The Guadiana river (Portugal-Spain borderline) is endangered. A new
Coa-like international rock-art case is growing up. Within the next months
a huge 80 km long "lake" will submerge the area of the Guadiana river,
between Spain and Portugal. It is the Alqueva dam: once again a damned dam
is menacing environment and culture.
A very important rock art area (Cheles, Badajoz de la Frontera, Spain) with
hundreds of engraved rocks and thousands of figures has been yet discovered
and studied by an experienced Spanish team of archaeologists. The complex
seems to present Neolithic-Chalcolithic patterns, with some
Paleo-Mesolithic figures. The announcement was given in the 5th Prehistoric
Art course led in April 2001 by the Instituto Politecnico de Tomar
(Portugal). Many figures are very similar to the Tagus valley rocks
(Portugal): as these last are by some 30 years under the water of the
Fratel dam, the Guadiana complex represents at this moment a unique
occasion to study the Neolithic-Chalcolithic Iberian open air rock art.
All environmental conditions let us think that many other rock art areas
are present, also in the Portuguese side. In fact few days ago (25.4.2001)
a 10 km long area has been discovered but not yet officially announced in
the Portuguese side by the environmental movement "Cota 139" (139 is the
altitude level of the dam). Once again it is confirmed that in the Iberian
peninsula rivers represent an archaeological area of main importance.
The problem is that the Alqueva dam is already built. So we can well
understand that our heritage is considered by a restricted group of
technicians a property of the present and not, as it is indeed, a gift for
the future.
Archaeologists and rock art scholars can't be silent no more, and must pose
some questions. First of all: which kind of archaeological surveys has been
conducted before building the dam? Second: as the Coa river rock art was
already known, why the Portuguese Institute of Archaeology didn't undertake
a rock art related research in the area? Or better, if this survey has been
conducted, why nothing was "officially" discovered? And finally: as there
is in Portugal a National rock art Institute (CNART), created after and
thanks to the Coa saving movement, why no official announcement has been
given about a so important rock art area? Did they look for it? Once again
the history of Portuguese rock art risks to be transformed into the history
of a hidden underwater rock art, as the Tagus rock art teaches, good to
print books, but not good enough to try to change the situation, with the
unique great exception of the Coa Valley rock art saving movement. We can't
no more accept this conduct and this situation.
This TRACCE special issue is an open number, a work in progress. You are
all kindly invited to expose your point of view, your suggestions, your
"news" into the "Guadiana river" forum, and/or to send news, papers and
pictures: we hope it will contribute to obtain a significant result.

Mr. Andrea Arca' - Footsteps of Man

TRACCE 13 is online
Special issue devoted to the Guadiana Rock Art

Guadiana rock art forum






Thursday, 3 May 2001

Rock-Art Discovery in the Alqueva Dam Zone of the River Guadiana in Spain and Portugal

The International Federation of Rock Art Organizations applauds the important discovery of rock-engravings by the river Guadiana in Spain and Portugal, in a zone that will be flooded by the Alqueva dam.

A Spanish archaeologist disclosed the rock engravings in Spain early last April at a course on European prehistoric art, held at the Polytechnic of Tomar (IPT) in Portugal. His talk was on fieldwork carried out at Cheles during January and February this year.

IFRAO rock-art researchers promptly went to Cheles and confirmed the importance of the discovery. The Spanish archaeologist sent them a report, which they forwarded to the president of the Federation.

An absence of similar engravings further downstream in Portugal puzzled the researchers. There was not any presentation about engravings like these at last February's archaeology colloquium of the Alqueva Development and Infrastructure Enterprise (EDIA), the agency building the dam that also handles the archaeology and other impact studies.

Then the Liga para a Protecção da Natureza (LPN), a nature protection league founded in 1948, received an anonymous tip-off about engravings just like those of Cheles, except they were spread along ten kilometres by the Guadiana river in Portugal.

In response, members of Movimento Cota 139, a movement aiming to limit the level of the Alqueva dam reservoir level to 139 metres, went to see the engravings on Wednesday 25 April (Portugal's Liberty Day) and called in Manuel Calado, an archaeologist from the University of Lisbon.

