The Saluting Anthropomorph in the Rock Art of the Americas

Although in general complex biomorphic figures in rock art are not suitable to demonstrate diffusion, there is one idiosyncratic anthropomorphic figure the in rock art repertoire of the Americas, which, although it is very rare, has a remarkably wide distribution that might indicate long-distance diffusion. I have labelled this icon the Saluting Anthropomorph.

 By Maarten van Hoek



The Saluting Anthropomorph

in the Rock Art of the Americas


Maarten van Hoek – rockart@




It seems to be such a simple ‘rule’ when discussing the distribution of rock art motifs: the simplest rock art motif will occur almost everywhere and in many different contexts. This ‘rule’ is undoubtedly authenticated by the cupule; the ubiquitously occurring, small hemispherical depression in rock surfaces. The cupule occurs in the rock art of all inhabited continents. It is found in extremely remote islands like for instance Rapa Nui in the Pacific Ocean, as well as right in the centre of a busy city, like Seville in Spain. However, this specific occurrence by no means implies that the cupule tradition diffused for instance from Rapa Nui to Seville or vice versa. Although there certainly are examples of ‘migrating’ cupules (for example along the Atlantic seaboard of Europe), the cupule is by far the best example of parallel evolution in many if not most cases. This ambiguity makes the cupule completely inappropriate to serve as ‘Leitmotiv’, or – in the scope of this study – as a suitable target to demonstrate diffusion. Therefore the ‘rule’ should better read: the more common and simpler a rock art motif, the more unsuitable it is to use it in tracing migration patterns.

But also more complex rock art motifs are not always suitable to offer proof of diffusion, especially when it concerns anthropomorphic figures or parts thereof. A telling example is the vulva-motif that occurs in many much differing rock art contexts, simply because of the presence of girls and women in every inhabited continent.

However, in two earlier publications I discussed a few rock art features that occurred along the Pacific Seaboard of the Americas. One study concerned the prehistoric obliteration of petroglyphs (Van Hoek 2018a). It is certain that this practice, which occurs at many sites globally, is not the result of diffusion. On the other hand, in a second study (Van Hoek 2018b) I discussed a number of abstract rock art motifs to demonstrate possible (!) diffusion along the Pacific Seaboard of the Americas. In that study I purposely refrained from discussing anthropomorphic figures to demonstrate possible diffusion, since those figures are not really suitable to establish long-distance diffusion. Yet, there is one idiosyncratic anthropomorphic figure – although very rare – which has a remarkably wide distribution that might indicate that long-distance diffusion also involved complex biomorphic figures.

The Subject of the Study

First we have to define what exactly the subject of this study is. Because the manufacturing of rock art is an anthropic process, it is quite logical to find numerous examples of anthropomorphic figures or parts thereof in global rock art. It is also understandable that many different postures of the human body occur as a specific posture may convey a special – often metaphorical – message. Although laterally depicted anthropomorphic figures are common, the great majority of anthropomorphic figures has fully frontally been depicted.

In this study we are only interested in fully frontally depicted, upright figures featuring arms and legs. And in view of the subject only the position of both arms is crucial. Disregarding the many variations, there are three main postures regarding the position of the arms. Both arms are drooping; both arms are raised and – finally – one arm is drooping while the other is raised. The last posture is often labelled the saluting position (although other suitable but still subjective names also have been invented). However, I definitely do not want to claim that an anthropomorphic figure in the ‘saluting’ position was indeed intended by the prehistoric manufacturer as saluting. Moreover, not every anthropomorphic figure in the saluting position is an example of our subject: the Saluting Anthropomorph (please notice that also the label of ‘Saluting Anthropomorph’ – with capital S and A – is also a subjective interpretation).

It is quite logical that in the rock art of every inhabited continent – especially near places where people live and meet each other – ‘saluting’ anthropomorphs often occur. It thus seems that the icon of the saluting anthropomorph is not quite suitable to demonstrate diffusion. Yet, in the rock art of the Americas there is a special type of saluting anthropomorph that displays a most extraordinary position. This specific type – called the Saluting Anthropomorph in this study – has one arm drooping, while the other arm is curved (or folded) completely over the head (and not touching the head), resulting in a unique position and therefore resulting in a most recognisable and idiosyncratic figure.

As I said earlier, in the rock art of the Pacific Seaboard of the Americas the specific icon of the Saluting Anthropomorph is extremely rare. This figure even proves to be so unique within the local and regional rock art areas along the Pacific Seaboard that it can indeed be classified as ‘alien’. For that reason the figure may serve as an indication of diffusion, although diffusion of this icon is not at all certain. Uniqueness of a rock art figure is not at all a guarantee of a wide distribution. For example, in rock art there are also examples of ‘saluting’ anthropomorphic figures that are also unique, but have an extremely limited distribution. The best example is the Majes Style ‘Dancer’ petroglyph that only occurs in two valleys in southern Peru (Van Hoek 2018c). However, none of the more than 1100 ‘saluting’ ‘Dancer’ petroglyphs that I recorded in the Majes Valley depicts the true Saluting Anthropomorph.

