2004 World Monuments Watch
Oxtotitlán, in the Mexican state of Guerrero, is one of only two known cave sites that contain polychrome murals rendered by the Olmec people more than 2,700 years ago. Among the most impressive of the images is that of an enthroned figure wearing an elaborate bird costume, painted in such a way as to reveal a human face beneath his mask. Painted high on a cliff face overlooking a suite of fields, the figure is thought to have been connected with the arrival of seasonal rains and agricultural fertility. Discovered in the 1960s, the paintings are in relatively good condition; however, they are beginning to show signs of deterioration – the result of exposure to the elements, exfoliation of stone surfaces, microbiological activity, and vandalism. The cave site has become a favored tourist destination in recent years. More important, the cave continues to function as a religious site for the local population, its walls blackened by soot from bonfires and torches. Mexico’s Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia has prepared a conditions assessment and conservation plan for the site, which seeks to raise community awareness of its cultural importance, and begun to undertake emergency conservation, including the removal of graffiti and the consolidation of damaged areas.
Since the Watch
Starting in 2002, the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia approved a multi-year conservation project for the site (Conservación de las Pinturas Rupestres de Oxtotitlán). The project proceeded without interruption for many seasons and with participation from community members. As reported in 2007, deterioration was curtailed and new images were discovered in the process. The infrastructure at the site was also improved. January 2011