Paleontological Sites of Pisco and Camana Basins
Ministry of Culture
Nazca and Caraveli Provinces, Ica and Arequipa Regions
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At the beginning of the Cenozoic (Paleocene – Holocene), in the South Coast of Peru, there were faults that caused the formation of the marine sedimentary basins known as Pisco and Camana Basins, where the first one of them started to recoat itself after the Middle Eocene. The Cenozoic marine deposits of the aforementioned basins have a relevant Cenozoic faunal diversity that date from the Eocene until the Upper Pliocene. These tertiary and quaternary sediments (Pleistocene) from the Ica to Arequipa regions constitute lithological formations differentiated for their high fossil content. (Aguado: 2017).
The Ocucaje area, located in the Pisco Basin, on the coast of the Ica department, constitutes an area of great scientific interest known around the world since it provides paleontological information about the life in the Peruvian coast during the last 40 million years, probably being the most complex in South America, where it is possible to see the ecosystems, invertebrates and vertebrates evolving processes related to the aquatic and terrestrial, paleo-climates, paleo-physiography, paleo-biogeography, etc., frequently finding remains in the anatomic connection of whales, dolphins, seals, sloths, crocodiles, birds, fish, etc. Many specimens by species have been found in these areas, in contrast to what was found in other areas around the world, where a single individual by specie is rarely found, constituting one of the richest tertiary marine fossil areas known in the world.
The current deserted territory of Sacaco, located in the Camana Basin of the Arequipa department coast, was a subtropical coastal paradise formed millions of years ago by a combination of islands, islets, points, coves and bays that formed a barrier against the south cold air, preventing it to get to the coasts, creating a warm and protected habitat for a lush marine and terrestrial fauna that extraordinarily adapted itself to the environment, evolving in a particular way in the middle of the Middle Miocene and Lower Pliocene made up by archaeoceti cetaceans, whales and dolphins, pinnipeds, seals and sea lions, aquatic sloths, sea birds, crocodiles, turtles and sharks, as well as the small Peruvian Megatherium, Megatherium Urbinai, and horses from North America that came during the emersion of the Isthmus of Panama.
Based on the paleontological sites Check List made by the IUCN, the following aspects of the property can be verified:
Amplitude of the geological window:
The bibliographical references give these basins’ geological formations a range that goes from the Middle Eocene to the Upper Pliocene, in other words, a 40 million years extension. (Information for the Pisco Basin, the range of the Camana Basin is from the Upper Oligocene to the Middle Miocene). The Camana Basin formations complement the time continuity, especially for the Middle Miocene and the Upper Oligocene.
Types of fossil species:
The fossils found in the paleontological sites of Pisco and Camana Basins are vertebrates and invertebrates, as well as microfossils. With the exception of amphibians (fish, reptiles, birds and mammals) and many groups of invertebrates (mollusks, crustacean, annelids and echinoderm), representatives of all the types of vertebrates can be found in any of these divisions. Just as the diversity of taxonomic groups present in these paleontological sites is abundant, so are the types of present ecosystems, where we can find pelagic, coastal and intertidal systems with a representation of marine lagoons, mangroves, island ecosystems, cliffs, sandy and stony beaches.
The different evolving stages of aquatic sloths, seals and sharks are just a small example of the processes that caused the biodiversity known to this day, and that are preserved in detail in the stratums of the paleontological sites. Other fossils of these sites also show us the different solutions that nature found to provide the particular characteristics that these marine beings have. After many years of paleontological explorations around the world, the paleontological sites of Pisco and Camana Basins were the first ones to make known the results of the coastal evolution public to the world and in many occasions, the only ones that have the group of singular species.
Condition of fossils preservation:
The fossils in paleontological sites can be found with many components associated with each other, in other words, the skeletal tissue of the same animal grouped together. However, the conditions of paleontological material preservation found in these sites can sometimes exceed the usually accepted characteristics for the paleontological sites. Calcification of cartilaginous skeleton from Elasmobranchii, impressions of the whales’ beards and even the melanosomes responsible for the color in penguins’ feathers, have been found.
Paleontological potential of the sites:
The geological stratums of the paleontological sites are found in eroded pampas as well as in hills and cliffs. The fossils which give the paleontological importance to these sites, have been found in superficial outcrops, meaning that most of the fossil stratums are still found under land surface, keeping still an incredibly high potential.
The tectonic forces, Pleistocene melting as well as water and air forces, have created a combination of really contrasting erosive structures in which cliffs of clear colors as well as dark sand from the degradation of older geological formations stand out. Additionally, the geography typical of the place that causes prevailing winds with almost perpendicular directions during the seasonal changes have caused hills and canyons.
Importance of the sites in the understanding of the current ecosystems:
The fossil ecosystems and the speciation events that have been registered in the paleontological sites allow to see and understand the causes of many species extinctions that were once developed in the Pacific Ocean coasts, not only by biological but also by geographical and geological causes. The detailed paleontological record present in these sites allow to explain and understand the distribution of current marine species.