An environmental Web site called Ambiente Online broke the news of the engravings on Thursday evening, 26 April. Next morning, the rest of the Portuguese mass media pounced on the scoop.

Position of IFRAO

Although people from the international scientific community are delighted by the discovery, they are also very concerned because the dam is nearly finished and it will be difficult to avoid the destruction of this important rock-art area.

IFRAO, with thousands of amateurs and specialists on five continents that belong to the Federation's organisations, now calls for the prompt nomination of a genuinely independent international commission to follow the situation and ensure international participation in the exploration and documentation of the rock-art area.

The Federation considers the plight of the Guadiana rock-art area to be far worse than that of the Côa rock-art area, in Portugal, in 1994-5 for the following reasons: -

Work on the dam is nearing completion.

It seems that the lesson of Côa dam was completely forgotten, resulting in an appalling threat to or loss of the rock-art and a massive burden on citizens and taxpayers that pay the colossal cost of such mistaken projects.

Today there are bodies that did not exist in 1994: IPA (Instituto Português de Arqueologia), the Portuguese Institute of Archaeology; and CNART (Centro Nacional de Arte Rupestre), the National Centre of Rock-Art. These bodies are responsible for keeping an inventory and register of all rock-art in the country and advancing the conservation and public awareness of it (law no. 117/97, 14 May 1997).

IPA and CNART should have been constantly inspecting what EDIA was doing. As the current president of IPA, Prof. Dr. João Zilhão, was severely critical of a similar situation during the fight to save the Côa rock-art area, IFRAO fails to understand why he does not resign-so showing his total opposition to the destruction of the Guadiana rock-art area.

IFRAO upholds the protection, study, and public awareness of rock-art on all continents, irrespective of its age or connected traditions. We are therefore once again deeply concerned that an attributed age is once again being used as criteria in determining the importance of rock-art and whether or not it is worth protecting.

Rock-art areas like the Guadiana, stretching two kilometres in Spain and ten in Portugal, are always of great value and importance. If claims that most of the engravings are Neolithic (New Stone Age) prove to be true, this corpus would be quite rare because there is very little rock-art in Europe attributed as Neolithic-Chalcolithic (Copper and Stone Age). Corresponding epochs only exist in Valcamónica, Italy (UNESCO World Heritage Site) and Mont Bego, France.

Position of IFRAO (ctd)

IFRAO asks the Prime Minister and Minister of the Culture in Portugal to consider the following points: -

A need for timely action to do everything possible to investigate the engravings with the most appropriate and up-to-date methodology and with adequate time to do so, even if this means delaying or suspending the filling of the dam reservoir.

The merit of creating a genuinely independent international commission to assess the importance and value of the rock-art. Aside from questions over the competence of IPA, CNART and EDIA, the commission should not fall under these or other state bodies-thus helping to ensure the integrity of the commission is not compromised.

State bodies cannot be both players and referees. This was one of the most heavily criticised aspects of the Côa syndrome.

IFRAO has formed an emergency delegation with specialists from four continents to follow the situation. It would be extremely beneficial if this delegation were part of an enlarged commission with representatives of Portuguese universities, archaeology associations and other groups.

IFRAO can promptly indicate suitable specialists to organise training courses for all the archaeologists and students who will be needed for the tremendous effort a time sensitive investigation requires.

We remember the political courage shown by the Prime Minister, António Guterres, in saving the Côa rock-art area. To enable constructive dialogue, IFRAO requests an audience with the Prime Minister and his Excellency, the President of Portugal.

Finally, IFRAO wants to tell people in Portugal they can and should be proud of this discovery.

When people respect the past, there is hope for the future.




A posiçao da IFRAO perante as descobertas em Alqueva

Comunicado da IFRAO - a Federaco Internacional das Organizacoes de Arte Rupestre - referente 'as recentes descobertas em Alqueva. E' um documento extenso que portanto sintetizamos sumariamente:

* Congratulacao pelas descobertas feitas em Espanha e em Portugal

* Nomeacao imediata de uma comissão internacional de acompanhamento verdadeiramente independente.

