The Watch

Serra da Capivara National Park

São Raimundo Nonato, Piauí, Brazil

1996 World Monuments Watch

Natural and human factors have caused prehistoric Stone Age paintings, which survive in more than 360 archaeological areas of the national park, to deteriorate and have brought some to the brink of destruction. Expanding insect populations have built nests on the walls; a layer of lime, caused by climatic factors, covers the paintings; minimal park staff is assigned to protecting the archaeological sites; and hunters light fires, particularly at night.To save the site requires a three-pronged approach involving a computerized inventory of the paintings; conservation and preservation; and the education of the local community about the importance of the cultural heritage. The area has been inhabited continuously for over fifty thousand years. The narrative paintings are particularly interesting because they represent scenes from daily life and from ancient ceremonies.

Since the Watch

Assistance from the Inter-American Development Bank in 1995-1999 allowed for conservation and documentation of the park's archaeological sites, infrastructure improvements, and strengthening of management, while UNESCO also sponsored a technical mission. Today the park is operated by the Fundaçao Museu do Homem Americano, in collaboration with Brazil's Instituto do Patrimônio Histórico e Artístico Nacional for matters concerning cultural heritage, and with financial support provided by a Brazilian multinational energy company and from the Ministries of Culture and the Environment. The park is well-guarded and international scientific collaborations have taken place. Since many threats to the rock art arise when the park's ecosystem is disturbed, nature conservation efforts are allied with the protection of cultural heritage. In 2003, UNESCO congratulated Brazil for transforming Serra de Capivara into one of the best-managed protected areas in Latin America. Nevertheless, more recently, lack of funding has led to the dismissal of security and maintenance employees at the Park, and watchtowers were reportedly looted and cave art has been left unguarded. These events pose a significant threat to the future of the site and could undo the considerable effort and success of recent years to conserve and protect the prehistoric art. Last update: November 2014

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