Fossils found in the suggested paleontological sites gave rise to scientific publications which reveal that the southern coasts of Peru were an important speciation center due, without a doubt, to the diversity of present ecosystems. It is possible to find evidences of the cladogenesis (evolution process that causes the increase in the number of species) and the anagenesis (evolution process that causes the change in shape within the same evolving lineage) of the evolution, contributing this way to the understanding of biodiversity and the distribution of the worldwide marine fauna.
The fossils of the paleontological sites are so important that the understanding of themselves go beyond borders, especially taking in consideration that it is about marine fossils and, in consequence, many of them had migratory behaviors. For this reason, many Peruvian and rest of the world researchers are really interested in investigating about Peruvian fossils.
Nomination in series:
The continuity in time and space can only be observed when the outcrops in the different places are compared, since every place in particular is a sample of one or more ecosystems from epochs that are overlapped enough to allow an adequate correlation. These places spread and surface in a differentiated way, allowing in this way that every place contributes to span 40 million years of evolving history.
Justification of Outstanding Universal Value
The paleontological sites of Pisco and Camana Basins constitute the best global example of the speciation of marine fauna in the Neogene and part of the Paleogene. Their stratums, which go from the Middle Eocene to the Upper Pliocene, show an ancient fauna from the eastern coast of the Pacific Ocean, with a surprising preservation status that has even allowed the finding of calcifications of cartilaginous skeleton from elasmobranchii, impressions of the whales’ beards and even the melanosomes that are responsible for the color in penguins’ feathers. Additionally, these stratums show a great variety of ancient coastal marine ecosystems whose particular geographic characteristics benefitted the proliferation of marine and terrestrial species.
Its fossils have provided the science examples of adaptations quite different to those that now exist, helping us to understand the processes that generate the evolution of fauna as well as the emergence of new species due to evidence of cladogenesis (the process of evolution that causes an increase in the number of species) and anagenesis (the process of evolution that causes a change in shape within the same evolutionary lineage), thus contributing to the understanding of biodiversity and the distribution of marine fauna worldwide, considering that most species presented migratory behaviors.
Criterion (viii): The paleontological sites of Pisco and Camana Basins constitute a special natural property corresponding to the subcategory “testimony of life” because it represents an example of the evolutionary process of marine species, being one of the most diverse marine paleontological sites in South America, which also includes an exceptionally broad chronological range, from the middle Eocene to the upper Pliocene, unusual in paleontological sites inscribed on the World Heritage List. The particular marine fauna is composed of numerous species of vertebrates (fish, reptiles, birds and mammals) and invertebrates (molluscs, crustaceans, annelids and echinoderms), as well as microfossils, most of them endemic and migratory, besides presenting unique terrestrial fauna adapted to coastal conditions.
The exceptional evolutionary processes of the species were highly benefitted by the unique geographical characteristics of the place in the past, composed by lagoons, mangroves, islands ecosystems, cliffs, sandy and stony beaches that facilitated life proliferation, as well as the concurrent geographical and climatic conditions of subsequent periods that allowed their preservation up to the present day.
Taking into consideration the sequential condition of the property, the sites as a whole present a wide sequence of intact fossil strata, illustrating the evolution of numerous marine and coastal terrestrial species of the Pacific Ocean in South America, coming from different chronostratigraphies, contributing significantly to scientific knowledge.
Statements of authenticity and/or integrity
The paleontological sites of Pisco and Camana Basins preserve intact the main features that characterize it as a sequential condition fossil deposit of exceptional scientific value, as it is located in desert areas without human occupation and with limited access to the southern coast of Peru, which has allowed its preservation up to the present day, so they have the required conditions of integrity. However, it is pending the legal protection of the sites through the provision of specific regulation by the Peruvian government, as well as the delimitation of the plots that make up this natural property.
Comparison with other similar properties
Many natural properties registered on the World Heritage List are eminently representative examples of the evolutionary processes on Earth, mainly those related to changes in its geography. However, the testimonies of life, which include the paleontological sites themselves, represent only a part of the evolutionary processes of animal species at a global level, confined to specific areas of the planet, and thus constitute fragments of information on the total marine and terrestrial fauna existing in the various lithostratigraphic and chronostratigraphic contexts, being among the most important:
Sites registered on the World Heritage Tentative List:
Among the sites proposed for the Tentative List of States Parties, only 13 of them use criteria (viii) exclusively, of which only 5 are paleontological sites themselves.
Sites on the Tentative List:
From the previous list of properties registered on the World Heritage List, it can be observed that of the sites that have applied criterion (viii) exclusively, none of them has been considered as a set of serial sites and, with the exception of the Dorset and East Devon Coast, all the sites have a reduced or punctual temporal extension. Likewise, amongst the properties inscribed on the Tentative Lists of the States Parties, it can be observed that they include very discrete ages in extension and even a site is a stratotype that covers only a moment in the geological history of the planet.
It is understood that the sites declared as World Heritage and sites currently included on the World Heritage Tentative List adequately comply with the Check List for paleontological sites as well as the nominated property. However, the paleontological sites of Pisco and Camana Basins are unique because of their temporal extension, for having a high diversity of fossil species, a large part of which is endemic and found only in these sites, and finally, because paleontological research have been produced, which has contributed significantly to the knowledge of life in the marine tertiary of the Pacific Ocean.