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Itacoatiaras of Ingá River

Date of Submission: 30/01/2015
Criteria: (i)(iii)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of Brazil to UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Coordinates: S07 19 30,2 W35 35 6,8
Ref.: 6000

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Categorization: archaeological site/ rock art; prehistoric; 

The term "itacoatiara" originates from the Tupi-Guarani language and means "writing or drawing on stone", having been used in Brazil as a synonym for "rock engraving" expressions. The rock art site of the Itacoatiaras of the Inga River is located in the rural municipality of Inga, whose main city is about 105 km from the city of João Pessoa, the state capital of Paraiba, Brazil. The municipality is part of the Depressão Sertaneja, a typical geoenvironmental unit of the Brazilian semi-arid northeast characterized by the Caatinga Hiperxerófila type of vegetation with areas of Floresta Caducifólia, by the Tropical Semiárido climate and with rainfall ranging from November to April with low average annual precipitation.

The site is under protection as a cultural heritage by IPHAN since 29/05/1944 (Case 330-T-43), with registration No. 301 from the Tombo Book of Fine Arts and paragraph 234 of the Tombo History Book, the first monument of protected rock art in Brazil and the only one also recognized for its artistic content in addition to its historical importance.

The area where the site is located matches up with a rocky terrain on the Inga of Gurnard river, around 40 hectares and containing an extensive granitic outcrop that contains the highest concentration of recordings of the site. The main rocky outcrop, popularly known as "“Pedra do Ingá” (Stone of Inga) forms a wall oriented in the northeast/ southeast at about 24m long and 3.5m high, at its highest point, and features the three main rock art panels at the site.

O Painel Vertical – is the most evident and studied outcrop, extending the length of the northwest portion at 17.8m and with a height ranging from 2.5m to 1.1m. It has very diverse engravings, with few repetitions and occupying almost the entire panel, which is limited at the top by a horizontal line of capsular inscriptions.

The Horizontal Bottom Panel – formed in the stone slab horizontally just in front of the Vertical Panel - its length is 12.6m and has a width of 13.8m. It features engravings with an average dispersion and with the highest level of repetition, calling attention to the scattered capsular forms of which hazards come out of, resembling stars.

Top Horizontal Panel – portion of the rock above the capsular inscriptions line of the Vertical Panel - with a length of 13m and a width of 1.9 m, with a lower density of engravings and shallower than the others. Noteworthy is the picture of a large circle in a spiral, traversed by an inscription in the form of an arrow pointing to the west.

In the engravings of site there is a predominance of non-figurative representations prepared by the technique of pecking, followed by the polishing of the grooves with an average of 3cm width and from 0.5 to 7mm in depth, which gives to the observer an homogeneous overall impression of the technique, in the organization of graphic space and morphological theme. There are traces of pigment in some of the figures.

It is noteworthy to point out that near the set of main panels, there are marginal inscriptions that have not yet been closely studied, but that looms large in the immediate vicinity of the main set, with engravings observed of up to around 100 m along the Inga River. 

Research indicates the existence of lithic workshops in the vicinity of the site and provisional and temporary camps associated with the main site, used from about 10,000 BC to the about 1,400 AD, possibly as a sacred place and cultural expression for prehistoric populations. There is also evidence of other occupations in areas outside of the main site and that can be associated with it.

The origin of the inscriptions is still unknown, however the first references to the manifestations of rock markings in the state of Paraíba were made in the reports of the European settlement expansions to the countryside of the state even in the sixteenth century, commanded by Feliciano Coelho de Carvalho when Captain-Mor. Among these references, a highlight is the “Diálogos das Grandezas do Brasil” (Dialogues of Brazil's Grandness), attributed to Ambrósio Fernandes Brandão written between 1590 and 1618.