* Demissao dos responsaveis do IPA e do CNART que nao tomaram mediadas para evitar outro Coa, nao verificarando o trabalho levado a cabo pela EDIA.

* Participacao internacional do esforco de prospeccao, levantamento e estudo das gravuras rupestres do rio Guadiana



Alqueva - A descoberta das gravuras rupestre na margem portuguesa do em Guadiana

A IFRAO (Federação Internacional das Organizações de Arte Rupestre) congratula-se com a importante descoberta efectuada por membros do Movimento Cota 139, em colaboração do arqueólogo Manuel Calado da Universidade de Lisboa. Mas se por um lado a descoberta de gravuras rupestre no rio Guadiana é motivo para nós de grande regozijo ela é também por parte da comunidade cientifica internacional motivo de grande preocupação. Sendo a construção da barragem irreversível, a destruição de tão importantes achados é praticamente inevitável.


Perante tal circunstância a IFRAO, em nome de milhares de especialistas e amadores espalhados pelos 5 continentes—sócios das associações membros da nossa federação—, vem tornar público os seguintes pontos:

1 A IFRAO teve conhecimento da existência de gravuras rupestres na margem espanhola do rio Guadiana (na zona afecta pelo regolfo de Alqueva) no início de Abril, em Tomar, durante o Curso de Arte Pré-histórica Europeia realizado pelo IPT. Nomeadamente quanto o colega espanhol Hipolito Collado fez apresentação pública dos estudos realizados em Janeiro e Fevereiro deste ano. No seguimento de tal comunicação a IFRAO, representada por Mila Simões de Abreu, Ludwig Jaffe, Andrea Arcà e Angelo Fossati (estes últimos da Itália) deslocaram-se à zona de Cheles (Olivença) onde constataram a importância de tal descoberta. Foi solicitado então ao colega espanhol um relatório que posteriormente foi enviado ao Presidente da IFRAO. Em tal ocasião os representantes da IFRAO não deixaram de se interrogar sobre a ausência de descobertas no lado português. Um de nós (MSA) esclareceu os colegas estrangeiros que todo o processo da minimização do património arqueológico estava a ser coordenado pela EDIA e que até então nenhum comunicado tinha sido feita sobre quaisquer gravuras desse tipo.

2 A IFRAO veio agora, tal como a maioria dos portugueses, a ter conhecimento através dos média, da existência de gravuras rupestres, em território português, numa no extensão de pelo menos 10 Km idênticas as de Cheles,

Perante tais factos a IFRAO não pode deixar de constatar que alguma coisa correu profundamente errada neste processo e esclarece os seguintes pontos.


  1. - A situação presente em Alqueva é bem diversa—talvez mais grave e escandalosa—que a de Foz Côa porque:


A IFRAO vai enviar ao Sr. Primeiro Ministro e ao Ministro da Cultura um documento em que vai pedir que:


Por fim, queremos dizer a todos os Portugueses: - esta é uma descoberta que deverá ser motivo de orgulho para Portugal.

So' um povo que olha com respeito para o Passado pode olhar com esperança para o Futuro!




CeSMAP Centro Studi e Museo di Arte Preistorica - IFRAO official web page - Pinerolo, Italy
Stone Age find will not halt dam - by Eduardo Gonçalves in Outeiro, Portugal and Giles Tremlett in Madrid - The Guardian, Saturday 28 April 2001,4273,4177255,00.html
- Há gravuras neolíticas no Alqueva - News scoop by João Rabaçã - Ambiente Online, Thursday 26 April 2001
- Descobertas gravuras rupestres na área do Alqueva - PÚBLICO Online, Friday April 27 2001
- Figuras Rupestres Descobertas no Vale do Guadiana - by Carlos Dias - PÚBLICO, Saturday 28 April 2001
"Instituto Português de Arqueologia e Centro Nacional de Arte Rupestre acusados de negligenciar Alqueva" PÚBLICO Online, Saturday 28 April, 2001
- Descobertas de Arte Rupestre no Guadiana - Instituto Português de Arqueologia (N.B., large picture files slows page loading)
- Liga para a Protecção da Natureza (LPN), a nature protection league founded in 1948

