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Sanmartinian Routes

Date of Submission: 01/02/2019
Category: Mixed
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of Argentina to UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Provinces of San Juan, Mendoza and La Rioja
Ref.: 6384
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The property constitutes the majestic scene of a liberating expedition that had great historical significance and made an impact on the culture of more than one country.

It is composed by six passes in the Andes, the South American mountain range, by which the Army of the Andes (5,423 men, 9,280 mules, 1,500 horses and 18 pieces of artillery) crossed in 1817 from Argentina to Chile to liberate that territory that was in possession of the absolutist Spanish Crown of the time.

The Andes are crossed by precipices, with peaks above 4,000 meters high that had never been crossed by a force of such a size. The main column reached 4,536 meters of altitude.

The army of the Andes was created by the Argentine general José de San Martín, who led the crossing seconded by the Chilean brigadier Bernardo O’Higgins. The soldiers were not experienced mountaineers. They had to endure snowstorms, hailstorms, icy roads and cliffs. The Army lost about 400 men, a third of its horses and half of its mules, during the 21 days of the crossing by falling overs, hypothermia, diseases or hunger.

Besides the passes themselves, located on top of the Andes, the property includes the routes followed by the expedition through a chain of hills and mountains lying before the Andes range itself. It also includes the military camp of El Plumerillo, where the troops trained and concentrated, leading up to the outset of the expedition

 In this case, there is a remarkable interrelation between nature and culture. Majestic as the passes are, if they had not been the scene of a historical feat, they would have remained ignored, while today they are still object of research, exploration and documentaries by experts from different parts of the world.

In turn, San Martin, however successful he might have been, would be today unknown to the world if he had passed from Argentina to Chile across a plain.

As stated by WHC experts, Cultural Routes are not only those associated with peaceful events. In many cases, routes have been the scene of violent clashes, eventually with positive outcomes in terms of peace and liberty. That is precisely the case of the Sanmartinian routes. The historical Crossing followed a plan conceived to dislodge the despotism from that part of South America and establish an independent and democratic state.

Pass                            Los Patos (Las LLaretas)
From                            ARGENTINA (Province of San Juan)
To                                CHILE (5th Region of Valparaíso)
Coordinates                  32° 22′ 0″ S – 70° 14′ 0″ W
Altitude 3.414 m.


Pass                            Uspallata
From                            ARGENTINA (Province of Mendoza)
To                                CHILE (5th Region of Valparaíso)
Coordinates                  32°48'37.5"S – 70°05'07.3"W
Altitude                        3.400 m.


Pass                            Portillo
From                            ARGENTINA (Province of Mendoza)
To                                CHILE (Region of Santiago)
Coordinates                  33°38′0″S – 69°52′0″W
Altitude                        4.035 m.


Pass                            Planchón
From                            ARGENTINA (Province of Mendoza)
To                                CHILE (7th Region of Maule)
Coordinates                  35°12'17.1"S – 70°31'47.7"W
Altitude                        3.800 m.


Pass                            Comecaballos
From                             ARGENTINA (Province of La Rioja)
To                                  CHILE (3rd Region of Atacama)
Coordinates                  28° 11' S – 69° 23' W
Altitude                        4.100 m.


Pass                            Guana
From                            ARGENTINA (Province of San Juan)
To                                CHILE (4 th Region of Coquimbo)
Coordinates                  30° 45' S – 70° 16' W
Altitude                        4.200 m.

Starting point:               El Plumerillo field
Where                          ARGENTINA (Mendoza)
Coordinates                  32º 49’55” S – 68’ 48’40” W

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The universal importance of the event began with the crossing itself.

A considerable group of Frenchmen took part in the Army of the Andes, among of them six officers, including Baron Bruix.

Also some Britishmen joined the expedition, among them General Miller, who had fought Waterloo under Wellington, and one English physician that was the medical in chief of the army.

Britain attentively followed the process.

As a matter of fact, before returning to Argentina to begin his feat, San Martín spent four months in London, from where he embarked on a vessel called Georges Canning.

The international importance has persisted. US President Harry Truman hung a portrait of San Martin in the Oval Office of the White House. In 1959, the U.S. Post Office issued 130 million of stamps honoring San Martín, depicted as “Champion of Liberty”.

