1352 Prehistoric Caves of Yagul and Mitla in the Central Valley of Oaxaca – 2010



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This property lies on the northern slopes of the Tlacolula valley in subtropical central Oaxaca and consists of two pre-Hispanic archaeological complexes and a series of pre-historic caves and rock shelters. Some of these shelters provide archaeological and rock-art evidence for the progress of nomadic hunter-gathers to incipient farmers. Ten thousand-year-old Cucurbitaceae seeds in one cave, Guilá Naquitz, are considered to be the earliest known evidence of domesticated plants in the continent, while corn cob fragments from the same cave are said to be the earliest documented evidence for the domestication of maize. The cultural landscape of the Prehistoric Caves of Yagul and Mitla demonstrates the link between man and nature that gave origin to the domestication of plants in North America, thus allowing the rise of Mesoamerican civilizations.

Brief synthesis

The Prehistoric Caves of Yagul and Mitla in the central valley of Oaxaca is an extensive cultural landscape that includes caves and shelters, one of which, the Guilá Naquitz cave has provided extraordinarily well preserved botanical evidence of bottle gourds, beans and squash and the earliest known maize cobs, and two others, Cueva Blanca and Gheo Shih siteshave provided evidence of Pleistocene animals and stone tools and the seasonal use of the abundant summer resources of fruit and small mammals.

The gradual shift from social groups based primarily on hunting to ones that were primarily based on settled agriculture took place in multiple areas at the same time across the Mesoamerican region. The property is an exceptional reflection of the evolution from hunter-gathering to more settled communities in this area of the Oaxaca valley.

Criterion (iii):

The botanical evidence from Guilá Naquitz cave related to the domestication of other plants, squash, gourds and beans, linked with the archaeological evidence from Cueva Blanca and Gheo Shih, can together be seen to be an exceptional testimony to the evolution from hunter-gathering to more settled communities in this area of .

Integrity

Within the sites of Guilá Naquitz, Cueva Blanca and Gheo Shih lie all the elements necessary to sustain its Outstanding Universal Value and they are not under threat although could be vulnerable to over-grazing as a result of changes in climatic conditions.

Authenticity

Guilá Naquitz cave, together with Cueva Blanca and Gheo Shih can be seen to convey sites, where early man in early dates is known to have domesticated certain wild plants and taken putative stapes towards semi-settled lives. For these sites, authenticity can be said to be intact, even though the evidence on which our knowledge is based is no longer physically extant in the caves and sites.

Management and protection requirements

Even if the Yagul part of the property enjoys protection by presidential decrees, the remaining archaeological and landscape areas do not currently have national or municipal protection. There are ongoing specific projects to protect this part of the property. All visible archaeological evidence is recorded on record sheets for each site, together with mapping and photographs.

The principal authorities responsible for the management of the property are the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), concerned with all archaeological and cultural sites, and the National Commission for Natural Protected Areas (CONANP), both of which have state and local branches or departments. CONANP is responsible for the conservation of natural species and scenic spots in the Yagul area. In conjunction with INAH it establishes agreements with communities, favouring traditional land use practices. In 1999, a Management Plan was approved for the Oaxaca Valley Archaeological Corridor (CAVO), attached to the existing management plan of the Monte Alban Archaeological Zone. The management system for the property overall is adequate, although newly implemented and thus still being proved.

There is a need to put in place legal protection for the whole nominated area; an active conservation policy to ensure grazing and access are controlled, risk preparedness measures; an access strategy based on the carrying capacity of the nominated area; and to promote a research programme to consider whether in time more substantial evidence might be uncovered that could allow the wider landscape of Oaxaca to be seen as having been a focus for the domestication of plants and the transition to settled agriculture that is exceptional in the context of its geo-cultural region.

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