The Study Area

The Study Area (Figure 1) is quite extensive. It includes a large area bordering the Pacific Seaboard of the Americas (thus not just the coastal strip). It stretches from Alaska in North America to Patagonia in South America and includes the mountain ranges of the Rocky Mountains in North America and the Andes of South America (this latter area also includes the Desert Andes that is located between the High Andes and the Pacific Coastline). To my knowledge, the Saluting Anthropomorph only occurs in rock art sites along the Pacific Seaboard of the Americas, but – again – it is extremely rare in absolute and relative terms.

Figure 1: Map of the Americas showing the very approximate locations of rock art sites with examples of the Saluting Anthropomorph mentioned in this study. Drawing © by Maarten van Hoek, based on Google Earth / Open Street Map. All distances (as the crow flies) mentioned in this study are based on Google Earth.

The Distribution of the Saluting Anthropomorph

Especially because of the rarity of the Saluting Anthropomorph it will be interesting to explore its distribution along the Pacific Seaboard of the Americas and investigate the possibility of long distance diffusion. Of course there are many rock art images or scenes that (quite understandably) developed independently in many areas without involving long-distance diffusion. For instance, the icon of the ‘flute’ player is expected to occur in areas where the flute was played and therefore this rock art icon originated independently in many parts of the Study Area (yet – surprisingly – in extremely limited numbers in the Desert Andes).

On the other hand, specific motifs may be indicative of diffusion over long distances, especially when a rock art design is exotic or unexpected within the scope of the repertoire of a rock art site or even rock art region. Such unexpected rock art motifs are classified here as ‘alien’. Designs that are truly ‘alien’ in the rock art repertoire of a region are more likely to have been imported from outside and may therefore represent instances of long-distance diffusion. In order to further illustrate the concept of the ‘alien’ motif, the discussion regarding the distribution of the Saluting Anthropomorph starts outside the Study Area.

The main island of Hawai’i in the middle of the Pacific Ocean has numerous petroglyphs of anthropomorphs showing various positions of the arms. However, it is very rare to find laterally depicted figures; most figures are fully frontally depicted. One laterally depicted anthropomorphic figure has been reported at the rock art site of Kaeo-1 on the west coast (Lee and Stasack 1999: Fig. 3.6 – inset). However, at the same site is another laterally depicted petroglyph that is even more ‘alien’ (Lee and Stasack 1999: Fig. 3.13). It concerns an anthropomorph that has only one arm (ending in a three-digit hand) that has wholly been curved over the head, resulting in – physically – an almost (?) impossible position. It is this ‘impossible’ position of the arm that creates and defines the icon of the Saluting Anthropomorph. However, in this study rock art images of mainly fully frontally depicted Saluting Anthropomorphs also must have two arms. One arm must (partially) point downwards, while the other arm must be curved over its head (thus not touching the head).

Although I am convinced that there is no question of diffusion regarding the Saluting Anthropomorph from Hawai’i to the Americas or vice versa, the icon may well have migrated along (parts of) the Pacific Seaboard. Remarkably, all true instances of the Saluting Anthropomorph icon so far recorded along the Pacific Seaboard of the Americas, concern fully frontally depicted figures. What is more, when the Saluting Anthropomorph is present at a rock art site in the Americas, only one or two examples have been recorded (although there are a few exceptions), which is another reason to classify the icon as ‘alien’. Without immediately claiming a specific point of origin for this icon, nor claiming a specific migration direction, I will discuss all known rock art sites in the Americas where the Saluting Anthropomorph occurs from south to north.



1: Quebrada de Agua Blanca

The most southerly site where the Saluting Anthropomorph has been reported so far is Quebrada de Agua Blanca, San Juan, western Argentina (not visited; my observations are based on internet-photos by Adriana Varela). It is also the only site with petroglyphs of the Saluting Anthropomorph – that I know of – on the east side of the Andes. One petroglyph at this site – of a fully frontally depicted and fully pecked Saluting Anthropomorph (approximately 15 cm in height) – shows a relatively long right arm that is folded over its head (showing ears?). The arm ends in a relatively large hand with five digits. A smaller anthropomorph on the same panel and almost touching the Saluting Anthropomorph has been omitted in Figure 1.1a.