In Spain there is an awareness that the goal of the Sanmartinian deed was the liberation of colonies that did not belonged to Spain as such but to the despotic Crown of Castile. The Spanish Ministry of Education has distributed a video about “the Liberator” San Martin, where the government of Spain says that “he is worthy of tribute and admiration”. It underlines that San Martin had “Spanish lineage and blood”.

Apart from the Sanmartinian Institutes of Argentina, Chile and Peru, there are Sanmartinian institutes in Brazil, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Dominican Republic, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Uruguay), as well as in other parts of the world (United States, Belgium).

A large amount of monuments representing San Martin or O’Higgins can be found beyond their respective countries: (1) San Martín: Algeria, Armenia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, Ecuador, France, Guatemala, Italy, Mexico, Panama, Spain, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay, Venezuela. (2) O’Higgins: Canada, Colombia, Guatemala, Ireland, Italy, Nicaragua, Peru, Spain, United Kingdom, United States, Venezuela.

One thing that shows the universal value of the Sanmartinian Routes is the place that it had in the literature of several countries. The French André Malraux, minister of Charles de Gaulle, the Cuban José Martí, the Chilean Nobel-prize awarded Pablo Neruda and the Argentine Jorge Luis Borges, have recreated the crossing as a literary fact.

Criterion (vi): Being clear the association of the event with an element as tangible as a mountain range, let us see now its association with ideas and beliefs.

The purpose of crossing the Andes was, as stated by the Venezuelan historian Mariano Picón Salas, to transfer to part of South America the principles of freedom and equality raised almost simultaneously by the US Constitution and the French Revolution.

The principle of equality would reach even aborigines and black people.

The Pehuenche ethnic group cooperated in the preparations for the crossing. In 1815, San Martín met with about 50 caciques (indigenous peoples’ leaders) and their respective troops. He acknowledged their sovereignty over their territories and requested them permission to pass through those territories in order to cross the Andes. The Pehuenches granted San Martín permission and pledged to provide livestock and horses for the army.

There are documents showing that the Pehuenches were treated as “friends” and "brothers". Their political organization was also recognized in some formal letters, as caciques were treated as "H.E."

As for the black people, they were also part of the expedition. It is true that most of them were freedmen: former slaves who had been given freedom in exchange for defending their country. Submission was exchanged by danger. But no more danger than the one faced by the whites.  

After the victory of the Army of the Andes, O'Higgins assumed responsibilities as “Supreme Director” of Chile and enacted a constitution creating a democratic state with an “inalienable right to individual security, honor, property, freedom and civil equality" for the Chilean citizens. He also abolished titles of nobility, declared equality among indigenous natives, Creoles and Europeans, and tried to dissolve the slavery system by repealing the primogeniture.

Criterion (vii): None less than Darwin made the original findings of natural phenomena in routes followed by the Army of the Andes. He recorded all his findings in his Journey Diary.

Having crossed the Cordillera on the back of a mule, Darwin arrived in Mendoza by the pass of Portillo de Peuquenes, and returned to Chile by the pass of Uspallata.

Darwin passed, as had done the largest column of the Army of the Andes, along an outstanding natural bridge called Puente del Inca (Inca’s Bridge), a rock formation 48 meters long and 28 meters wide, 27 meters high from the river it crossed. He also crossed, as the Army of the Andes did, a petrified forest of 230 million years.

To his astonishment, Darwin also found great beds of gympum, some shells at 4,000 meters above the sea level, and an incredible amount of denudation, as well as ammonites, gryphites, oysters, Pecten, and Mytilus.

Referring the beauty of the Sanmartinian Routes, today photography, television, videos and tourism make no one unaware of the beauty of San Martin's routes. But it is interesting the testimony of people who saw the Andes for the first time (like San Martin himself) in the first part of the 19th century.

Darwin declared himself astonished, not only for his prodigius archeological finding but also for the impressive beauty of those mountains

The British Robert Proctor, who also crossed the Andes from Mendoza to Chile, said that the “sublime” landscape “seemed to belong to a different world”.

A contemporary traveler, Kevin Rushby, who crossed as well from Argentina to Chile through one of the Sanmartinian routes, said that they are “one of the most spectacular in the world”.

