The filming of a biblical miniseries in Brazil took some prehistoric art paintings preserved for millennia in a wall of the colonial city of Diamantina, in the southeast. The cave paintings were erased with a layer of white paint to compose the stage of king David of the Evangelical Record channel, whose owner is Bishop Edir Macedo, founder of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, one of the largest and most powerful in Brazil. Almost ten years after the recording of that miniseries, which became a television reef and increased the audience of the channel, Record has been sentenced to pay two million reais (about $ 465,000) for destroying prehistoric heritage.
The natural landscape of Serra do Pasmar, around Diamantina, seemed, at first glance, ideal for recordings. The station invested about 30 million reais (seven million dollars) in the miniseries, which included recordings in Canada. In Brazil, However, the team decided to modify the landscape. A chemical analysis performed at the archeological site demonstrated the presence of white vinyl paint in the area considered cultural heritage that was used for recording. This mountain range is a site of great archaeological interest, according to studies conducted in 2009 by Professor Andrei Isnardis, from the Department of Anthropology and Archeology of the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG). During the excavations, cave paintings and lithic remains (stone tools) were found of those who inhabited the region 11,000 years ago. Evidence shows that the area painted by the Record station has archaeological remains from 4,000 years ago.
In its allegations during the process, the Record channel denies that white paint can be related to its presence, since the scientific analysis was made 19 months after filming of king David. The company adds that the series generated benefits for the municipality of Diamantina, such as the increase in tourism and national projection and, therefore, should not pay any compensation for social damages. He also stated that there was no indication that the place used for the recordings was an archeological site or a protected area. After the conviction, Record has not answered the questions in this newspaper.
Diamantina is a colonial city located between mountains where 47,000 people live. Its center is recognized by UNESCO as World Heritage for preserving the memory of diamond seekers who exploited the region of Minas Gerais in the XVIII century. But studies conducted by the UFMG and another Brazilian university indicate that Diamantina and the surrounding municipalities have a much older history. “Throughout the region, we have about 220 registered archaeological sites,” says researcher Isnardis.
The lack of knowledge about the artistic value of the paintings is reflected in the lack of agreement among the magistrates about the compensation to be paid for the destruction of the archaeological heritage, an issue that rarely generates discussion. For one of the judges, 400,000 reais were enough, but the two million proposed by the rapporteur of the sentence prevailed. It is a ruling in the second instance after a first conviction that Record appealed. Now you can also appeal this new decision.
Can you put a price on what has been lost? “It is an exercise that I am not able to do … because it is priceless. We are talking about another type of value. A historical, cultural, anthropological, human value of people who lived differently. Rock painting is the most visible trace of the existence of other peoples. It is invaluable, ”laments Professor Isnardis.
This researcher explains that, compared to other areas of Minas Gerais, the Diamantina region is quite preserved. “The local population intervenes less. Many have always lived as collectors and use the caves (where cave paintings are found), but we don’t usually find scribbles, ”he says. At most, they find soot from the fires near the paintings. “The case of Record is different, the result of a deep ignorance about the value of cave paintings and archaeological heritage,” he says.
The trial judge condemned Record to recover the environmental damage caused, to compensate the costs of the scientific analysis, and to pay two million reais in compensation for the environmental damage and to the municipalities affected by the destruction of the heritage. It also condemned the landowner for allowing access to the site without guaranteeing the repair of the degraded area. The appellate judges upheld much of the original sentence.