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Geographic location: The Las Labradas Archaeological Zone is located on the coast of the Pacific Ocean, in Northwestern Mexico, facing the Sea of Cortes, on the shore of the beach bearing the same name, in the Municipality of San Ignacio, in the Southern part of the State of Sinaloa, Mexico. It is found on the outskirts of a small fishing village called Barras de Piaxtla, facing the Pacific Ocean, between the estuary El Yugo and the salt marsh La Chicayota, 29 kilometers north of the Tropic of Cancer line.
Las Labradas rests on a Protected Natural Area known as La Meseta de Cacaxtla, an aspect that gives this zone a double value: archaeological, as a living testimony of an extinctculture, that is materialized through an assembly of rock groupings bearing engraved drawings, that are continuously washed by the ocean's waves; and its natural value, as a biological corridor teaming with biodiversity, represented through diverse ecosystems. These elements give the Las Labradas Archaeological Zone truly unique characteristics that are not found elsewhere in the world.
The access to the archaeological zone is found on the Mazatlan-Culiacan highway, at km. 51, through the town La Chicayota, approximately 6 kilometers towards the coast. Starting from this town, there is a path that leads directly to the Las Labradas Archaeological Zone. This path, from the town of La Chicayota to the Archaeological Zone, is of approximately 3 kilometers in length.
With an area of 17 hectares, 57 areas and 58,031 centiares, the Las Labradas Archaeological Zone is the site with the highest concentration of existing engraved stone drawings in the country, and the only site in the world of its kind that is located within a coastal tide zone.
Description of the archaeological zone: The Las Labradas Archaeological Zone consists of a group of basaltic rocks of volcanic origin located on a coastal beach shore bearing the same name. It is the only one of its kind in the world because it sits within the coastal tide zone, which gives it yet more importance, because these rocks constantly receive the impact of the ocean's waves, and at times are totally covered by the tide.
These rocks, of diverse dimensions, are characterized as having a smooth, polished and rounded surface, due to the erosion caused by their constant contact with the sea. Their color is dark and opaque, sometimes appearing - due to the sun's reflection- to have several tones of gray during the day. Large amounts of rounded pebble stones are found on the sand's surface that surrounds this group of rocks, as trace remains of an old river or stream that flowed through this exact place.
The rock group that forms Las Labradas has an extension of 343 meters in length by 40 meters wide. It is important to emphasize that it is difficult to calculate the exact number of existing engravings, because many of them are now almost imperceptible, or are found hidden under other rocks or buried in the sand; still others are covered at times by the ocean. The degree to which they can be observed depends on the weather conditions, in that they may favor good lighting, and also on the tides (many more engravings can be seen when the tide is low). Over 600 rock art engravings have been recorded to date, of different sizes and characteristics.
The spatial location of the rock engravings seems to follow a well-structured order, because coordinating sets have been identified; nevertheless, there does not seem to be a logical appearance of their distribution, that is to say, their placement, as it is somewhat arbitrary, since some engravings are found on the rocks' surfaces, others on their sides and some are even found on the rocks' corners.
Description of the Engravings: Las Labradas holds an endless number of designs that, undoubtedly, make up an ideographic system, which, to this day, has been indecipherable. The designs or motifs that have been registered to date are varied and diverse, with stylized human representations, animal motifs, concentric circles, spirals, crosses and abstract figures.
Judging by their stylistic characteristics, they are recognized as pre-Hispanic, and their antiquity - based on recent research by the National Institute of Anthropology and History, through its INAH-Sinaloa Center - can be placed between the end of the Archaic Period (1000 B.C.) and the Middle Formative period (300 A.C.)
Its precise cultural connection is not known, nevertheless, given the stylistic characteristics and production technique of the engravings, it is possible to determine that they were made by expert stone carvers.
Finally, it is important to note that in the American Continent, the most complex rock art and those which show signs of higher technical skills in the production of the engravings are found precisely in locations below the Tropic of Cancer, an area which later came to be known as Mesoamerica. These characteristics are apparent in Las Labradas, where the stylistic features and production techniques of the petroglyphs contain similarities with those found in the rest of the country, and that continue to be found all the way up to Northern Costa Rica.
Las Labradas is an archaeological site of great petroglyph density, in an environment with the main characteristic of being a beach facing the open sea. These conditions give it unique and singular characteristics, considering the fact that no other site has been reported to date with this particularity. In Latin America, petroglyph sites tend to be found in rocky outcrops that demarcate and dominate expansive areas, with an abundance of raw materials, or they may also be found on isolated rocks, very close to a mountain range, that is to say, rural places, of difficult access and far from nutritional resources. Sometimes they are found along river edges, if they are in any way associated with water, and usually close to bodies of fresh water.