Criterion (viii): According to geologist David Bressan, the formation of volcanoes, the slow subsidence of coral reefs, the rising of the Andes by earthquakes, the fossil relatives to modern species in South America “enabled Darwin to grasp two fundaments needed for his scientific theory: the deep time and the slow, but perpetual changes of earth itself”. 

Darwin himself wrote:

I feel sure the Cordillera formerly consisted of a chain of volcanoes from which enormous streams of lava were poured forth at the bottom of the sea. These alternate with sedimentary beds to a vast thickness; at a subsequent period these volcanoes must have formed islands, from which have been produced strata of several thousand feet thick of coarse conglomerate.  These islands were covered with fine trees; in the conglomerate, I found one 15 feet in circumference perfectly silicified to the very centre. The alternations of compact crystalline rocks (I cannot doubt subaqueous lavas), and sedimentary beds, now upheaved fractured and indurated, form the main range of the Andes. The formation was produced at the time when ammonites, gryphites, oysters, Pecten, Mytilus, etc., etc., lived. In the central parts of Chili the structure of the lower beds is rendered very obscure by the metamorphic action which has rendered even the coarsest conglomerates porphyritic. The Cordilleras of the Andes so worthy of admiration from the grandeur of their dimensions, rise in dignity when it is considered that since the period of ammonites, they have formed a marked feature in the geography of the globe.”  (Quote condensed).

While it is true that the Andes is “the longest mountain range in the world” (7,242 kilometers), the sector corresponding to the Sanmartinian routes has distinctive features that have been the object of a large number of studies, as showed in Geodynamic Process in the Andes of Central Chile and Argentine, in a UNESCO-sponsored book published by the British Geological Society.  The book includes the “state-of-the-art” reviews and original articles from a range of Earth Science disciplines that investigate the complex interactions of tectonics and surface processes in the subduction-related orogeny of the Andes of central Chile and Argentina (c. 27–39°S). The coordinates of the Sanmartinian Routes are 28-35ºS.

Geological study of the Argentine-Chilean central Andes, including the passes crossed by the Army of the Andes has never stopped. Andrés Folgueras et alt. edited Evolution of the Chilean-Argentine Andes, a book that shows up-to-date reviews, maps, evolutionary schemes and extensive reference lists with data for geoscientists and students in Earth Science fields. The same authors compiled works on the subject in Growth of the Southern Andes, a book about the particular structure of that Andean segment.

Criterion (ix): The Sanmartinian Routes give an excellent opportunity to examine the Central Andes under a geological and geomorphic point of view.  Those routes have exceptional exposures of the different geological units that constitute the Precordillera (pre-mountain range), the Frontal Cordillera and the Main Cordillera, this last mountain range shared with Chile.

A noticeable example of the on-going processes and scientific discoveries in that part of the Andes is the findings of the astrobiologist Nathalie Cabrol, Director of the Carl Sagan Center of the SETI Institute, funded by NASA. She develops science exploration strategies for Mars and Titan, and designs robotic field experiments, close to the Sanmartinian Routes. With her team, she documents in the Andes life’s adaptation to extreme environment, the effect of rapid climate change on lake ecosystems and habitats, its geobiological signatures, and relevance to planetary exploration.

Criterion (x): The World Wide Foundation for Nature (WWW) says that plants of the high Andes, in the region of the Sanmartinian Routes, have developed a considerable adaptation for survival in this particularly harsh environment. During the summer, the season of the Crossing, those plants can withstand variations of extreme cold, heat, wind, and desiccation within a single day. At the higher elevations (3,000-5,000 meters), many of them are pressed to the ground to form flat cushions or dense mats, which can withstand the wind and cold air-temperature.

Cushions can be herbaceous, semi-woody or woody.

Other plants form rosettes that can and frequently they have deep rhizomes and fleshy leaves. These plants are sometimes incredibly mimetic of stones, probably as an anti-herbivore defense.

Some shrubs and hard tussock grasses present anti-herbivore defenses such as spines and abundant schlerenchyma in their leaves. 

With regards to animals, the most remarkable is the Andean condor, one of the largest birds in the world that can travel up to 300 kilometers at 5,000 meters.  The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) classified condors as an endangered species.