Mila Simões de Abreu

Representante em Portugal da IFRAO

(Universidade de Trás-os-Montes e Alto – Unidade de Arqueologia do Dep. de Geologia)


E-mail :

ICQ# 8134563

Telf: 254 920921

(Só durante os dias de semana)

Telm 962955608

Tel. 259 350179

Cell Phone: 96 295 56 08 (weekdays only)






Saturday, 5 May 2001


The recent discovery of an important prehistoric art complex in the Iberian Peninsula, in the Guadiana valley, imposes itself as a reason for joy, but also for concern, from the archaeologists and European citizens.

This discovery is of a major relevance for Europe, and it must be studied and protected. This last few years, in Europe, our vision of prehistoric art has experienced unexpected discoveries. This was the case of the Chauvet and Cosquer caves in France, that led us to rethink themes, styles and chronologies. It was, namely, the case of the archaeological complex of Foz Coa in Portugal, that generated a new perspective of Palaeolithic art, revealing that the upper Palaeolithic men decided to humanise the whole landscape, and that art was a human expression as strong in the open air than it was in caves. A reality confirmed now in other areas, like further south, near the Tagus river (the Ocreza valley, where an archaeological park is being organised).

It is the case, now, of the archaeological complex of Guadiana, in Spain and Portugal, which is still poorly known, but benefits from a very detailed contextualisation, product of several years of intensive research over many sites, from the Palaeolithic to the Bronze age.

The carvings of Guadiana enable us to better understand the relation of prehistoric art with its wider cultural context. It is also the opportunity to review the artistic cycles of the great rivers of western Iberia, of which the major Tagus complex remains under an artificial lake for the last 27 years. The Guadiana may be related to the Tagus complex, at the level of the art, but also of the middle Holocene sites, thus casting new light on the issues related to the origins of agro-pastoralism in the Iberian Peninsula.

The systematic study of this reality has an importance that goes beyond the national frontiers, and imposes itself as essential for the understanding of how, in this zone of Europe, and through a long and diversified sequence of periods, has been produced the artistic expression of people that lived there, while the major prehistoric sacred areas of our continent were carved, as the Mont Bego in France, Valcamonica in Italy, the Boyne valley in Ireland or Bohuslaan in Sweden.

To better understand this reality and to present it to the wider public is a responsibility of prehistorians, namely in the context of building the European Union of cultures and citizens. The project "Past Signs and Present memories", that integrates the undersigned institutions, addresses this responsibility, through building a network of data-bases on European Prehistoric Art and its dissemination, with the support of the European Commission (Programme Culture 2000).

The partners in the project, meeting in Ravello (Italy), take the decision to contact the responsibles for the Guadiana valley research, offering the projects’ resources and their collaboration for the various stages of work. In particular, we may integrate the results of the research in the European data-base on -line, thus contributing for its fast dissemination.

Being aware that the complex will be submerged by an artificial lake, we consider that the European prehistoric art researchers should collaborate with their Portuguese and Spanish colleagues in the intensive study and possible rescue of the threatened complex, reinforcing the national teams already in place. We consider this not to be a task for small teams or for a too short period of time.

We estimate that the Portuguese government, who is responsible for building the dam, and has to its credit having saved the complex of Foz Coa, will understand that the Guadiana, from an European perspective, has a similar dimension and importance. Even if the dam is, apparently, irreversible, it’s fundamental that the art be studied by multidisciplinary and international teams, for the matters of recording and comparing the complex in its European framework, before it may be submerged.

We also consider that the company building the dam (EDIA) should enable the rock art studies to be pursued with time and resources to the level of this discovery, namely by reinforcing the budget available.

This is our duty as Europeans , since memory remains the major basis for European identity, and its preservation is not to be dissociated from the building of the European Union.

Agreed and signed in Ravello, May the 5th, 2001












CeSMAP, Centro Studi e Museo di Arte Preistorica, Pinerolo Italy

by Dario SEGLIE, IFRAO - UNESCO Liaison officer

(Set-up by Andrea Benedetto, CeSMAP webmaster)