In this sense, the Las Labradas Archaeological Zone has a set of cultural values that are difficult to find elsewhere in the world: a group of rocks of volcanic origin located within an ocean tide zone. Besides this aspect, which in itself, makes this site exceptional, there is the added aspect of its natural surroundings; a static scene of carved rock art, that is continuously bathed by the sea waves and tides; the sand surrounding these rocks; the weeds and shrubs that protect the site from its interior. All of these aspects make Las Labradas a rock art site that is truly one of a kind.
Criteria (iii): Undoubtedly, Las Labradas is a unique testimony of a cultural tradition that has disappeared. As we well said, it is the only archaeological site recorded to date in the world with petroglyphs on a beach shore. Likewise, it constitutes a unique testimony of the exploitation of available natural resources found along the coast, and with an added symbolic value, since the element that motivated people to make these rock engravings no longer exists. These characteristics allow this group of rocks that makes up the Las Labradas Archaeological Zone - of pre-Hispanic origin - to be a cultural landscape with exceptional characteristics of this particular kind of human thought expression.
Criteria (iv): Las Labradas is an outstanding example of a cultural landscape, because it is the result of the development of human activities in their environment. Their use of the rocks is supported by the environment characteristics of the location, and in the exploitation of those natural elements by human groups that carved the petroglyph designs with a specific purpose in mind. Las Labradas, in this regard, is an exceptional cultural landscape, deliberately created and designed by human kind, of which we may immediately recognize and perceive the harmony that existed between nature and the stone engravings, framed by the beach and the surf.
Criteria (v): Las Labradas is an outstanding example of territorial occupancy because, all along 350 meters of beach shore, there lies a collection of physical cultural expressions that offers testimony of human use of its natural surroundings, and also of the added symbolic value given to this site by those who executed these engravings.
Currently, the site and the expressions that are the object of this description are vulnerable and constantly attacked by human as well as other factors. In the case of natural factors, we can determine the constant vulnerability of the site by view of the daily advance of the tide on the petroglyphs, or during storms that periodically batter the coast. Added to this, there are other factors such as high temperatures, humidity, the emergence of fungi and micro-organisms on its surface.
In the long term, we could consider a latent risk in the increase of the water level, a consequence of global warming processes, which, if it were to come about, would cause the coast to lose contact with the site that now holds the petroglyphs, because these would end up completely buried under the sea. Regarding the human factors, which are undoubtedly the most damaging, we can mention those caused by acts of vandalism, where evidence exists of mutilation, chiseling and graffiti on some stones. Furthermore, the existence of looting attempts and robberies of objects is presumed.
Despite the irreversible impact caused by these factors mentioned, Las Labradas has survived, and in doing so, has established itself as an unequalled testimony that documents human occupation and exploitation of this territory.
The Las Labradas Archaeological Zone, as a cultural landscape, is a clear example of the interaction between human activity and the territory, of which clear traces have remained, in an impressive amount of petroglyphs of pre-Hispanic origin along 350 meters of the beach shore, as testimony of a culture that is now extinct, but that has left its clear mark on this singular site. In this regard, Las Labradas is an authentic archaeological property with unique characteristics.
Studies carried out since the discovery of this archaeological zone were descriptive in nature at first, and it was not until the year 2003 that the National Institute of Anthropology and History began conducting studies in a systematic and timely manner, with research and preservation of this monumental site. The last of these was carried out in 2005, with a photographic record and the rendering of a partial map of the zone. These studies have made it possible to have a more objective data base, to help demonstrate and guarantee the site's authenticity and integrity. Furthermore, these research studies are currently carried out on a continuous basis.
The site's authenticity and integrity are preserved, since all traces of interventions, be they old or recent, on the stones' surfaces and their environment, are minimal. Despite some evidence of mutilations and chisel marks, or a small amount of graffiti on a few stones, this monumental archaeological group of stones still preserves all of the elements (form, design, materials) left by its creators.
In summary, Las Labradas continues to be the reflection of the interaction between settlers that created each one of these engraved designs and their natural environment, which, when integrated, constitute a landscape of unequalled cultural value, along with its natural environment.
Rock art is considered one of the most symbolic antique human manifestations that have been preserved to date, thus it is found all around the world. Unlike other forms of art, it is distinguished by the fact that it is preserved in the very location it was originally created, and because often, their surrounding natural environment determines the reach and degree of skill of the technique used. This type of graphical expression is characterized by its placement on a rocky surface, and can be found in three main art forms: painting, engraving and sculpture.In Mexico, sites with rock art are found in every State, from the Baja California Peninsula, where the greatest concentration of this kind of sites is recorded, all the way to Yucatan.