The Andean cat is native to South America. It inhabits only in the Andes, at 3,000-5,000 meters. The main menaces to which they are exposed derive from the fragmentation of their habitat imposed by human activities. Besides, the Andean cats are hunted or sacrificed by the aboriginal communities in the festivals of the harvest. 

The huemul belongs to the Cervidae family; it is the southernmost of its species. It is endangered due to poorly regulated mining operations, indiscriminate hunting, diseases transmitted by livestock and forest fires.

Darwin was impressed by the “long-tailed parrots that flied over his head, “flaunting their cheerful green and yellow plumage in the sun”. What Darwin saw was a sub-species of Cyanoliseus patagonus, which is in danger of extinction in Chile and Argentina.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

Among the English-language books of non-Argentine or Chilean authors, we can mention the following ones: Hans Berling, Study on the crossing of the Andes mountain range made by General San Martin, Santiago de Chile 1917. John de, Murinelly Cirne, San Martin, Liberator of Argentina, Chile and Peru, Washington, 1947 //  Margaret Harrison, Captain of the Andes; the life of Don José de San Martin liberator of Argentina, Chile and Peru, Michigan,1943. // Mabel Lorenz Ives, He conquered the Andes; the story of San Martin, the liberator. Boston, 1943. //  J.C.J. Metford, San Martín the liberator, Oxford, 1971. // John Lynch, San Martín, Argentine soldier, American Hero, London and Yale, 2009. // Encyclopedia Britannica, “Crossing of the Andes”, “Army of the Andes“, “José de San Martin”, “Bernardo O’Higgins” ,

There is also a list of videos in Spanish that show, in situ, how the Sanmartinian routes are. Some of them are: “Cruce de los Andes”, Senado de la Nación, 2017 // “El cruce de los Andes en 160”, 2017; “San Martín y el cruce de los Andes”, 2011 // “Cruce de los Andes”. Gobierno de San Juan, 2018; “José de San Martín. El cruce de los Andes”, documental, 2010 // “José de San Martín – El cruce de los Andes”, documental, 2010. // “Cruce de los Andes; un paso hacia la libertad”, 2017   “El cruce de los Andes en 360 grados”, canal didáctico Educar, 2017 // “Cruce de la Cordillera”, diario Los Andes, 2017; “José de San Martín. El Cruce de los Andes, diario Clarín, 2010; “Liberando América. A 200 años del Cruce de los Andes”, 2017 // El cruce de los Andes”, 2017; “ El Cruce de la Cordillera”, video educativo, 2009 // “San Martín: el Cruce de los Andes”, 2009; “Cruce. de los Andes. En el límite”, 2018; “El Cruce de los Andes”, documental histórico”. 2010; “El Cruce de los Andes”, historiador Felipe Pigna, 2017;

Among the scientific Works about the Argentine-Chilean central Andes we can cite: Sergio Sepulveda et al, Geodynamics Processes in the Andes of central Chile and Argentina ; Growth of the Southern Andes; Simon Lambe, Devil in the Mountain: A Search for the Origin of the Andes, Princeton, New Jersey; Charles W. Maynard, the Andes.

Cultural routes. The Sanmartinian Routes meet the requirements set by the Operational Guidelines for a property to be considered as a Cultural Route:

They are testimony of a "plural approach to history", linked to freedom and human rights.       

  • They promote “exchanges and a multi-dimensional dialogue across” Argentina and Chile, with “continuity in space and time” since the time of the feat, in 1817.
  • They constitute a property “as a whole”, “above the sum of the” six foothill mountain range passes they include.
  • They are intensively “used nowadays”, by means of highways and tunnels.

