Apart from a few famous sites (Toquepala, Toro Muerto...), which are mentioned frequently in books on South American archaeology, the rock art that exists in present-day Peru remains poorly known to non specialists. And yet both the number of sites already discovered (several hundred), and their distribution in the three great ecological zones (coast, Andes, tropical forest) and over a long timespan (probably more than 6000 years) indicate their importance in the Andean cultural context.
The earliest tradition known at present, which is figurative in style, has so far only been identified in the departments of the south of the country (Moquegua, Tacna, Puno and Arequipa). At the site of Toquepala (Muelle 1969, Ravines 1986), the best studied up to now, these rock images seem to be associate with occupations dating to between 4500 BC and 3500 BC. The paintings, generally made with dark red pigments, represent hunting scenes in with one sees camelids in movement, animals that are recumbent or wounded by arrows, and anthropomorphous outlines holding weapons in their hand. The style of these paintings and the theme depicted clearly link them an Andean tradition whose distribution covers the present-day territories of Bolivia and Argentina as far as Patagonia. One of the major peculiarities of the northern manifestations of the traditions is the absence of negative painted hands which are very abundant farther south.
The link that exists between the paintings of southern Peru and those of Patagonia, several hundred kilometers away, is confirmed by the similarity of the evolutions that took place in the two regions, possibly during the 4th millennium BC. The majority of the painted scenes then represented static animals, often pregnant, sometimes accompanied by small anthropomorphs. The sites containing figures of this style extend into the centre of Peru. Where one finds the most representative sites of those known at present (Cuchimachay, Chuquichaca…). The exact nature of the relations maintained, over a period of several millennia, by the groups of hunter-gatherers who had settled in different parts of the southern Andes, remains a fundamental questions to the resolved.
At the same period, in a neighbouring region of the central Andes (departments of Huanuco, Pasco and Junin), a somewhat different traditions developed, with more schematic depictions (semi-naturislistie style). The hunting theme remains predominant (with the appearance of depictions of cervids), but the frequency of signs and geometric figures is clearly higher than in the preceding traditions. Figures would continue to be painted, in rock shelters or on walls, during the following prehispanic periods and until the Spanish conquest. The paintings now represented supernatural beings; anthropomorphous outlines carrying out various activities, as well as a great variety of animals and geometric signs. These themes are close to those drawn in the period on engraved stones, but also sometimes on other surfaces (frescoes, ceramics, textiles.),The distribution of the two forms of representation in rock art seems to correspond to specific cultural traditions that are expressed in a predominance of engravings in the coastal zone and a more notable presence of painting in the high Andes and on the Amazonian side.
Certain engraved figures, such as the petroglyphs at the site of Jaqui Withy in the valley of Salcedo (Puno), studied by Bustinza Chipana (no date) could have been made during the preceramic (around 5000 BC?). However, these figures, which are comparable in some aspects to the paintings of the southern Andes. Remain isolated, in our present state of knowledge. The oldest clearly identified tradition, which is present at several dozen sites, appears several millennia later, in another region: the valleys of Peru’s north coast. These petroglyphs are currently attributed to the Formative period (2nd – its millennium BC), and most of them represent supernatural beings and signs similar to those in contemporary frescoes, sculptures and textiles. The figures of the this group A, frequently of large size, are found in a relatively restricted sector of the north coast which corresponds to the Cupisnique cultural area. A first diffusion of the traditions northward (at least as far the Ecuatorian province of Loja) and southwards (central Peruvian coast) possibly occurred at the end of the Formative period (3 rd – 2nd centuries BC). This diffusion was probably accompanied by a change in status, expressed, among other ways, by the appearance of a few large sites containing several hundred engraved stones. The figures of this period (group B) (2nd century BC – 6th AD) are somewhat different from the previous ones. In particular, one sees a greater diversity of animals represented (insects, fish, birds, snakes, spiders, small mammals…) as well as geometric and symbolic motifs. The figures, frequently of small size, are often associated with each other by means of engraved lines forming complex motifs that are difficult to decipher. At the biggest sites, which constitute veritable open-air temples (Gruffoy 1980-1981), the engraved stones seem to be distributed by theme and are often associated with rocks presenting big flat surfaces covered in cupules and polishing grooves, which could have been used in practices of sacrifice and divination. The distribution of the biggest sites, mostly located in the ecological zone of Chaupi Yunga (4000 –1500 m.a.s.l), suggest a close association with communications routes, watercourses and zones of coca cultivations (Gruffroy 1999). These rock art sites are present throughout almost the whole of the coastal valleys of the north and centre of the country, sometimes simply in the form of a few isolated engraved rocks, but more often by a predominat site, accompanied by smaller sites in relative proximity.
