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Rock Art of Jsukaevnda and Cerro Corá

Date of Submission: 06/04/2022
Criteria: (iii)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of Paraguay to UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Ref.: 6609

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The three rock shelters of Jasukavenda (Cerro Guasu): Itaguy Guasu, Itaguy Miri, Itaguy'i:
S 23° 05' 77.4''; W 55° 59' 0.20''
Akua 1: S 22° 40' 16.8''; W 56° 09' 29.5''
Akua 2: S 22° 40' 20.4''; W 56° 09' 57.1''

The existing rock shelters inside Cerro Corá National Park:
Alambique/Amba: S 22° 40' 09,3''; W 56° 00' 39,7''
Tujao 1 and 2: S 22° 40' 58''; W 56° 00' 21.6''

The rock art in Paraguay are primarily petroglyphs, or rock carvings, in the so-called "footprints style", which consists of both zoomorphic and anthropomorphic representations. Almost all carvings in Paraguay were made with lithic technology and represent geometric, human and celestial figures. This style of engraving generally leaves deep and wide images (one centimeter or more) due to the repetition of hard rock flakes like silicified sandstone on softer sedimentary sandstone. These petroglyphs have been identified by archaeologists in rock shelters located in the mountain ranges of Yvytyrusu (Guairá Department) and Amambay (Department of Amambay). There are reports of rock art in other parts of the country, but these sites have not been officially inventoried yet.

The footprints style, coined by the Austrian archaeologist Oswalt Menghin in 1957, is widespread throughout the Rio de La Plata Basin; there are similar features in areas of Argentina and Brazil. The most common patterns are animal tracks such as jaguar, deer, rhea, representations of snakes, geometric shapes and parallel lines. To a lesser extent, the engravings include human footprints and anthropomorphic figures. The rock art is associated with hunter-gatherer groups of the Archaic period (3500 B.C. – 1800 B.C.); however, other archaeological ceramic material of the later Guaraní and Je groups has been found in the sites, demonstrating the importance of the sites for multiple cultures in later times as well.

The identification and cataloguing of rock art in Paraguay formally began in 1973 when a delegation from the geo-mineralogy department of the Ministry of Public Works and Communications carried out a survey of the sites in the Amambay Mountain range. During these early years, publications ascribed the art to the Vikings, an unscientific theory that was subsequently overturned by archaeologists and historians over the following years.

The first archaeological surveys in Cerro Corá National Park (Amambay) were led by archaeologists José Antonio Perasso and Rosa Villamayor in the 1980s and 1990s, focusing specifically on the rock outcroppings with engravings. That research was never published and remains unedited. However, in 1984 Perasso and another archaeologist Luciana Pallestrini made records of a different site with rock art in Paraguay, Cerro Tororo, in the department of Guairá. They named it the Fernandez Site but today it is popularly known as Ita Letra, or “stone with letters” in the Guaraní language.

So far in Paraguay, archaeologists have catalogued 13 sites with the footprints style, 11 being in caves and two on open-air rock faces. Between 2008 and 2011, a team from the Museum of Altamira, Spain, led by archaeologist José Antonio Lasheras, referenced and inventoried the 13 sites. They include: Ita Letra (Cerro Tororo y Cerro Polilla) in the Department of Guaira and in the Department of Amambay: Itaguy Guasu, Itaguy Miri, Itaguy'i, Akua 1, Akua 2, Cerro Lorito, Alambique/Amba, Cerro Kysé, Tujao 1, Tujao 2, Ysau 1, Ysau 2.

Out of all the sites with rock art, Ita Letra is perhaps the best known due to its relatively accessible location and the owners’ willingness to allow public access. Yet for this very reason, it has been subjected to "enhancement" campaigns without scientific supervision and vandalism from visitors engraving their names alongside or on top of the ancient petroglyphs. This site and the Cerro Polilla site are part of the Yvytyrusu Managed Resources Reserve, created on October 9, 2001 by Decree Nº 14,945. Both sites are recognized as National Cultural Heritage by Resolution SNC N° 609/2018.