They also meet the requirements set by the “Report on the Expert Meeting on Routes as Part of Our Cultural Heritage (1994)” 

  • They were scene of a specific“event in history”.
  • That event not only made “an impression at the time” but also “left its mark” in a part of the world.
  • It was exactly the opposite of an expedition aiming at “aggression and imperialism” (slaves, crusades, etc.).” Therefore, it presents a radical difference with “routes like Hannibal's trek from North Africa to Rome, crossing the Alps on the way, or the route followed by Napoleon from the island of Elba to Paris” that quite obviously “cannot fall under this category”. 
  • The dynamics” of the Sanmartinian Routes (historical, intellectual, commercial) have “favored” the “transfer of goods, knowledge, know-how”.
  • In that way they have “contributed to the development” of two peoples through the “trade in foodstuffs, minerals, manufactured goods, etc.”
  • But they “are not limited to the elements making up their material nature”but have added to this aspect “specific interactions” between peoples “beyond political barriers.
  • These routes, in fact, “strengthened cohesion and exchanges between different people”.
  • Such dynamics has a “symbolic significance”, inasmuch it is associated to the ideas of liberty and solidarity.
  • The historical event and the “diachronic practice over sufficient time” have left “an imprint” and given the passes through the Andes an “identity”.
  • The Crossing of the Andes have had “repercussion” for “civilization” in that part of the world,  and some of the “exchanges produced” still “take place”.
  • It had “important cultural consequences” as the “introduction” of the “ideas” of liberty and human rights in an environment dominated by absolutism, and have “generated significant and varied research work” and “deserves to be researched in greater depth”.
  • Furthermore, it “prompts study expeditions, open up the way for cultural tourism” and foster “public awareness programmers”.

Intangible elements. The Sanmartinian Routes have elements of intangible nature.

When it comes to food, the charqui excels. It was the main food of the Army of the Andes. The charqui can be prepared in different ways, but the basic recipe requires sundried meat cut into slices, minced and sometimes previously smoked, which is stored between layers of salt, pepper and dried peppers. It is a traditional dish, still consumed in some places in the Cuyo region. It can be eaten cold, as was common in the Andes. 

Where they could make fire, the soldiers of the Army of the Andes prepared charquicán, which is charqui heated in water to which toasted corn flour --that the soldiers carried in their bags-- was added. It is still popular in some regions of Chile, and to a lesser degree in Argentina. Current preparations use other ingredients, but retain the traditional ones.

During the period leading up to the crossing, the Army of the Andes had access to Pehuenche food, characterized by the use of pehuén, from which the name of the ethnic group derives. Pehuén is the nut of the araucaria tree, sacred for the Pehuenches, which grows in the Andes at about 1,000 m. of altitude. The fossilized forest that Darwin (and before him the Army of the Andes) found in the pass of Uspallata was a forest of araucaria. Descendants of the aboriginal people that cooperated with San Martín, some Pehuenche communities live today in the VIII and IX Regions of Chile, as well as in the provinces of Mendoza, Río Negro and Neuquén, in Argentina. The meals and beverages based on pehuenes have been transmitted from generation to generation, but the transculturation of native peoples has been decreasing their consumption and, without protection, could disappear.

Conservation and protection. The National Commission for Historical Monuments, Sites and Property is by law the entity in charge of the safeguard and preservation of the Argentine cultural heritage. It can establish buffer zones in the surroundings of monuments. Furthermore, the Commission keeps a public register of the protected property.

National cultural itinerary.  A major part of the very same property we are now nominating has been declared as cultural itinerary in Argentina. It is the “Journey made by the main column of the Army of the Andes, that sets out in Mendoza towards San Juan, and from there crosses the Andes towards Chile.” 

Blue shields. The Andes Passes (and the elements linked to the Crossing of the Andes by these passes) are cultural property of universal importance, according to the "Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict". The emblem of this Convention is placed on the following four elements:

