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Cotubanamá National Park (also known as East National Park) is part of the National System of Protected Areas of the Dominican Republic; it is located in the furthest limit of the Southeast of the country, between the provinces of La Romana and La Altagracia. Its territorial scope constitutes a peninsula with a trapezoidal shape, the major base would be represented by an imaginary line of 25 km that connect the towns of Boca de Yuma and Bayahibe, its smaller base on the south coast is 11 km long. The protected area also the park includes the Saona Island and the maritime zone that surrounds the entire protected territory. Through Law 519-14 of October 2014, the park changed its name in honour of the cacique Cotubanamá who governed the area to which the park belongs and confronted the Spaniards in the conquest.
The National Park covers a total area of 791.9 km2, (including the 110m2 of the Saona Island and the maritime zone). There are two villages on the island: Mano Juan and Catuano, the first one is the more active and has the largest population. Its resources includes a wide range of exuberant forest masses, coastal areas, beaches, mangroves, inlets, rock shelters, cliffs, wetlands and valuable enclaves of historical and cultural resources. The interiors of the caverns and shelters serve to protect the vestiges of the culture of the former inhabitants of the island before the arrival of the Spanish represents these last ones. Also several Taino ceremonial plazas of great importance and the only sinkhole of Aleta were found.
Cretaceous shales seated in coastal limestone, which was formed from a large barrier reef, form the subsoil of Cotubanamá National Park. This limestone is extremely porous, full of gaps and debris from corals and other fossilized organisms. In general terms the topography is flat and exhibit one kilometre of cliff on its east coast. In the interior of the Park there are no rivers, streams or any surface of water due to the high porosity and drainage capacity of the soils. There are several springs, some superficial, fed with the rain, and others underground, which are supplied by water currents present in the subsoil. On the coast of the peninsula that constitutes the National Park three types of environments can be distinguished: Along the West Coast, from Guaraguao to Palma Seca, the terrain ends in beaches of yellow sand and low smooth rocks, projecting towards an underwater platform with shallow water. The South Coast is swampy with the presence of mangroves. A rocky cliff of little height and small beaches at intervals characterizes the East coast.
The territory of Cotubanamá National Park gathers diverse manifestations of the ancient human occupations of the island. The protected area contains a significant amount of caverns, both in the coastal zone and in the interior. In these cavities the formers inhabitants of the island, a gatherer society, have left traces of their existence.
In the protected area the remains of different human occupations have been found. Some of them were the town of La Tortuga, the village of La Palmilla, the town of Martel, among other enclaves on the Saona Island, such as the town of Catuano and its ceremonial plaza and the Taino’s settlement of Mano Juan. Numerous caves of Cotubanamá National Park accumulate cultural manifestations of the prehispanic inhabitants of the zone through pictographs and petroglifos, in the group the cave of Jose Maria, with an inventory of 1,200 paintings stands out; on the other hand, the cave of Ramoncito has about 300 paintings. Both sites are located in the western sector of the park (Guaraguo). Given their extreme fragility, these caverns can only be visited for scientifics purposes and under special authorizations granted by the Vice Ministry for the Environment and Natural Resources. Another important rupestrian site is the cave of Berna with 350 petroglyphs and 20 pictographs is located in Boca de Yuma sector.
Cotubanamá National Park has a historical and archaeological value that makes it unique and worthy of the category requested due to the following characteristics: It contains masterpieces of the human creative genius, such as the caves of José María and Ramoncito, where more than 1,500 pre-Hispanic pictographs are preserved, as well as 378 petroglyphs in caves as important as those of Berna and Panchito. The archaeological set of rock art of Park provides a unique and exceptional testimony. As a result of the research carried out in the park by an investigation team, the existence of a hieroglyphic communication system similar to those being used by other Central American cultures in the same period has been verified.
The archaeological sites of Park contain several important and well conserved examples of the only pre-Hispanic rock constructions known in the Antilles. Because of the impressive number of archaeological sites already known within the National Park the site is the best preserved example of a land inhabited by the Taino culture.
The accumulation of shipwrecks from the early sixteenth century under the waters contains the largest group of shipwrecks of the contact period currently known in the Caribbean. This unusual feature demonstrates that the zone was very active and visited by the first Spanish settlers.
Criterion (i): The archaeological heritage of the Cotubanamá National Park is a masterpiece of human creative ability, as shown in the José María Cavern, where many original designs can be seen painted on its walls. They are considered masterpieces of Taino and prehispanic art, with more than 1,200 pictographs, is one of the largest amount of paintings ever discovered in a single cave discovered in America,
Criterion (ii): The archaeological heritage of the Park shows an important development of prehispanic architecture, as it includes different samples of 'ball courts', the only stone structures documented for the Taíno culture. Some of them, such as the group of four 'ball courts' of La Aleta, are considered one of the most representative sets of this type of work developed by the Taíno culture.
