actual animals. Terms like "fish" and "monkeys" mean "looks like a fish" and "looks like a monkey" rather than implying that the original artist intended to represent a fish or a monkey. See footnote 83, p. 44.

7. Cotia: Dasyprocta cf. prymnolopha; mocó: Kerodon rupestres. See the paragraph discussing Guidon's original interpretive conservatism regarding the identification of animal species in the rock art (Introduction).

Additional Excerpts:

Sample Illustrations

Table of Contents

Excerpt from the Introduction

Excerpt from Chapter 1

Excerpt from Chapter 2

Excerpt from Chapter 3

Excerpt from Chapter 4

Excerpt from Conclusions

Excerpt from the Appendix

This site is developed and maintained by Reinaldo Morales Jr., Ph.D.
Department of Art History,
Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia, USA.
Last updated on 6 July 2002. All material © Reinaldo Morales, Jr.
unless otherwise noted. Send comments to
Author takes full responsibility for all content.
This is a web site, not a refereed journal.