As stated by the researcher Gabriela Martin (2008) “The Itaquatiara of Ingá or Drawn Stone of Inga in Paraiba, is undoubtedly the most famous rock engraving in Brazil”. A result of this reputation, associated with its complexity and mystery, popular myths and various theories surrounding the stone and the origin of the pictures, hidden treasures within are spoken of, up to attributing its authorships to extra-terrestrial beings.

The site boasts a natural degradation process due to its location, since it is in the open air on the riverbed. In this regard, since its inception, the site is exposed to wind, rain, UV and IV radiation, daily temperature variations, seasonal floods and biological attacks, the consequence of which is the appearance of micro cracks, cracks, fractures and surface cracks, despite being clear the antiquity of this process, given the existence of engravings done after the fall of the stone surface of the plates. On a smaller scale, there is the human disturbance of the site, notably due to the current form of visitations to the site. Conservation efforts and the control of access to the site is performed by IPHAN, the national Institute responsible for preserving and safeguarding Brazilian cultural heritage, ensuring its permanence and maintenance.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Criterion (i): The rock records have important significance in Brazilian archaeological studies because of the archaeological and anthropological information they contain. In the Northeast of Brazil, the first manifestations in the form of panels that can be read as rock art appeared before 10,000 BC. Although there have been virtually no studies on these prehistoric populations, its technological development, its social structure or cultural complexity, the people who created the site produced an expressive art of rock engraving with high technical capacity. The site of the Inga of Itacoatiaras River brings together the most representative group known of this type of engraving in Brazil, which is remarkable for its almost exclusive use of non-figurative representations in the composition of large rock art panels and expressing the creative genius of a human group that appropriated abstract aesthetic standards as a means of expression, and possibly symbolic-religious concepts, unlike other cultures that mostly made use of anthropomorphic and zoomorphic representations. Such abstract aesthetic standards were present from the beginning of the cultural development of such populations and persist throughout the period of the site's use, including influencing other rock engravings in the region.

In Brazil, the aesthetic expressions of rock art sites have been used to group them into stylistic sets called "traditions" and "sub traditions", which are characterized by theme, technique and adopted representations. Regarding the engravings from the Northeast, André Prous (2007) argues that “[...]engraved outcrops near (or in) the northeastern river beds have been grouped provisionally, in Itacoatiara tradition. They include a few spectacular sites, especially the famous Stone of Inga [...]”.

Criterion (iii): The large number of archaeological sites scattered throughout northeastern Brazil demonstrates an intensive process of human occupation in the region during the prehistoric period with a great adaptability of various ethnic groups to the adversities of the territory. This process has as one of the significant tangible components the rock art produced, whose "traditions", when grouping rock records of characteristics of expression and resembled geographical distribution, reveal a set of time and anthropological information expressing the possible routes that these human groups assumed in their dispersion throughout the region as part of the process of human occupation in the Americas.

The site of the Itacoatiaras Inga is a significant testimony to the South American northeast occupation process, integrating the "itacoatiaras tradition," formed by engravings on rocks located in the bed of the floodplain of rivers. It is the most representative set of rock carvings of this tradition, not only for concentration, but also by the setting in large panels with exceptional aesthetic and technical quality.

The researchers in this area also recognize that the wide distribution of rock carvings affiliated to the site, especially between the City of Campina Grande, in Paraíba, and the Region of Eastern “Seridó” in the state of Rio Grande do Norte, may, in the future, through more conclusive studies, enable the recognition of an "Inga Sub tradition", whose name derives from its most expressive rock art site, the Itacoatiaras of Inga River, given its aesthetic complexity and technical sophistication within the set which constituted this sub tradition. This feature makes the site an exceptional testimony within the set of tangible elements that characterize the process of human occupation in this part of the Americas.

