Serra da Capivara National Park
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Last update: 23/03/2020
It is in Piauí, a state in Northeast Brazil, where the largest collection of archaeological sites in the Americas is located: the Serra da Capivara (Capybara Range) National Park, covering an area of about 129 thousand hectares spread over the municipalities of São Raimundo Nonato, São João do Piauí, Coronel José Dias and Canto do Buriti. Its creation was on 5 June 1979 through Presidential Decree 83,548. Today, the park is a protected area managed by the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation (ICMBio), a government institution under the Ministry of Environment founded on 28 August 2007, as registered by Law 11,516.
In the southwest of Piauí, about 500km from the capital Teresina, the Serra da Capivara National Park is a vast open-air museum, as much from the point of view of everything related to the climate and geography of the semi-arid Northeast, as in the aspect of the specific flora and fauna of the caatinga ecosystem. The area is located between two geological formations called the Piauí-Maranhão Sedimentary Basin and the Mid-São Francisco Depression, composed of various types of rocks and minerals. Centuries of transformation have generated a landscape of plateaus, hills, mountains, ranges, plains and canyons, which gives the park an interesting visual diversity.
Today there are about a thousand plant species in the area, according to the Ministry of Environment. Of that number, about six hundred species have been catalogued; 60% of all vegetation is exclusive of the caatinga. Among the animals that can be found by visiting this protected area are jaguars, pumas, armadillos and giant anteaters. The average temperature of the region is 31ºC, which may fall to 22ºC in the wettest and coldest months, and reach 47ºC in the Piauí summer.
What makes the Serra da Capivara National Park so important in the context of environmental preservation in Brazil is its global importance: it has the main concentration of rock paintings in the Americas. More than a thousand registered archaeological sites provide data and information about pre-historic human occupation on the American continent. In addition to the cave paintings found in several caves, the shelters have other graphic forms and various traces of the presence of humans. Some of these remains date back to 60,000 years ago. In all, the region is home to 173 archaeological sites open to visitors.
All this legitimized the inclusion of the park in the United Nations Organization for Education, Science and Culture (UNESCO) list of World Heritage Site in December 1991. Fourteen years later, in March 2005, the Ministry of Environment expanded the protected area to create a mosaic of protected areas, including the Serra da Capivara and Serra das Confusões National Parks and the ecological corridor connecting the two. The total area of ecological corridor comprises 414,000 hectares and covers the municipalities of São Raimundo Nonato, Canto do Buriti, Tamboril do Piauí, Brejo do Piauí, São Braz, Anísio de Abreu, Jurema, Caracol and Guaribas.
A complete visit to the circuits open to visitors can last up to six days, and must be done with the obligatory presence of a guide or driver. Excursions go from Sítio do Boqueirão da Pedra Furada, where the first archaeological excavations were made, going through the Pedra Furada (Holed Stone) geological formation, which is one of the symbols of the Park, and to Sítio do Meio until they reach the bottom of the Holed Stone, where the access to the canyon with sandstone formations is located. It is also possible to visit Desfiladeiro da Capivara, Baixão da Vaca and Toca do Paraguaio, and the Veredão, Chapada, Jurubeba and Serra Branca circuits. In Baixão das Andorinhas, a large canyon becomes the stage for the ‘return of the birds’ spectacle in the evening. All circuits have steps, walkways and access for people with mobility impairments.
The Serra da Capivara National Park of is complemented by the Museum of American Man (Museu do Homem Americano), based in São Raimundo Nonato since 1986. There you can see ceramics, funerary urns and lithic material resulting from excavations in the Park by archaeologist Niéde Guidon, today the head of the Museum of American Man Foundation. Niéde’s work was essential to support the theory that the first people to inhabit America were on the continent much earlier than ever thought. According to Niéde, “Serra da Capivara is a unique place in the world. The people who lived here one hundred thousand years ago have left traces of their passing and have allowed discoveries that have completely changed the ideas about the origin and antiquity of the American people.” (DESCOBERTAS..., 2013).
The best way to get to Serra da Capivara National Park and the Museum of American Man from Pernambuco is to go by plane to Petrolina, in the Pernambuco semi-arid region, and from there go about 300km to São Raimundo Nonato. If travelling by car, taking the same starting point, you can go via the BR-343 to Floriano, and then take the PI-140 to São Raimundo Nonato.
Recife, 27 May 2014.
Translated by Peter Leamy, March 2015.
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______. Patrimônio Cultural. Available at: <http://www.fumdham.org.br/pcultural.asp>. Accessed:20 maio 2014.
______. Patrimônio Natural. Available at: <http://www.fumdham.org.br/pnatural.asp>. Accessed: 20 maio 2014.
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______. Parque Nacional da Serra da Capivara. Available at: <http://www.icmbio.gov.br/portal/o-que-fazemos/visitacao/ucs-
abertas-a-visitacao/199-parque-nacional-da-serra-da-capivara.html>. Accessed: 20 maio 2014.
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