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The pre-Hispanic rock art of the Dominican Republic is located in caves, shelters and open-air rocks scattered throughout the national geography. We have found rock sites both in the coastal plain, and in the great valleys and mountains. A very important part of the caverns scattered around the Dominican geography, around 20%, contains manifestations of rock art. During the prospection and research works that have been carried out in the country, for the moment, between caverns, shelters or rocks in the open air, about 500 stations have been reported, of which 247 have published documentation. Basically there are three types of rock art that we found on the island of Santo Domingo: paintings, petroglyphs and bas-reliefs. As in other parts of the world, in the Dominican territory different schools and styles of rock painting coexist. Its artistic, iconographic and conceptual particularities denote the difference of the cultural groups that made them both chronologically and culturally.
During the investigations carried out in recent years we have been able to identify three basic schools of rock art: Borbón, José María and Geometric. The petroglyphs abound both in the caves and in the rupestrian stations constituted by rocks in the open, located in shelters, the environment of the rivers and in the mountains of the Dominican Republic. In relation to the style of the petroglyphs, two groups of relatively different characteristics can be distinguished: mural petroglyphs and geometric petroglyphs. The bas-reliefs maintain the same characteristics in all their locations and are part of both mural and geometric sites.
The possibilities offered by the rock art of the Dominican Republic, being able to study such an extensive set of stations, disseminated in a reduced and uniform geographical framework, is unique. This is an event that is difficult to replicate in the context of universal rock art and provides an extremely interesting view of the forms of life and cultural manifestations of the ancient inhabitants of the Caribbean. Registration will be requested as a set of rock sites that will be gradually expanded, including new stations based on their adaptation to the characteristics of authenticity, integrity and management requested by UNESCO to be declared World Heritage.
The first sites that will present in the rock art set of Dominican Republic are the following: José María Cave and Ramoncito Cave in the National Park of the East, province of La Altagracia; Cave No. 2 of Borbón in the Cuevas de Borbón or Pomier Anthropological Reserve, province of San Cristóbal; Ferrocarril cave in Los Haitises National Park, province of Hato Mayor; La Colmena Cave in the Jaragua National Park, province of Pedernales.
The pre-Hispanic rock art is the most significant cultural and artistic manifestation that we have of the people who inhabited the island of Santo Domingo before the arrival of Europeans to the American continent. It is also a testimony of the expression of human values that represent the multiple migrations and interactions between the current island territory of the Dominican Republic with the continent and the rest of the Antilles for around 5,000 years, when we first detected the presence human on this island.
As a work of the human creative genius, rock art brings aesthetic and iconographic innovations particular to the insular cultures of the American tropics. At the same time, it brings surprising technical innovations in relation to the manufacture of pigments, their application and the use of the telluric matter of the stone support, to generate emotions before the observers combining the forms of the rock, the games of lights and shadows, the retouching of the stone, the engraving work and the painting.
The pre-Hispanic rock art that is present in the Dominican Republic is closely linked to the island’s environment and its geographical and ecological conditions. The presence of innumerable caves and shelters on the island allowed them to be used, according to the characteristics of a cultural group, as habitation sites, centres of worship or funeral places. These uses were associated in turn to the execution of paintings, petroglyphs and sculptures, always in relation to the use given to the cave geological formations.
Antillean parietal art is, therefore, an inexhaustible source of information about a series of migrant cultures, now defunct, that settled in the insular territory and generated interactions among them throughout history. The paintings, petroglyphs and sculptures that appear in the natural rocky supports, offer us not only scenes of the past related to religious, funerary or mythological themes, but also samples of ancient flora and fauna of the island, data on the Antillean pre-Hispanic calendar, information of the subsistence systems of the human groups, images of their deities and even ideograms and hieroglyphs made by the shamans to capture in the rock the memory of their knowledge.
The rock art association to the different occupations and cultures that took place within the current Dominican territory proves that its existence is consubstantial with human development on the island. Its universal value lies, among other things, in the originality of the same, to be generated as typical of the Caribbean island cultures that only developed in this precise tropical geographical environment during a period of time of several thousand years.
Thus far, have been detected three different schools of rock painting and two of petroglyphs in the Dominican territory. The oldest school of parietal art, possibly ascribed to the first settlers of the island who arrived some 5,000 years ago, probably from Cuba, where they in turn arrived from Florida or Yucatan, it is called Escuela Geométrica and has sites with paintings and rocks with petroglyphs. Another painting school also very old, possibly associated with gathering groups and early farmers is Escuela de José María. Finally, the school of painting that is considered the most recent, ascribed to farming peoples of the first and second millennium after Christ, is called Escuela de Borbón. The most widespread types of petroglyphs, which are probably maintained during the estimated five thousand years of human occupation on the island, we call them Mural petroglyphs and were probably made, with small differences in style, by all the cultural groups that inhabited the island.
Criterion (i): The Antillean rock art in itself represents a masterpiece of human creative genius, as it combines religious and/or educational intentionality with plastic art expressed in three different specialties: painting, engraving and sculpture. The technical perfection of a large part of the cave paintings and the different styles of parietal art that were generated on the island of Santo Domingo, are surprising due to their iconographic homogeneity and their aesthetic beauty. To carry out their works, the artist shamans purified techniques to prepare the pigments, make them durable and apply them on the stone. They also made tools and systems that allowed them to excavate the rock to make engravings, bas-reliefs and high-reliefs.