Within the category of "rock art", the only Mexican site declared as a World Heritage Site is the Cave paintings of the Mountain range of San Francisco (registered in 2003). Nevertheless, no comparison can be made with the Las Labradas Archaeological Zone, because they are totally different as far as the rock art elaboration technique.
List of sites with rock art in Mexico:
Boca de Potrerillos (Nuevo Leon)
San Rafael de Los Milagros (Coahuila)
Cerro de la Mascara y el Chivo (Sinaloa)
La Proveedora / La Caldera (Sonora)
Isla La Ventana (North of Sinaloa)
Palma Sola, Acapulco (Guerrero)
Comparison with other rock art sites in Mexico.
The above-mentioned sites have a different context than the Las Labradas site. Boca de Potrerillos, San Rafael de Los Milagros, Cerro de la Mascara, El Chivo and La Proveedora, are all found close to the mountains, in rocky outcrop areas, isolated or close to rivers and streams. These outcrops are of sedimentary origin, and are made up of rocks of various sizes that form concentrated and dispersed groups. In Las Labradas, the main context is its tidal shore location and the volcanic origin of the rocks that feature the petroglyphs.
The sites of Isla La Ventana in the Sea of Cortes (belonging to the site Islands and Protected Areas of the Gulf of California, registered as a World Heritage Site in 2005), located north of Sinaloa, and Palma Sola in Guerrero, are perhaps the sites that are most similar to Las Labradas, because of their location close to the sea shore. The La Ventana site consists in a group of rocks located on the shore of a small island, and Palma Sola is a rock wall containing 18 engraved rocks facing the coast of Acapulco. However, the petroglyphs in these sites are not in contact with water, nor do they exist in the same density or with the variety of motifs and designs that are manifested at Las Labradas.
List of sites with rock art in Central America:
Igualtepeque or La Isla de las Figuras Archaeological Site (Lago Guija, El Salvador)
Petroglyphs in Zapatera, Isla del Muerto and Isla de Ometepe (Nicaragua)
Comparison with other rock art sites in Central America.
The petroglyphs of Igualepeque in El Lago de Guija (El Salvador) and those found at the islands of Zapatera, del Muerto and Ometepe in Lago de Cocibolca (Nicaragua), have a certain similarity with Las Labradas. In both cases, they are associated with bodies of water; however, they are bodies of fresh water, not salt water, as in the case of Las Labradas.
The rocks are of volcanic origin, and present a variety of motifs (anthropomorphic, geometric, abstract, etc.), which seem to obey a specific distribution, since they are located on a single side of the rock, be it in a repeated manner or isolated, which differs from Las Labradas, where the entire stone is used, and engravings appear on the surface, sides and corners of the stone.
The density of petroglyph motifs that is found in Las Labradas can only be compared to those at La Isla del Muerto. Nevertheless, in this latter site, the engravings are located on one sole platform, without any contact with water whatsoever.
List of sites with rock art in South America:
Petroglyphs of Caicara del Orinoco (Venezuela)
Comparison with other rock art sites in South America.
These petroglyphs are located in small rocky shelters, dispersed along the edge of the Orinoco River. Unlike the previously-described sites, these petroglyphs are exposed to water by contact, and thus are mostly visible during the dry season, when the river's water level is low.
Las Labradas, unlike the petroglyphs of Caicara del Orinoco, are not dispersed, but are an assembly of rock groups along a stretch of beach shore, and are in constant contact with the ocean waves and sand.
List of sites with rock art that are World Heritage Sites:
Rock art of Val Camonica (Italy)
Petroglyphs of the Parque Nacional de Raps Nui (Chile)
Comparison with rock art sites that are declared as World Heritage Sites.
Neither the petroglyphs of Val CamOnica nor those of Raps Nui are located on a beach shore and in direct contact with the ocean's waves, as is the case with Las Labradas. The Val Camonica site is located in a prairie zone, and the petroglyphs of the Parque Nacional Raps Nui are located on the hillsides of three volcanic systems that make up the Isla de Pascua
In comparison to all the above-mentioned sites, Las Labradas manifests its global importance because:
The cultural landscape that makes up the Las Labradas Archaeological Zone has not undergone any modifications after the creation of the engravings.
The high level of preservation of the remains that exist, in spite of the fact that they are vulnerable to natural and human factors.
The context in which the site rests, on the beach shore and close to bodies of fresh and salt water, such as the ocean and a stream located close to the village of La Chicayota, which offered its creators a variety of nutritional resources.
The density of motifs and designs: over 600 graphic expressions recorded to date.
Therefore, and parting from the above comparative analysis of sites with petroglyphs, both domestic as well as international sites, Las Labradas is a site with a set of unrepeatable cultural values at a worldwide level, which makes it of outstanding value.