The last phase of development of pre-Columbian engraved art concerns the regions of southern Peru, doubtless later than the 7th century AD. The sites now generally comprise a relatively large number of engraved rocks, and can be really gigantic, as at Toro Muerto with its more than 5000 engraved blocks and up to 150 drawings on the same surface. The figures of this style mostly represented animals (camelids, felines snakes, birds), humans in various poses, and signs. Their layout, in juxtaposition and superimpositions, gives them a peculiar pictographic aspect. However the themes depicted still display some major similarities with those of the earlier styles. The sites of this period are often used – at least partially – as cemeteries. Although the Conquest was responsible for the virtual disappearance of local cultural traditions, both the known frequentation of certain sites and the presence of glyphs on church walls beard witness to a survival of these practices – perhaps with particular objectives – during the Colonial period.
These rock images have been the subject, since the 16th century, of numerous mentions and refences, among which the most notable are those made by travelers and scientifics of the last century such as P. Desjardins, T. Huchinnson, E. Middenforff, A. Raimondi, G. Squier or C. Wiener. In the 20th century, more than fifty articles were devoted to the theme. Among the most recent and the most remarkable, one can mention the work of Bonavia on Cuchimachay (1968,1972 in collaboration with Ravines); of Bueno on the paintings and engravings of the rio Chinchipe (1982, in collaborations with Lozano); of Cardich (1962, 1964) on the zone of Lauricocha; of Linares Malaga (1960, 1973, 978) on Toro Muerto; of Pimentel (1986) on the petroglyphs of the rio Jequetepeque; Ravines on the paintings of Toquepala (1986 in collaboration with Muelle), Caru (1967) and Diablomachay (1969); as well as my own work on the petroglyph site of Checta (Gruffoy 1979, 1987).
However, most of this research has been limited to the more or less detailed descriptions of a site or collection of sites, with no consideration of the more general questions of the meaning and the function of these depictions. The most interesting contributions, from this point of view, are those of Cardich (1964), Muelle (1969) and Ravines (1967,1969) where paintings are concerned. And those of Krickeberg (1949), Linares Malaga (1966) and myself (1980-81, 1987) on petroglyph sites. Very special mention must be made of the considerable work carried out by Nuñez Jimenez (1986) who made a detailed visit of more than seventy petroglyph sites distributed over the whole territory, and recorded several thousand petroglyphs through tracing and photography. Through the abundance and quality of his illustrations, this study is an indispensable source for any researcher interested in the subject. More recently (1999), and on the basis of a compilation of earlier works, I have published the first book which tries to establish a synthesis of the whole of the rock art present in the present-day territory of Peru.
New research and discoveries
The Quebrada “El Higuerón”
According to the description give by Castillo Benites (ibid.), the paintings are distributed in rocky areas that are relatively distant from each other, located on a slope at the same height, approximately 600 m above sea level. The dense vegetation is of thorny steppe type. On a first wall there are drawings of two antropomorphs with supernatural attributes, of different sizes, which have a very peculiar outline: quadrangular head with apparently feline traits surmounted by a crest, arms raised, distended abdomen, penis and testicles hanging down, swollen knee joints, feet drawn in profile (Fig..2) Their outlines are very similar, but nevertheless the two people are quite different in the treatment of the drawing. On the bigger antropomorphs, which is 75 cm high, the outlines as well as certain elements of the face are painted in black while the body is covered in dark red paint. Its torso is covered in dotted circles which seem to depict ocelli. These same motifs, but smaller, accentuate his shoulders and the outline of his asymmetric upper limb, which seems like an octopus’s tentacle. The contours and features of the face of the second, smaller figure are painted in light red, whereas the interior or the body does not seem to have been painted. Various signs, which are indecipherable in the published photograph (ibid.), were painted in red on the torso.
The second site is a big rock shelter in which geometric motif are painted in red and black, right up to the ceiling. According to the description by Castillo Benites (ibid.), the main panel is made up of four concentric circles linked by double tangential lines. There also other motifs such as zigzag lines painted in red an black. Some petroglyphs as well as traces of occupation dating to various phases of the Formative period (Ist millennium BC) have also been discovered nearby. According to Castillo Benites, some of these traces provide evidence for the arrival of cultural traditions from the high Andes.