Criterion (iii): Rock art, it is without doubt, a unique testimony of the pre-Hispanic Antillean cultures that have disappeared. It offers us a vision frozen in time of its culture and customs, related to the cultural group that made them in each case. The oldest representations take us to the mythical world of hunters and gatherers and other presumably more recent ones, they present themes related to myths typical of the jungle cultures that generated in the continent migrated to populate the island of Santo Domingo. We also observe shamanic systems to communicate with the deities, so that they can make decisions appropriate to their mandate. In some cases we even locate ideograms sometimes grouped together, in order to form hieroglyphics whose meaning we have not yet been able to decipher. They also left reflected in his paintings and petroglyphs scenes of his daily life and the fauna and flora that millennia ago developed in its tropical ecological environment.
The authenticity of the rock art present in the Dominican Republic is unquestionable, since it has been studied for many decades and has many scientific works publish about it. Some of the most recent were made known precisely in the UNESCO World Heritage Papers publication No. 14 and No. 24, where groups of international experts in archaeology and rock art, gathered by the UNESCO World Heritage Centre, certified the authenticity and The transcendental importance of the pre-Hispanic rock art of the Dominican Republic, recommending that the necessary steps be taken to be declared World Heritage.
Some works carried out on the rock art of the caverns of the National Park of the East, have offered absolute dating of Carbon 14 that place the paintings in the first millennium before Christ and in the first centuries of the Christian era. Other dating made based on the archaeological remains found in the caves offer us more ancient dates, towards the beginning of the third and second millennium BC. The studies of the pigments made in the paintings also lead us to consider them carried out by the pre-Hispanic settlers of the island and the calcite flows that cover many of the petroglyphs and some paintings, show us the great antiquity they have.
However, the most authentic proof of the authenticity of rock art present in the Dominican territory is offered by the same Indian chroniclers at the end of the 15th century, especially Fray Ramón Pane, who in his Relation to Near Antiquities of the Indians, When referring to the cave called by the Indians “Iguanaboina” he writes: “..., and they have it all painted in their own way, without any figure, with many leaves and similar things.” In this way we know that the natives of the island were the architects of rock art, although the tradition of painting and engraving on rocks was already several millennia old.
The integrity of the rock art of the Dominican Republic, it is, in general, satisfactory. The most important rock sites are within the National System of Protected Areas, so they have surveillance and in some cases with constant monitoring. On the other hand, many of the cave stations are located in remote places or in the middle of wooded masses, so their access is complex and this has prevented them from altering, being mostly untouched. In any case, the enormous number of rock art stations reported to date in the Dominican territory, around 500, of which a total of 247 sites have already been documented, including caves, shelters and sets of rocks in the open, make control and management of them must be done progressively.
Pre-Hispanic rock art is a phenomenon that covers the entire American continent. The people who inhabited the island of Santo Domingo, as well as the rest of the Antilles, came from the continent and brought all their cultural baggage to the islands, including, of course, their rock art. Thus, the phenomenon in the Dominican Republic has parallels throughout the Caribbean, both in the Greater Antilles and in the Lesser Antilles and in the Caribbean basin. Since the cultures that jumped from the continent to colonize the Caribbean islands came from different parts of the continent depending on the time they migrated, they also had different cultural backgrounds.
In this way we found parallels with very old rock art styles of the so-called Geometric School on the island of Cuba from where we think these people jumped to that of Santo Domingo. However, the same style is also found on the island of Aruba, where it is associated with the first cultural groups that left the continent from Venezuela. The spirals and Cuban crosses of the caves of Punta del Este on the Isle of Pines and the Ambrosio cave in Varadero find almost identical parallels in the Dominican caves. In spite of the distance we have to point out the parallel of the paintings of human hands of the cave of Las Manos of the Dominican Republic, located in Pedernales, with the extraordinary cave of Las Manos located in Argentina and which was the first site of rock art Declared World Heritage by UNESCO. Another world heritage on continental lands, the Sierra de Capibara National Park in Brazil also contains rock art very similar to that found in some Dominican caverns but make for different cultures and in different prehistoric periods.
The cave painting similar to that of the school of José María is found in Puerto Rico, mainly on the island of La Mona in the Cuevas del Alemán and Doña Geña among others, there being parallels with some similarities in the continent, specifically in Brazil in the Park National Sierra de Capibara, declared World Heritage for its rock art. The cave painting of the School of Borbón is located fundamentally in all the Greater Antilles, especially in Puerto Rico and Jamaica. The designs and motifs, as well as the colours and the way of associating the figures are practically identical in these islands as we can see in Mountain River Cave in Jamaica or in the cave of Lucero in Puerto Rico. However, neither in Jamaica nor in Puerto Rico are sites with art declared as world heritage.
The petroglyphs 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 in the entire Caribbean basin, but it is well understood in Central America and in South America. In most of the Lesser Antilles there are petroglyphs identical to those of the Dominican Republic, highlighting those located in Trois Riviere and La Coulisse in Guadeloupe, Winfield State in Saint Kitts, Roche Gravee in Martinique, etc.
In addition to the Sierra de Capibara National Park and the Cueva de Las Manos, previously mentioned, but without stylistic parallels in the Dominican Republic, in Central America the Rock Paintings of the Sierra de San Francisco and the Prehistoric Caves of Yagul and Mitla are declared world heritage in he Central Valleys of Oaxaca, both in Mexico and in South America the Lines and Geoglyphs of Nazca and Pampas de Jumana in Peru.