The Petroglyphs of Chumbenique, Zaña, Peru

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logo This short paper, together with a YouTube video, describes and illustrates the rock art discovered in the valley of the Río Zaña in northern Peru. The petroglyphs were first described (in Spanish) by archaeologist Edgar Bracamonte in 2014. Because that is the only brief report that exists at the moment, I have written a brief paper in English, while the video (which is in Spanish) offers the illustrations as well as shots of the environment. The locals at Chumbenique know about ‘their’ rock art and I hope that they will encourage locals of their village and of the valley and of course every visitor to Chumbenique to respect and protect this sacred site.

By Maarten van Hoek


The Petroglyphs of Chumbenique, Zaña, Peru


By Maarten van



In sharp contrast with the more than 15 rock art sites in the Reque-Chancay Valley (with probably more than 1000 petroglyph panels), the number of rock art sites in the Zaña Valley to the south is (still) very limited. Last century only one rock art site had been reported. It concerns the rock art site of El Palmo, located near La Florida in the upper part of the Río Zaña (or Saña), which was reported in the 1960’s (Hostnig 2003: 82). An inventory of the petroglyphs of El Palmo was published by Antonio Núñez Jiménez in 1986 (1986: 173 – 186). Also two probably Formative Period geoglyphs near Oyutún in Zaña were already known (Hostnig: 2003: 220 – 221), but, although very useful in rock art studies, I do not regard geoglyphs to be a form of rock art. The rock art sites of Monte Calvario or Poro-Poro or Udima (Hostnig 2003: 85 – 86) and Las Guitarras (Hostnig 2003: 84 – 85) are found north and east of El Palmo, but apparently in different drainages. This century three more petroglyph sites were recorded in the drainage of the Río Zaña: Guayaquil in 2013 and, in 2014, the subject of this short note, Chumbenique. Together with the earlier reported petroglyph site of Cerro los Morteros (Garcia 2012), the drainage of the Río Zaña now has a total of four rock art sites, but most likely more sites will be discovered and – hopefully – will be reported.


Figure 1 . Boulder CBN-011 at Chumbenique. Photograph © by Maarten van Hoek.



Details about the petroglyph site of Chumbenique were first published by Peruvian archaeologist Edgar Bracamonte Lévano in 2014 (2014a). Probably in the same year the same author privately published the same report with a few more illustrations (2014b; pages and illustrations unnumbered). As this is the only published record of Chumbenique (which is in Spanish), I will base my paper on his publication. To further illustrate the environment of the relevant section of the valley of the Río Zaña, I have uploaded a video onto YouTube, which also includes some maps and photos of most of the rock panels that I recorded at Chumbenique (click on Figure 1 above to access the video).

Chumbenique is located 44 km inland (following the valley) and 2.5 km north of the Río Zaña. Thus the site found on the north bank of the valley, unlike Guayaquil, which is on the south bank, 13 km to the SW. The petroglyphs are found roughly at an altitude of between 170 and 235 m above sea level and thus 60 to 100 m above the valley floor. Only 800 m to the NNW of the site are the three peaks of 510 m high Cerro Tres Picos that form a most impressive setting for the site. From the site one also has commanding views up and down the valley of the Río Zaña. The area is rather dry, but is still largely overgrown with grasses, herbs, bushes, small trees and several species of cacti. In the dry season the landscape is brown and yellow because of the predominance of grasses. However, in the rainy season the area turns completely green.

Bracamonte (2014b) published a map in which he distinguishes two sectors with petroglyphs, separated by a higher, north-south running ridge. Confusingly the East Sector (his Sector 1) is said to have four groups of petroglyph boulders, but I think that his fourth group (Grupo 4) actually forms the main part, upper of the West Sector (his Sector 3). Moreover, it is not clear how many petroglyph boulders he has recorded when he writes: En el sector 1 se reconocieron 21 soportes de piedra que se encuentran distribuidos en cuatro grupos. Los tres primeros se localizan en el ascenso hacia la parte media del Cerro Tres Picos y junto a un conjunto de cercaduras de piedra. El grupo 1 presenta 3 bloques, mientras que los grupos 2 y 3 tienen 2 y 1 soporte  espectivamente. Por otro lado el grupo 4 es el que reúne la mayor cantidad de soportes, identificando hasta la fecha 14 bloques. In total his count of Sector 1 thus should be 20, not 21. According to Bracamonte the West Sector (his Sector 3) has 15 boulders with petroglyphs (including some outcrops with large – anthropic? – basins [pocitos]): … sector 3, donde identificamos hasta 15 soportes de piedra que contendrían petroglifos y pocitos. According to Bracamonte the grand total of petroglyph boulders in both Sectors is 36 (including some [but how many?] surfaces with basins). As he does not state the number of rocks with basins and moreover speaks of ‘soportes’ (which may mean ‘panels’) instead of boulders it is rather uncertain how many boulders with petroglyphs he has seen.

