The Coa Valley Archaeological Park

After the November 1995 governmental decision to cancel the construction of the Coa dam, the PAVC was formally created in August 1996. It became Portugal's first archaeological park. Portuguese legislation did not even allow for the existence of archaeological parks, and a lengthy legal process in order to acknowledge it under the law had to be initiated from the beginning. Meanwhile, the park was integrated with the Portuguese Institute for Archaeology.

The demarcation of the PAVC's territory, which occurred in parallel with the first intensive study of the region's rock art, aimed to integrate all the rock-art sites known at the time, whether of Upper Palaeolithic chronology or not. That is the reason why UNESCO included all the prehistoric rock-art sites in the World Heritage List.

The PAVC is responsible for the preservation, promotion, and enhancement of the Coa rock art and its landscape, but also of other archaeological sites located within its territory, a depressed and sparsely populated area; it is also one of the Park's objectives to aid in its sustainable, natural, and heritage-friendly

Fig. 14.6. Detail of a finely incised aurochs on Ribeira de Piscos's Rock 24, with the head in frontal perspective
Fig. 14.7. Complete drawing of the same aurochs presented in Fig. 14.6

development (see Fernandes 2003). The PAVC comprises a corpus of rock-art guides and a small team of archaeologists who survey the land and selectively excavate some of the sites found which correspond to diverse human occupa-

Fig. 14.8. Detail of one of the fine-line incised anthropomorphic motifs present on Ribeira de Piscos's Rock 24

tions from Palaeolithic times until the present. The PAVC archaeologists are also responsible for land management issues within the park's territory, for monitoring economic activities that have an influence on the landscape (vineyards or quarries, for instance), for the direct management of the rock-art sites, and for the conservation of the rock-art surfaces. In fact, one of the authors of this paper coordinates the Conservation Program of the Coa Valley Rock Art (see Fernandes 2004). For obvious reasons, in its first few years, the PAVC has directed its efforts towards the investigation of the several Upper Palaeolithic habitation and encampment sites already detected, whose number by now adds up to more than thirty. The effort has paid off because it has provided archaeological contexts for the Coa's prehistoric rock art, thus proving that human occupation in the region has existed since at least Upper Palaeolithic times. Let us remember that, at first, the chronology for the Coa rock art was proposed by purely stylistic comparative methods. Other methods (namely, archaeological investigation) have now validated those first proposals.

Of the twenty-nine different rock-art sites already identified only three are open to the public: Canada do Inferno, Ribeira de Piscos, and Penascosa. These are areas where numerous Palaeolithic engravings are concentrated. For security and conservation reasons these three sites are under direct

Fig. 14.9. Drawing of the Foz da Ribeira de Piscos same anthropomorphic rocha 24 painel 3 motif as in Fig. 14.8 C6a

Fig. 14.9. Drawing of the Foz da Ribeira de Piscos same anthropomorphic rocha 24 painel 3 motif as in Fig. 14.8 C6a surveillance twenty-four hours per day through the services of a private security company. In the near future other sites may also be opened to the public, such as Quinta da Barca (located in front of the Penascosa site on the other side of the river) or sites adjacent to the mouth of the Coa. All other sites should remain, for the time being, inaccessible to the general public, although available for visitation by rock-art experts and researchers. There are several reasons for keeping these sites closed to the public. The Wrst consists of

Martinho Baptista Coa
Fig. 14.10. Front and back of one of the explanatory cards used by the PAVC guides

conservation and security issues. The second lies in the difficulty of access to those sites. Following the preservation strategy which was one of the reasons for its creation, the PAVC has no intention of improving the picturesque tracks that led to some sites or of constructing new ones to take visitors to still pristine rock-art locations. Likewise, it does not plan to harden the dramatic precipitous slopes where most sites are located so that the public can visit these sites in total safety. The sites currently open (together with the planned construction of a museum) already provide an informative and comprehensive insight into the Coa Valley rock art (see Fernandes 2003).

The visits to the rock-art sites are always personalized. The park possesses a fleet of 4 x 4 vehicles driven by the PAVC's qualified guides who show and explain the rock art panels to visitors. Since many motifs are difficult to observe (especially by untrained eyes), the PAVC together with CNART created a card (see Fig. 14.10) on which each motif is individualized and the panel's artistic composition is explained to visitors. The PAVC guides, young persons from the region who, thanks to the park's creation, could settle in the area, went through rigorous training in rock art and today form a corps of guides that is unparalleled in Portugal.

At the same time, the construction of a Museum of Art and Archaeology of the Coa Valley is in preparation. Its construction is an ancient promise of the Portuguese government. Initially it was planned to build the museum in the very place where the dam had begun to be built. That project, whose localization was a result of the political issues behind the whole Coa affair, was later abandoned. Another site has been chosen, and a young team of Portuguese architects won an international call for proposals. The museum, whose new project has in the mean time been approved by the government, is to be built near the Coa's mouth.

The creation of the museum will give visitors an opportunity to more fully appreciate the Coa Valley rock art. In effect, the great majority of Palaeolithic motifs are very difficult to observe, due to the use of the fine-line incision technique which today makes these motifs almost invisible. On the other hand, it is impossible (even if advisable, conservation-wise) to make all sites available for visits. Therefore, only a structure such as the museum will allow for a more transversal explanation and public presentation of the Coa rock-art cycle. The museum will also take some pressure off the sites open to public visitation, which nevertheless will continue to receive visitors, allowing for an increase in visitor numbers which will help to meet local expectations for development.


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