Back to our origins.
By Eliane da Fonseca, from São Paulo
Can you imagine seeing up close how Brazilians lived fifty thousand years ago? The National Park of Serra da Capivara, in the countryside of Piauí state, has some tips on the daily routine of Paleolithic Brazilian hunter-gatherers and also offers evidence indicating that the first human being of all the Americas might well have lived exactly there, in Northeastern Brazil.
The Park was founded in 1979 after a hard struggle led by the Brazilian archeologist Niéde Guidon, a doctor of History from Paris I University, who since the early 1960’s has been studying the cave art, bones and artifacts found in the area. The focus of the Park is to protect those archeological sites and paintings, while preserving a chunk of the typical local vegetation, the caatinga (scrub land), in addition to giving visitors the opportunity of learning about and being truly amazed at this open-air museum.
Today the Fundação Museu do Homem Americano (The American Man Museum Foundation) FUMDHAM, which was established in 1986 by researchers from a bi-national France-Brazil coalition, is in charge of the management of the Park. FUNDHAM also runs the American Man Museum, located about 20 km from the Park, in a city called São Raimundo Nonato.
At the Museum (open from Tuesday to Sunday), a permanent exhibition reveals findings from 30 years of digging and research in the area. There are tools, pottery, human bones and funeral urns, as well as printings of inscriptions and cave engravings for the visitor to enjoy. “It’s a wonderful exhibition, renewed two years ago with the support of IPHAN (the National Institute of Historical and Artistic Heritage), showing artifacts from the evolution of human life since the Stone Age – chipped, and later polished stones, the invention of pottery and its development, some adornments made of stone, wood and seeds,” says Niéde.
Trails, adventure, and live history
At Serra da Capivara, 22 archeological sites are prepared for visitors, with access stairways and bridges that make observation of paintings easier. To arrive at each of the sites, there are trails at different difficulty levels, each one displaying the most interesting landscapes, with gray and black marble hills, lagoons, “islands” of dense vegetation surrounded by cerrado (a type of savannah), lakes and natural wells.
A Visitor Centre offers a snack bar, an auditorium, an exhibition room, a souvenir shop and restrooms. There are also picnic areas. Although signage at the Park is excellent, visitors are required to be accompanied by an official guide for walking the trails and visiting the sites.
The real postcard of the Park is Pedra Furada (holed stone), a 15 m diameter opening in a wall more than 60 m high, where there are over 1,100 paintings. The place can also be visited at night, if you arrange this in advance, when it’s attractively lit up.
For visitors in good shape, an interesting option is to visit Caldeirão do Rodrigues and Canoas. The climbing is steep, taking on average two hours to reach the pond where animals from the surrounding natural environment come to drink water. But, regardless your fitness level, no one should miss the 90 m deep Baixão das Andorinhas canyon. Here, every day at sunset, flocks of swallows plunge at high speed, offering a unique show.
For all this wealth, Serra da Capivara was declared a World Cultural Heritage Site by UNESCO. The Natural Heritage Site title has also been applied for, which would take the Park into the selected group of 23 locations to be considered both cultural and natural heritage sites on the planet.
- The fastest way to get to the Park is from Petrolina, Pernambuco, 300 km away.
- The average temperature there is 28º C, but nights can be cooler, getting as low as 10º C. Don’t be fooled, however: bring your sunscreen, a cap, a snack and lots of water.
- The Park is open all year round, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., but the best time to visit is between December and June, when the weather is milder.
- Restaurants and lodgings in the area are very simple, but, in general, clean. A good option would be camping in the area of the Museum, provided that you get permission from FUMDHAM to assemble your tent there.