At the same site two more boulders have been reported by Adriana Varela, each with a smaller and simpler petroglyph of the Saluting Anthropomorph and each with the left hand curved over the head. One figure has a three digit left hand, while the other seems to carry an object in its right hand (Figure 1.1c; see Figure 1). The latter boulder might have a deeply patinated, outlined example of the Saluting Anthropomorph. However, because the photos posted by Adriana Varela on the internet are very small, the exact patterns of the petroglyphs on those three boulders cannot be established with any certainty.

Figure 1.1a and c: Petroglyphs from Quebrada de Agua Blanca, San Juan, western Argentina. Drawings © by Maarten van Hoek, based on photographs by Adriana Varela.

At possibly another spot in the Quebrada de Agua Blanca is a rock art site with at least one small (?) boulder that features a fully pecked anthropomorph with its right arm curved (always assuming in this study that a frontally depicted anthropomorphic figure is watching the rock art observer), while its hand is hovering just over the head. All extremities seem to have three digits (Figure 1.1b; see Figure 1).

Figure 1.1b: Petroglyph from Quebrada de Agua Blanca, San Juan, western Argentina. Drawing © by Maarten van Hoek, based on a (small) photograph in García (2014: Fig. 11c).

2: Tamentica

We now traverse the Andes to arrive at the rock art site of Tamentica in the Huatacondo Valley of northern Chile, 1035 km north of Quebrada de Agua Blanca. This very important rock art site has a relatively large number of exceptional icons, which – among others – include some examples of the Twin Seated Anthropomorphs (see Van Hoek 2018b Fig. 2), the Avian Staff Bearer (Van Hoek 2016a) and the Enigmatic Traveller (Van Hoek 2016b). At this unfortunately severely damaged site I recorded several petroglyphs of – mainly profile -anthropomorphs with arms folded over their heads (in some cases holding objects, like the examples on Bloque 7, Panel D), but none of the arms is as extended as far as the arm in the Agua Blanca example. It is possible that some (or all?) of those ‘saluting’ figures are more related to the ‘Enigmatic Traveller’ images; a category of anthropomorphic icons for which – in an earlier publication – I advocated long distance diffusion within the Desert Andes (Van Hoek 2016b). Those laterally depicted ‘Enigmatic Travellers’ have one or two curved arms raised and often touching the head, but not curving over the head. It is therefore also uncertain whether the ‘Enigmatic Traveller’ is actually saluting.

Interestingly, at Tamentica at least two fully frontally depicted bird petroglyphs have been depicted with one wing folded over the head and one drooping wing (Figure 2). This is a position that is exceptional for bird petroglyphs in the Desert Andes. Moreover, the positions of the wings of those ‘bird’ petroglyphs are almost identical to the positions of the arms of the Saluting Anthropomorph. Therefore it is – in my opinion – almost certain that those two bird petroglyphs originally started off as two examples of the Saluting Anthropomorph and that they were intentionally transformed into birds at a later stage. I claim such a bird-transformation to be valid, not only because of the exceptional position of the wings, but also because all frontally depicted bird petroglyphs with two outspread wings at Tamentica (and at many other sites in the Desert Andes) have the shorter lines, which depict the feathers, pointing downwards from the wing-line, while only the two transformed ‘bird’ petroglyphs at Tamentica have their feather-lines pointing upwards from the curved ‘wing-line.

Figure 2: Petroglyphs at Tamentica, northern Chile. Photograph (digitally enhanced) © by Maarten van Hoek.

Very near those two possibly transformed images is – on the same panel – also an example of the Avian Staff Bearer; another highly regarded anthropomorphic icon of the Desert Andes that has bird-properties added. I have argued earlier that bird-symbolism was (and still is) very important in the worldview and iconography of the (Desert) Andes (Van Hoek 2018d). In several cases rock art images were intentionally transformed into birds or had bird-elements added in order to charge the image with the supernatural bird-power, so that they could serve as a messenger between the realm of the living people and the territory of their ancestors and their deities.

3: Ariquilda

A doubtful example of the Saluting Anthropomorph has been recorded by me on outcrop Panel ARQn-125 at Ariquilda in the Quebrada de Aroma, 153 km north of Tamentica (skipping many rock art sites sites). It is a strange anthropomorphic figure (one of many idiosyncratic figures at Ariquilda) that has been depicted in profile (Figure 3 and inset). It has two legs ending in feet without digits. However, it seems to have only one arm (without a hand or digits) that is touching the tip of the central appendage of three appendages that seem to depict the head or some headgear. Also for that reason I do not regard this Ariquilda petroglyph to represent a true example of the Saluting Anthropomorph and therefore Ariquilda (Site 3) has not been indicated in the map of Figure 1.

Figure 3: Petroglyphs on Panel ARQn-125 at Ariquilda, Quebrada de Aroma, northern Chile. Photograph © by Johan Reinhard (digitally enhanced and background altered by me). Inset: drawing © by Maarten van Hoek, based on the photograph.