There is another problem with the report by Bracamonte. He includes at least three photographs of two boulders that he claims to be in the East Sector (Sector 1), whereas it is certain that they are located in the West Sector. It concerns (I have to work with the captions, as – unfortunately – his illustrations are not numbered) 1): Petroglifos del sector 1. A) Serpiente de estilo Cupisnique. B) Diseño de zorro de estilo Lambayeque y C) Representación humana del Intermedio Tardío. Petroglyph C definitely is in the West Sector. 2): Petroglifos del sector 1. A) Diseño abstracto de estilo Cupisnique. B) Diseño zoomorfo de estilo Formativo y C) Representación humana del Intermedio Tardío. Photographs A and B are of the same boulder that is also definitely located in the West Sector. It is moreover confusing that the (Cupisnique) petroglyph(s) on photo A are labelled as an abstract design, while they continue on the other side and all of a sudden are interpreted as zoomorphic (and of the Formative [Period], which includes the Cupisnique cultures).

The confusion regarding the content of the East and West Sectors is probably caused by an incorrect interpretation of the area. Bracamonte textually includes Group 4 into his East Sector, while in his map Group 4 is actually part of his West Sector (Sector 3); actually the north part of the blue area in his map. For that reason I now offer the results of my surveys better defining the extent of each sector. It should be noticed that the areas marked in red (West Sector) and blue (East Sector) in my map (see my YouTube video) roughly mark the extensive areas with suitable boulders and outcrops that have not all been investigated by us. Finally, most rocks in those sectors do not bear petroglyphs.


The East Sector

My wife and I approached the area from Chumbenique Cemetery, which is located just north of the village on top of a low ridge. Locals at the cemetery kindly directed us to the East Sector. The petroglyphs in the East Sector are indeed, as Bracamonte states, found in the neighbourhood of some ancient, rectangular structures (Bracamonte: recintos construidos con bloques irregulares de piedras canteadas y colocadas sin mortero). Those structures are found halfway up the slope at an estimated altitude of about 190 m. Although it was impossible to take distinct photographs (the low walls were all overgrown), the walls are visible in my YouTube video. However, at Guayaquil we noticed a possibly similar structure that was not overgrown (see YouTube video). The northern end of my East Sector is marked by a large circular ‘structure’ (clearly visible in Google Earth) that just possibly is anthropic. As I am not an academic archaeologist I could not establish the true nature of this ‘structure’.

Bracamonte noticed six boulders with petroglyphs north of the rectangular structures (Al norte de las cercaduras de piedras de identificaron los tres primeros grupos de petroglifos conformados por seis bloques de piedra.). However, we also noticed some boulders with minor petroglyphs south of the rectangular structures and a slightly larger number to the north. In the East Sector we recorded altogether 9 boulders with often very faint petroglyphs (on 14 panels) and one large, fragmented outcrop (CBN-009) with – on its vertical SE facing part – at least one clearly identifiable petroglyph (at least when the light is favourable), apparently depicting a human head. The other petroglyphs of the East Sector include some depictions of zoomorphs (birds) and anthropomorphs, but mainly abstract markings. One petroglyph (on the vertical Panel B of Boulder CBN-006) is of interest. It most likely represents a stylised bird in the Formative MSC-Style. The flat upper surface (Panel A of Boulder CBN-06) has two interesting zoomorphs and two unique semi-circular (human?) heads (the larger head superimposed upon or by the larger zoomorphic petroglyph). Bracamonte also illustrates a magnificent petroglyph of a curled-up serpent on the vertical, SE-facing panel of a large boulder that is – according to Bracamonte – located somewhere in the East Sector.


Figure 2. Boulder CBN-016 at Chumbenique, looking SE across the Valle de Zaña. Photograph © by Maarten van Hoek.


The West Sector

Just north of the north end of the dividing ridge (promontorio rocoso) the West Sector is separated from the East Sector by a small bit of grassland with very few boulders and (as far as we could check) no petroglyphs. This northernmost part of the West Sector comprises a narrow level area bordered by a slope to the east (not explored by us) and a steep slope to the west. This level area, together with the steep west slope has the biggest concentration of petroglyph boulders. Two boulders (CBN-010 and CBN-011) were found by us on the upper level part and twenty boulders are located on the west facing slope.