The rock art of Amambay is intimately linked to the spirituality and beliefs of the Paĩ Tavyterã people of the Guaraní family, who recognize this territory as ancestral lands. According to them, the petroglyphs were made by their ancestors, making it their mission to preserve them. The hills themselves are thought to have a sacred character. The most important hill is called Jasuka Venda or Cerro Guasu and recognized by the Paĩ Tavyterã as the "center of the world". This territory is recognized by Decree No. 7685/90, by which the sacred place 'Yasuka Venda', District of Capitan Bado is recognized Cultural Heritage of the Paĩ Tavyterã Ethnic Group. In 2005, the National Secretariat of Culture, declared the sacred site by Resolution No. 21/2005 as part of the historical and cultural heritage of Paĩ Tavyterã, called Jasuka Venda.

The three caves with art in Jasuka Renda are: Itaguy Miri, Itaguy Guasu and Itaguy'i. During the research of the caves, Itaguy Guasu was the only one that yielded a series of dates related to the occupation of the shelter by using the thermoluminescence method of 5,212 ± 323 BC in a hearth located 50 cm deep. A Guarani ceramic fragment was also dated by thermoluminescence, which yielded a date of 734 ± 67 BC, thus corroborating the multiple and successive occupation of the site, first by hunter-gatherer groups and later by ceramic groups.

In 2012 and 2013, several presentations were made of the research results carried out by the Altamira Museum. This included the publication of a book, the "Libro de Piedra", a temporary exhibition in Spain, as well as several conferences in Paraguay. The materials collected during the excavations were handed over to the Paĩ Retã Joaju Association, who in 2018, gave them to the Dr. Andrés Barbero Ethnographic Museum for safekeeping and exhibition.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The rock art in Paraguay is not only prized for its archaeological value, but also its intimate links to the spirituality of the Paĩ Tavyterã people, the original inhabitants of the Guarani language family. They identify themselves as the guardians of these sacred ritual sites as part of the legacy of their ancestors. They have their own interpretation of the meaning of the petroglyphs; the hills, especially the Jasuka Venda, is the scene of the creation of the world, identifying it as the place where Ñande Ru or Ñande Ramói, their god, initiated the earth’s creation. Regarding the justification of outstanding universal value, these extremely important cultural elements are evidence that these sites are not just archaeologically exceptional, but also constitute a living heritage meaningful to indigenous peoples of Paraguay.

From the scientific view of archaeology in these sites, the abundance of petroglyphs in a relatively small geographic space with similar geological characteristics is exceptional. The petroglyphs around the hills in a limited territory and the number of cave engravings could represent the largest concentration of this style in the Rio de la Plata Basin. Its protection could create an interesting opportunity for future archaeological research in order to understand the patterns of site selection, settlement, migration, evolution of site use and many other factors. José Antonio Lasheras has made the hypothesis that this zone could constitute the center of dispersion of the footprint style in the region, however, his hypothesis must be verified or rejected by interdisciplinary archaeological investigations, including documentation of new sites in other parts of the country.

The dating obtained by the thermoluminescence method in the Itaguy Guasu shelter represents the oldest archaeological site in Paraguay and its inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage List would be the first to represent the footprint-style of rock art in the world.

Criterion (iii): The rock art sites in Paraguay are integrated into a system of expression, also evidenced in other countries of the Rio de la La Plata Basin. They represent cultural continuity and evidence of the mobility of human groups in the pre-Hispanic period and the dating of human presence in the Itaguy Guasu rock shelter is the oldest in Paraguay so far. The abundance of shelters and walls with petroglyphs present a varied and representative sample of the footprint style rock art. This allows Paraguay to be integrated into the lines of research and valorization of rock art on a regional and international level, proving the continuity of cultural manifestations in the territory of the Rio de La Plata Basin and the mobility of early human beings.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The thirteen sites inventoried so far and representing footprint style rock art in Paraguay are linked to geological formations, in this case to the Amambay and Yvyturusu mountain ranges.

In the Amambay area, the archaeological sites are linked to the beliefs and religious practices of the Paĩ Tavyterã, who recognize themselves as heirs and guardians of the messages left on the rock walls by their ancestors.


The attributes of the archaeological sites, their artistic representations and the surrounding natural environment, with preserved hills, water, stone and forest, together convey the Outstanding Universal Value. The sites in Amambay have not been altered and are not exposed to threats because they are in practically inaccessible sites and in a national park in two cases (Tujao and Alambique/Amba). They are also under the protection of native communities that inhabit there, like the other proposed sites within the department of Amambay.

The sites are surrounded by their original habitat and the animal species represented on the footprints rock art can still be seen around the sites, an outstanding connection that makes a deep impression on the observer. Finally, the sites cited in this document are those that are officially inventoried by the Paraguayan government and have scientific and academic publications. Other potential sites are known to exist, but they have not yet been evaluated or registered. In any case, the sites cited here are sufficiently representative of the style and territory.