The site is the most representative example of how human groups associated with "itacoatiaras tradition" appropriated a specific natural environment, formed from the direct interaction between rock and water, preserved to this day, and turned to social purposes, religious, cultural and artistic, and it expressed its own aesthetic content, whose prints were observed, especially in its Vertical Panel, demonstrate the domain of rich technical expression that these groups reached.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity


The site of Itacoatiaras Rio Inga preserves much of its original components, in particular the three main panels and engravings that stand out on the rocky outcrop of the site, and have a set of marginal inscriptions that spread in their immediate surroundings.

Also preserved are the main components of the environment in which the panels were produced: the Inga River bed, with its characteristic of seasonality, and the biome characteristic of the Brazilian “agreste” area. The delimitation of the area of protection for the site, which includes the site integrally, certainly contributed for the area’s preservation.

It is noteworthy to point out that the symbolic relations of the site are used by populations descendants of the first settlers of the region remained to the present day, to the point of establishing their own term - Itacoatiara - to designate the site. Even without understanding its purpose and not understanding the content expressed by the rock carvings present there, there is an appropriation of its importance for present populations, which have the monument a relevant reference their identity components.


The site of Itacoatiaras of Inga River expresses the testimony of the South American, Brazilian and Brazilian Northeast territory occupation process by prehistoric human groups that occurred for thousands of years. Its engravings show the complexity and richness of this peoples’ culture, in particular an ethnic group that emerged between the Paraíba and Rio Grande do Norte territory within the context of the human occupation in the Brazilian Northeast.

In this sense, the panels, associated with the inscriptions scattered on the rocky outcrop and the environment present in the site area, form a significant and the most representative testimony of the cultural richness of this human group and the inhabited environment. All the engravings found in these panels, especially in the Vertical Panel, that integrate the site in question, have kept preserved the features of its composition and techniques of implementation and demonstrate the aesthetic complexity that these groups reached, constituting a representative example of this rock art expression.

The degradation derived from its outdoor location, that impacts the site since its formation, along with the anthropization of the area in more recent times, should be remedied with the implementation of management actions such as creating a State Park encompassing the site and its immediate surroundings, and providing for measures for the (i) creation of an Environmental Protection Area (APA), co-administered by local, state and federal agencies; (ii) implementation of a business plan for intervention, conservation, management and site monitoring, and (iii) educational campaigns with the provision of environmental and heritage education courses targeting local populations.

Comparison with other similar properties

The rock art site of the Itacoatiaras of Inga River is inserted in a set of representative sites from human prehistory and the human dispersion process, which contributes to the reflection on the cultural diversity of these early human groups.

Locations such as Prehistoric Sites and Decorated Caves of the Vézère valley, where the Lascaux cave is located, and the Decorated Cave Pont d'Arc, both in France; the Rock Art Site Prehistoric the Coa Valley and Siega Verde, between Portugal and Spain, and the Serra da Capivara National Park in Brazil, share with Itacoatiaras the Inga River the fact that they are a unique testimony and an exceptionally well-preserved cultural and artistic missing tradition, guarding important ethnological and anthropological records. Especially with the Serra da Capivara National Park, it is possible to witness the culture of the earliest human societies in South America as it reports the settlement process in this part of the continent.

The sites indicated above, in the same manner as Itacoatiaras Inga Rio, are a remarkable expression of human artistic creation. However, the site in question distinguishes itself from the locations in France and the Serra da Capivara National Park by using the engraving rather than the painting, as the predominant form of expression; the latter being considered the most common form of expression in prehistoric sites inscribed on the World Heritage List. Therefore, the featured site becomes exceptional and unique compared to the others as it uses almost exclusively nonfigurative representations and abstract aesthetic standards, performed with technical accuracy, while in most cases there is a predominance of anthropomorphic and zoomorphic motifs.

The site of Itacoatiaras of Inga River is a significant testimony of human occupation process in the Northeast Region of Brazil and constitutes a tangible proof of the cultural richness and diversity of one of the oldest populations to inhabit South America. The site is inserted in a geo-cultural area sparsely represented in the World Heritage List in the context of rock art, as the thematic studies of ICOMOS point out.