Criterion (iii): The archaeological heritage is an exceptional testimony of a lost civilizations, as it contains a group of forty-eight archeological deposits that belong to different prehispanic cultures and five ship wrecks (four from the time of the Spanish Taíno encounter and another from the XVIII century). Only about the 10% of the park surface has been explored so far, thus, it is expected to find many other archeological deposits hidden within the tropical forest and into a huge underground lake where hundreds of commonly used and votive objects from the Taíno culture still rest.
In terms of the archaeological and historical authenticity, Cotubanamá National Park is a true and unique relic of its kind, for centuries it has remained essentially intact from the time when artisans abandoned the cultural values in the first decade of the XVI century. After the zone was conquered by the Spanish troops in a battle called the Second War of Higüey in 1504, all villages and ceremonial plazas developed in this area were abandoned the archaeological material deposited in the natural sink holes remain preserved inside. The paintings and petroglyphs in the caverns are intact, and the structures of the 'ball courts' have never been altered keeping their original structure as on the day they were abandoned.
The most important feature to preserve the integrity of the cultural and natural resources encompassed by Cotubanamá National Park, is the existing legislation that declare the park as a protected area. The Vice-Ministry for Protected Areas and Biodiversity and the staff it has assigned to the park area, provide strict controls and assure the integrity of caverns with rock art, 'ball courts', and generally of all archaeological deposits. The General Environmental and Natural Resources Law, numbered 64-00, in its Article 34, Section 6, certifies and adopts Decree No. 722 of September 16, 1975, under which the Park was created, reinforcing the protection of this unique area.
Its isolation is another factor assuring the integrity of the archaeological set, except for the existing paths controlled by the park staff a dense tropical forest obstruct the access and surround most of the deposits. This situation has been the most influential factor in the conservation of the Park and adequate state of this archaeological heritage, especially before the area was officially defined as protected area.
The shipwrecks of the Saona Island and the Catuano Canal are also in very good condition, as they have not been looted. In 1983some pieces of artillery were collected in the location using archaeological methods. The extracted fragments were taken to the museum of submarine archaeology of the Atarazanas, in the city of Santo Domingo, and to the National Direction of Underwater Cultural Heritage, also located in Santo Domingo City.
In terms of rock art, there are no painted cavers in all of America like Jose Maria cave and its more than 1,200 catalogued pictographs. It is without doubt, one of the most known cave sanctuary in the world containing such a large collection of paintings in a single cavern with a single entrance. The Lascaux Cave in France or the Altamira in Spain, authentic symbols of culture and antiquity, both declared a World Heritage, which have the largest collection of paintings known in Europe, have less number of pictographs than the Jose Maria Cave in Cotubanamá National Park. Compared with other cave art designated by UNESCO, such as the Cave of the Hands in Argentina, the caves of Sierra de Capibara Park in Brazil, and the Painted Rocks of the Sierra de San Francisco in Mexico, the quality of its paintings can be considered similar, the quantity of Cotubanamá National Park however greater than what is preserved in those places.
In the Central American area there are paintings representing glyphs and composing phrases in classical Mayan language, one of these places is the cave of Nag Tunich in Guatemala, thus the graphics found there are already considered as writing not as hieroglyphics. Likewise, the paintings in the Park have no comparison with any cave art in America in terms of the significance of the pictographs, since at the present time a hieroglyphic system of communication has not been documented in any other comparable finding.
The petroglyphs are of the same type as those located in hundreds of caverns scattered throughout the geography of Santo Domingo Island. These designs have very clear parallels in all the Antilles and in the continent, fundamentally of the Orinoco-Amazon basin. The type of designs and their bill is common throughout the Caribbean basin, but it is understood much further, both in Central America and in South America. In most of the Lesser Antilles there are petroglyphs identical to those of the Park, highlighting those located in Trois Riviere and La Coulisse in Guadeloupe, Winfield State in Sant Kitts, Roche Gravee in Martinique, etc.
Regarding the archaeological heritage that the 'ball courts' represent, similar sets are found only in Caguana and Tibes in Puerto Rico, but the special conditions of isolation possessed by the Aleta set of ball courts ensures that there is no other set as well preserved, for it remains intact since it was abandoned during the first years of the sixteenth century.
The set of shipwrecks of the early sixteenth century found in the waters of the National Park can only be compared to shipwrecks located in Molasses Reef and Nuestra Señora del Rosario in Cuba and Padre Island on the Texas coast. In any case one of the shipwrecks located under the waters of Park the named wreck of the channel of Catuano, is considered as the oldest of all. No other shipwrecks of this period have been located on the island of Santo Domingo.