The thermoluminescence dating in Itaguy Guasu, of 5,212 ± 323 years B.C. represents the oldest discovered human existence dating in the country of Paraguay. In an area of only two square meters, remnants of fire were found along with 6,378 stone flakes, a result of carving with stone tools (lithic technology). 55 tools were also found, including nine with a smooth and sharp faces for processing wood, vegetable fibers (planoconvex tools) and three spears that were thrown with the help of a propellant, an artifact prior to the bow, one of which was made of translucent quartz (projectile points). The rock used as raw material is the silicified sandstone of the magmatic conglomerate over the shelter. Also recovered were remains of bones of hunted and consumed animals, some small circular stone chips, a fragment of ocher, and a bone awl. These artifacts are proof the variety of activities developed during the occupation of the shelter. Objects found on the surface have been analyzed in all sites, and all represent lithic technology. Tools on planoconvex flakes and similar biphasic points for throwing weapons are found in different areas of South America, between 10,000- and 3,000-years B.C.

The above findings are proof that the prolonged or repeated occupations of the same group (or of different groups of the same cultural community) with the same stone tools and the same type of rock art, populated these rock shelters for a time during the archaic period. These artifacts can be compared with those found in similar sites in neighboring countries that have petroglyphs of the footprint style from the same time period.  The geographic dispersion of engravings in the footprint style ranges from northwestern Brazil to the Argentinian Patagonia, with heavy concentrations in the valleys of the San Francisco River, the foothills of the Rio Grande do Sul plateau, and central-southern Patagonia. Some scattered points appear in the Bolivian Chaco, and even a few in Chile. The exact dates for these engravings are scarce; most of them were assumed at archaeological levels from the moment when the engravings were made.

Perhaps one of the most important aspects of the art is on the immaterial level, relating these engravings as ancestral heritage of the Paĩ Tavyterã. For their culture, the carvings’ meanings transcend the material plane and acquire a spiritual significance since they believe they are messages sent by their ancestors. This has given the caves located in the Department of Amambay a type of physical protection different from those found in the Department of Guairá, since the native peoples themselves are the caretakers of the integrity of the engravings, in addition to being the interpreters of their possible messages.

Comparison with other similar properties

The following are all UNESCO World Heritage Sites in South America that include rock art.

1. Cueva de las Manos del Río Pinturas (Cave of Hands of the Pinturas River) Santa Cruz, Argentina: this cave has an exceptional collection of rock art which was created between 13,000 and 9,500 BP. The cave owes its name to the human handprints stamped on its walls with a technique similar to stencil printing. In addition to these, the cave has numerous representations of still-living species of the local fauna, like the guanaco (Lama guanicoe). The creators of the paintings could have been the ancestors of the Patagonian hunter-gatherer communities discovered by the European colonizers in the 19th century. A relationship could be established with the representation of fauna through the footprint style, since the represented species (jaguar, rhea and some cervids) are still distributed in the area today.

2. Serra da Capivara National Park - Piauí State of Brazil: Located in northeast Brazil, the numerous shelters excavated in the rocks of the Serra da Capivara National Park are decorated with cave paintings. Some of them date back 25,000 years and represent an exceptional testimony to one of the oldest human communities in South America. Most of the figures painted on the rocks are recognizable and it is possible to identify anthropomorphic figures and other animal species, as well as some representations of plants and objects. The existing engravings, although scarce in relation to the profuse paintings, are in bas-relief, both scraped and perforated. The rocks also have rare zoomorphic representations, like lizards. The rock art sites in Paraguay have a similar value since they represent the oldest occupations of the territory discovered so far. Future archaeological studies could even provide older dates.

3. Chiribiquete National Park - "The Jaguar's Maloca"- Colombia: Located in the northwest of the Colombian Amazon, Chiribiquete National Park is the largest protected natural territory in the country and the largest tropical rainforest national park in the world. A characteristic feature of the site is the presence of tepuis: large, elevated and isolated rock formations with vertical slopes and flat tops that dominate the jungle. On the walls of some 60 caves located at the foot of these formations there are more than 75,000 paintings dating back some 20,000 years. Presumably related to a cult of the jaguar, symbol of power and fertility, these pictorial expressions represent hunting, warrior, dancing and ceremonial scenes. The indigenous communities consider it a sacred territory that should not be altered.