Serra da Capivara National Park

Serra da Capivara National Park (World Heritage)

The rock carvings in the Serra da Capivara National Park are evidence of one of the oldest cultures in South America. They can be found in over 260 places in the rich archaeological site to the northeast of Brasília. The pictures, which are up to 12,000 years old, depict animals, hunting, fighting and dancing scenes, among other things.

Serra da Capivara National Park: facts

Official title: Serra da Capivara National Park (with rock carvings)
Cultural monument: Stone Age rock paintings depicting hunting, birth, dances, rituals and wars at more than 260 of over 390 archaeological sites in a 1300 km² national park with the last remnant of an original thorn savannah (Caatinga) and bizarre sandstone rock formations such as Toca do Boqueirão da Pedra Furada and Baixao da Esperanza
Continent: America
Country: Brazil, Piauí
Location: northeast of Brasília and west of Recife
Appointment: 1991
Meaning: Rock carvings as an extraordinary testimony to one of the oldest cultures in South America

Serra da Capivara National Park: history

21,000-15,000 BC Chr. first rock carvings
around 10,000 BC Chr. widespread use of rock carvings
8000-4000 BC Chr. due to climate change formation of the caatinga
around 4900 BC Chr. first ceramics
until 4000 BC Chr. proven human habitation
1970 first systematic research
since 1996 Measures to preserve the rock art threatened by insect nests and weathering

Serra da Capivara National Park

São Raimundo Nonato with its almost 10,000 residents is located in the farthest corner of the world, where »Judas lost his boots«, as the Brazilians say. This place in the Caatinga, the dry steppe of the northeast with cacti and nettle plants, is one of the most needy in the poor Brazilian state of Piauí. And yet this area must have been very fertile at one time: around 23,000 years ago, when people carved their marks into the rock, like at Toca do Boqueirão da Pedra Furada.

Should people have been living in South America by that time? The paleontologists and anthropologists shake their wise heads. Every layperson knows that the native residents of the western continent only moved from Northeast Asia over the Bering Strait around 12,000 years ago at the end of the last Ice Age and settled America from north to south in several waves. But the archaeologist Niède Guidon is not impressed by this old school opinion; she sticks to her thesis – which she underpins with every new excavation and discovery there in the Serra da Capivara, the “capybara mountains”. In the meantime the front of the researchers is shaking, and with it an entire body of theory. Sweaty scientists from all over the world follow Niède Guidon on the beaten path to the weathered sandstone cliffs,

The archaeologist, who comes from Piauí but received all of her school and academic training in Paris – her father was French – was made aware of the strange drawings in the Serra da Capivara in the 1970s. But it was a decade before she, familiar with the scientific methods and equipped with the right tools, could finally set about investigating the murals, burns and bone finds. Today there are already more than 400 precisely measured and assessed by carbon isotopes sites that indicate that people lived in this area around 23,000 years ago.

How these first Americans lived, what survival techniques they used and how “high” their culture should be – all of this is still largely in the dark. They knew fire and spears, of course: the murals prove it, and the bone finds – including a complete female skeleton – document a rich fauna and flora. But whether the “Homo americus” also farmed and raised cattle is currently unclear.

The residents of São Raimundo Nonato follow the busy activities of the scientists in their neighborhood with curiosity and the hope that spending tourists will soon find their way to the remote area. As you can hear, their ancestors must once have lived better than just on rice and beans like they do today. But the seclusion of the Serra da Capivara – you need many hours on the gravel roads to the next airport in Petrolina – protects this cradle of mankind from the invasion of curious tour groups and the destruction caused by the incredulous touching of the rock carvings. It remains to be seen what effects the opening of eight visitor routes in the national park will have.

Niède Guidon’s discovery is forcing anthropologists to rewrite the history of mankind on the western continent. Thanks to generous international, mainly French, support and thanks to the Inter-American Development Bank, the Serra da Capivara is today the most important “archaeological park” in South America. According to politicsezine, the Brazilian environmental authority had already declared this area a national park in 1979 in order to secure the rock carvings on the sandstone walls and the caatinga in their existence. But the final scientific processing of the first human traces in the north of Brazil will probably take many years and millions more dollars.

Serra da Capivara National Park