The famous archaeological site Cueva de las Manos (“Cave of the Hands”) in the Patagonian province of Santa Cruz will be converted into a protected area, after the zone was donated to the State by the Rewilding Argentina environmentalist organisation.
The foundation confirmed the news in a communiqué issued this week.
Located in northwestern Santa Cruz, the archaeological site of some 600 hectares stands out for its prehistoric cave art, with paintings dating back over nine millennia, testimony to the first inhabitants of the American continent.
The area, known as Cañadón Pinturas, also shelters a vast biodiversity, composed of almost 70 species of fauna and 200 flora.
The cave drawings depict handprints and the figures of guanacos, which still roam in the steppes of the province, Argentina’s largest after Buenos Aires Province and the least densely populated with only 1.1 inhabitants per square kilometre.
The area has become one of the biggest tourist attractions in Santa Cruz and was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1999. It is visited by around 8,000 people annually.
The Cave of the Hands lies by the Río Pinturas river, in a landscape of volcanic rock where over 800 handprints can be distinguished. Until 2015 it lay within the private estancia Los Toldos, which the Rewilding Argentina foundation purchased with the intention of donating it back to the Santa Cruz provincial government, in order to create a natural reserve.
"The donation of the land of this site, the heritage of all people throughout the world, marks a milestone in the history of this region, especially because of the archaeological importance of its paintings and remains, which date back 9,300 years and had been continually exposed to cattle," said Sofía Heinonen, the president of Rewilding Argentina.
In total, Argentina has 492 protected areas, 57 of them under national jurisdiction and three maritime. Some have been designated internationally: 15 biosphere reserves (Man and the Biosphere-UNESCO), 23 Ramsar sites (internationally important wetlands) and five natural world heritage sites (UNESCO).