  • Uspallata Vaults. Warehouses and offices of the Army of the Andes. [Provincial Historic Monument]. They were chosen by San Martín as a logistics center. There were offices and warehouses. It was a factory built by Jesuits for the treatment of silver and zinc extracted from the mines of the region. It has aqueducts, mills, furnaces and other elements for the mining of minerals. It was built with adobe, and in order to preserve it, by mid-20th century, adobe was replaced by cement.
  • El Plumerillo Field, Mendoza. [National Historic Monument] It was the place for preparations and setting off the Andes Army.  It had roughly five hectares of extension, on an irregular terrain. Barracks, sheds and lodgings were built there. Everything is rebuilt now, with materials from that time: adobe walls, thatched roofs and cane. There are replicas of the barracks where the soldiers lived. The Municipality of Las Heras has asked the National Commission of Monuments, Places and Historical Heritage, technical advice for the valuing of the field.
  • The Historical Chapel, Mendoza [National Historic Monument].San Martin and Las Heras departed from that point in 1817, after attending a mass. It is located in the Plumerillo Camp. In 1824, Canon Mastai Ferretti, who later became Pope Pius IX, offered a religious service in that chapel in tribute to the Army of the Andes. Destroyed by an earthquake, it was rebuilt in 1870. There remains the organ of the time, a carved Christ and the seat of San Martin.
  • Los Patos pass, San Juan [National Historic Monument].It was the main pass, through which San Martin crossed, accompanied by O'Higgins. It requires climbing to more than 4,500 meters. The space is delimited by the coordinates 32°09´ - 70°19´. The Blue Shield is placed in the mountain itself.

Provincial heritage.  The province of San Juan has declared Provincial Historic Monument the “Cell of San Martín”. It is located at the Santo Domingo convent of the city. San Martin stayed there in 1815, during a visit to San Juan. From there he went to explore the Andean passes, and deduced that the best one to cross to Chile would be Los Patos. The cell is still standing, with the furniture it had when San Martin slept in it, despite the fact that much of the convent was destroyed in 1944 by an earthquake.

The province of Mendoza made likewise with the Ruins of San Francisco, the temple where the flag with which the Army of the Andes crossed the mountain range was blessed. Those are the only visible remnants of the old Mendoza city, destroyed by an earthquake in 1861. There remain preserved pillars, vault pillars and the wall that separated a school from the church. The original flag is kept in an underground building, called the Memorial of the Flag of the Andes, in the city of Mendoza.

Comparison with other similar properties

As we have seen, several historians have compared the Crossing of the Andes with the Crossing of the Alps by Hannibal, in 218 BC. There are indeed some clear similarities:

  • Both the Alps and the Andes are among the world's largest mountain ranges.
  • Both mountain ranges present great difficulties for ascending and descending.
  • Both have great heights and deep precipices.
  • Both are subject to hurricane winds and snowstorms.
  • For all these reasons the Alps and the Andes were supposed to be impassable to large armies.
  • In both cases it was proven that the best way to advance through those rugged mountains was by the help of mules.
  • In both cases there were numerous casualties.
  • In both cases the army that descended from the mountains prevailed.
  • The crossing of those frightening routes produced historical feats of historical transcendence.

There are however insurmountable differences, not in the routes themselves but in the historical facts linked to them. As the experts said at the Madrid meeting in 1994 (the basis to the current "Operational Guides"), a cultural route must have been the theatre of "social phenomena", rather than just exceptional historical incidents. Alpine routes do not fit this category. They were military adventures, destined to conquer territories. The crossing of the Andes, as we have seen, had as a goal the freedom of Chile from an absolutist regime, and the establishment of a democratic, egalitarian one, respectful of Human Rights.

Another route that obviously shares some of the characteristics of the Sanmartinian ones, is Chapaq Ñan. Both routes have, of course, physical similarities, except in some areas beyond the intersections, and were traveled at such a high altitude by the Incas, anticipating the boldness of the men of the Army of the Andes. However, also in this case, the difference in objectives is important. The Incas marched through the Andes with a conquest goal, while the Army of the Andes crossed those same mountain ranges with a liberating purpose.

Participation of the community. (Participation of a wide variety of local and regional governments, local communities, NGOs and other interested parties and partners.” Operational Guidelines) 

The following entities have taken part in the elaboration of this nomination: Argentina’s National Senate and Chamber of Deputies, Government of the Province of Mendoza, Government of the Province of San Juan, Government of the Province of La Rioja, Government of the Province of Rio Negro, Provincial Senate of Mendoza, National Academy of History, Argentine Academy of History, National Sanmartinian Institute.

International support: Ibero-American Institute of the University of Salamanca, Spain;  Municipal Council of the City of Boulogne-sur-Mer, France, where San Martín died; Denise Anne Clavilier, French historian, author of the book “San Martin par lui-même et par ses contemporains”.

San Martin's routes deserve to be considered as a World Heritage Site because they were a unique scene of a transcendental social phenomenon with international repercussion.