In my opinion, both the iconography and the context of these paintings link them quite clearly to the rock art of the site of Monte Calvario, located in the high valley of the rio Zaóa, a site wich hitherto had constituted the only clearly identified example of rock art painted during the Formative period (Gruffroy 199:55-58). On this site’s walls are depicted (Mejia Xesspe 1972) an assemblage of people in classic Chavín stile, associated with zoomorphs (felines and probable batrachians) in a style that is closer to the later Recuay culture. Some petroglyphs of Chavín style, as well as an important ceremonial centre occupied for a long part of the Formative period, have also been discovered nearby. Although the people depicted at the two sites are somewhat different, in both cases we are faced with polychrome rock depictions of supernatural people with feline characteristics. The figures of the quebrada El Higuerón which, according to relative chronology, could be more recent, show far less respect for the classic canons of the Chavín style, especially in the treatment of the outline, but the facial traits and the drawing of the feet remain comparable. I also think it is significant that the ocelli motifs that appear on the torso of the main person in the valley of Chicama are similar in style to those drawn on the small felines of the valley of Zaóa.
These two sites are located in sectors which, during part of the Formative period, belonged to the same zone of Cupisnique cultural influence, and which thus underwent a similar history of development. However, their peculiar iconographic characteristics seem to support the attribution of the these paintings to the final phase of this period which was marked by the transition from the culture of the early Horizonte (5th –3rd BC). This beginning, of the early intermediate (3rd –ist BC). This attribution, which was suggested to us Monte Calvario by the juxtaposition of paintings of the two styles (Cupisnique/Chavín and Recuay), seems justified, in the valley of Chicama, by the composite nature in the anthropomorphous figures. This period (3rd – 2nd century BC) corresponds throughout the region to moment of break-up and evolution, associated with major population movements. It was in this same cultural context that engraved rock art – which arose in the Cupisnique cultural area – underwent its firth mayor diffusion, away from the North coast. Bearing in mind the chronoly of the human occupations in the valley Chicama, these paintings could be linked more specifically with the arrival of the bearers of the Salinar ceramic tradition, which replaces the late Cupisnique tradition, while keeping some of its iconographies themes. This region’s relations with the Andes in the neighboring department of Cajamarca (Layson tradition) are also important in this period.
Quebrada de Cupisnique
Quebrada of Alto de las Guitarras Kaulique, Fernandez- Davila Lopez, McKay Fulle and Santa Cruz Gamarra (2000) have recently announced the start of some very interesting research into the petroglyph site of Alto de las Guitarras, located in the same region as the preceding sites, between the valley of the rios Moche and Virú. The working methodology which they propose to apply, based on the concepts of “landscape archaeology”, seems suffientntly rigorous and exhaustive to provide fruitful information about this site, which is one of the most important engraved sites in Peru. In particular, one may hope for a better grasp of the history of the site’s utilization, and the highlighting of thematic grouping. This approach, comparable to the one we employed at the site of Checta, should be able to specify the characteristic of the “open-air temples”.
One of the main points of interest at the site of “Alto de Las Guitarras” lied in the apparent longevity of its utilisation, the only correctly documented example of this type. The older engrave figures, of great artistic quality, are clearly linked to the Cupisnique-Chavín cultural factures, mentioned above, with a diversity of themes that is unequalled at the other contemporary sites. Beside these figures that represent the Formative period, executed during the firth millennium BC, one can recognize petrology’s from much later period: Moche, Chimú and perhaps even Chimú-Inca. This is also the oldest of the big petroglyph sites (more than 100 engraved stones) recorded in Peru, and its study may well bring new information about the uses and functioning of such sites. Other intersecting points concern its geographic and ecological situation, the proximity of somes very old communication routes, and the existence of other petroglyph sites in relative proximity.
The North – Amazonian region
The Central Region
These petroglyphs recall those engraved in the valley of the rio Chillon, at the site of Checta, and probably belonging to the same stylistic assemblage (group B) (Guffroy 1999:126-128). One of the important elements reported by Feckhout (Ibid: 549) is the presence, at the site of Chaymayaca, of platforms which seem to have been meant for the burning of coca leaves, used as offerings to the god Pariacaca. He also reminds us of the existence of a track linking the valley of the rios Lurín and Rimac and passing by the site of Cocachacra (literally; the coca field). Referring to the text by Francisco de Avila, he supposes that the offering of recently ripened coca leaves provided an occasions for peoples from different valleys to meet at Chaymanca where important ceremonies look place. Here we find three of the factors that are most frequently associated with the petroglyphs of the Peruvian coastal region: the proximity (a) of a river. (b) of a communication route, and (c) of coca cultivation zones. These data also confirm the importance of cupmarked rocks in the ritual practices associated with the use of these sites.
We must also mention the recent publication of an article by Rick (2000) about the rock art of the Peruvian Andes, in which, among other things, he reminds us of two points concerning the location of paintings which seem to be significant in relation to their usage; the location of a great number of sites at an altitude close to 4000 m. as well as their frequent association with shallow shelters; the presence of paintings in deep caves remains very rare.
To conclude this rapid panorama, we would like to express the hope that these recent discoveries and these research programmes aimed at specific theme or sites herald an absolutely necessary development and renaissance of field studies concerning Peruvian rock art.