Altogether we recorded 22 boulders with 39 panels in the West Section, bringing the total for the whole of the site at Chumbenique (East and West Sectors ) at 32 petroglyph boulders (including one outcrop surface) comprising 53 panels with petroglyphs. Bracamonte illustrates three other petroglyph panels (in the East and/or West Sectors, excluding the horizontal outcrop rocks with the ‘pocitos’) that I have not seen, which brings the Grand Total at at least 35 boulders (56 panels). There may be more to be discovered.

The West Sector has some remarkable images, such as the large fish on Panel CBN-029A and the strange anthropomorphic images on Panel C of Boulder CBN-016 and the smaller example on Boulder CBN-025. But the most impressive collection of petroglyphs occurs on Boulder CBN-011, where a large snake is wrapped around three, almost vertical panels while the (partially flaked) head is found on a fourth panel near the top of the boulder. The large head is more or less similar to the head of the large curled-up snake in the East Sector. The large head is very near a smaller snake’s head, which just possibly may represent the tail of the same large snake. Unfortunately, that panel is so much weathered that it is impossible to tell whether it concerns one large bicephalic snake. Moreover, the (bicephalic?) snake is superimposed upon (or by) and surrounded by many other images, such as the large, frontally depicted anthropomorph on Panel CBN-011A. On the domed top of Boulder CBN-011 may be more petroglyphs that are, however, very much weathered. From this boulder, which is located on the highest part of the small level area of the West Sector, one has extensive views across the East and West Sectors and the river valley.


Conclusion and Discussion

Although – so far – no definite MSC-Style petroglyphs have been reported (except for possibly the ‘bird’ on Panel CBN-006B), I agree with Bracamonte that most likely (many of) the petroglyphs date from the Formative Period (roughly from 2500 B.C to A.D. 0). But he also suggests a possible Chavín origin for some images. However, I reject the general conclusion that Chavín-looking rock art images have been manufactured by Chavín or even influenced by Chavín. I prefer to assign (most of) those Formative Period images to local Cupisnique societies (see my explanation for a similar situation in the Nepeña Valley further south: Van Hoek 2016). Bracamonte also claims that other images may belong to the Late Intermediate Period and in one case he assigns one petroglyph to the Lambayeque culture (also known as Sicán). His conclusions seem to be very well valid as Zaña was dominated by the Moche (A.D. 300 to A.D. 700), Sican (A.D. 700 to A.D. 1050) and Chimú (A.D. 1240 to A.D. 1570) cultures. Many of the prehistoric architectural structures in the Zaña Valley (Cerro Guitarra, Pampa Chumbenique and Cerro Corbacho) were constructed by those ancient societies, although also pyramids from the Formative Period occur, like Purulén near the coast. Further inland are the definite Formative Period rock art sites of Udima (or Poro-Poro) and El Palmo.

Chumbenique is a major and important rock art site, not only for the large number of petroglyph panels, but also because of its imagery, especially the big fish (clearly representing a link with the coast) and the two large snake petroglyphs. The locals at Chumbenique know about ‘their’ rock art and I hope that they will encourage locals of their village and of the valley and of course every visitor to Chumbenique to respect and protect this sacred site. Fortunately only very little vandalism was noted by us on this occasion. In one case there were initials added on top of Boulder CBM-026, while some other images were found to be lightly scratched.



Bracamonte Lévano, E. 2014a. La Huaca de los Petroglifos de Chumbenique. In: Lundero, Publicación Cultural de “La Industria”. Año 36. Vol. 424; pp. 14 – 15. Chiclayo-Trujillo (Perú). PDF available on-line: Academia.

Bracamonte Lévano, E. 2014b. La Huaca de los Petroglifos de Chumbenique. Privately Published. PDF available on-line: Academia.

Del Carmen Espinoza Córdova, M., C. Gálvez Mora, M. A. Runcio and J. Castañeda Murga. 2013. Reporte Preliminar de Evidencias Rupestres en la Margen Izquierda del Valle de Zaña (Región Lambayeque, Perú). Centro de Investigaciones Precolumbinas – Nueva Era. Vol. 21; pp. 5 – 15.

Garcia, R. 2012. Registro y implicancias preliminares del quilcas en la cuenca alta del Río Zaña, distrito de Nanchoc, región Cajamarca. In: Boletín APAR. Vol. 3-11; pp. 391 – 394. Lima, Perú.

Hostnig, R. 2003. Arte rupestre del Perú. Inventario Nacional. CONCYTEC, Lima, Perú.

Núñez Jiménez, A. 1986. Petroglifos del Perú. Panorama mundial del arte rupestre. 2da. Ed. PNUD-UNESCO – Proyecto Regional de Patrimonio Cultural y Desarrollo, La Habana.

Van Hoek, M. 2016. Rock Art of the Nepeña Valley, Peru. Part 2: The South Bank – Discussion. Oisterwijk, Holland. PDF available on-line: Academia.

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