4: Calaunsa

About 97 km NW of Ariquilda (again skipping many petroglyph sites) is the petroglyph site of Calaunsa in the Codpa Valley, still in Chile. It is a very remote and rather inaccessible site and for that reason I could not reach and survey the site while I was exploring the valley. On Boulder CAL-065 and framed by a dented groove and S-shapes is a simple example of the Saluting Anthropomorph (Figure 4). The right arm is raised over the head; the upper part of the left arm is pointing downwards, but its lower part is curving upwards again. None of the arms shows digits.

Figure 4: Petroglyph from Calaunsa, Codpa Valley, northern Chile. Drawing © by Maarten van Hoek, based on a photograph by Renata Aguirre Bianchi.

5: Miculla

Crossing the border into Peru and skipping the rock art sites and the numerous geoglyph sites in the Azapa and Lluta Valleys of northern Chile we arrive at the very extensive petroglyph site of Miculla, 110 km north of Calaunsa. At Miculla I was able to record only one boulder – of the more than 450 petroglyph boulders known to exist at this site – that featured the Saluting Anthropomorph (Figure 5). On the bigger panel of this boulder (MIM-079A) are two simple, fully pecked examples sitting among other petroglyphs. Both examples have their left arm raised over the head, while none of the limbs shows hands, feet and digits. The smaller example has one arm curved over the head that is almost touching the other – downward curving – arm, which seems to touch or point at the genital area. It is uncertain whether the fully pecked, rectangular ‘object’ is part of the smaller Saluting Anthropomorph.

Figure 5: Petroglyphs on Panel MIM-079A at Miculla, southern Peru. Photograph and drawing © by Maarten van Hoek.

6: Cerro Canicora

About 80 km WNW of Miculla is the rock art site of Cerro Canicora, a short distance south of the Río Ilo in the Osmore Valley and very near the coast (not visited; my observations are based on internet-photos by Gustavo Herrera). Although it is only a small site, it has two boulders each with one simple, fully pecked example of the Saluting Anthropomorph. Both examples (Figure 6) have their left arm raised over the head. In only one example the hands feature digits.

Figure 6: Petroglyphs from Cerro Canicora. Drawings © by Maarten van Hoek, based on photographs by Gustavo Herrera.

7: Huancor

More than 740 km further NW along the Pacific Seaboard (again skipping numerous petroglyph sites) is the important site of Huancor, which I surveyed several times. This is one of the very few sites with more than two examples of the Saluting Anthropomorph. No less than six panels feature altogether eight certain examples of the Saluting Anthropomorph, while three other panels have altogether four possible examples. As far as I am aware this number also makes Huancor the site with the biggest number of the Saluting Anthropomorph in the Americas. Moreover, Huancor also has the most sophisticated examples of the Study Area. It is therefore tempting (but by no means certain) to regard Huancor as the birthplace of the Saluting Anthropomorph.

Most of the petroglyphs of the Saluting Anthropomorph at Huancor are found surprisingly close together at the Eastern Sector of the complex (Figure 7). On Panel HCR-E-013 is one example of the Saluting Anthropomorph. On Panel HCR-E-021 are three examples; all outlined and all with hands with three digits. Only one example (with an animal attached to its arm) has feet with three digits (Figure 8). On Panel HCR-E-022 are four examples, mostly fully pecked (Figure 9A). The largest example has a line (added?) that unites its left hand with its shoulder. Another example has three lines from its left arm. It also seems to show male sex. On Panel HCR-E-023 is a single, outlined example, possible with an object in its left hand (Figure 9B). On Panel HCR-E-030 is one example. It is exceptional as it seems to have two left arms (which one is the original?), while its right ‘hand’ seems to carry a bird (Figure 10). Panels HCR-E-052 and HCR-W-036 may have a possible example each. On Panel HCR-S-028 are possibly two examples.

Figure 7: Part of the East Sector of Huancor, southern Peru, indicating the locations of Figures 8 to 10. Photograph © by Maarten van Hoek.

Figure 8: Petroglyphs on Panel HCR-E-013 at Huancor, southern Peru. Relative positions incorrect (see Figure 7). Different scales. Drawings © by Maarten van Hoek.

Figure 9: A: Petroglyphs on Panel HCR-E-022 at Huancor, southern Peru. B: Petroglyphs on Panel HCR-E-023 at Huancor. Different scales. Drawings © by Maarten van Hoek.

Figure 10: Petroglyph on Panel HCR-E-030 at Huancor, southern Peru. Drawing © by Maarten van Hoek.

8: Yangastambo

At Yangastambo (or Yangas) in the Cañete Valley, only 61 km north of Huancor, archaeologist Jean Guffroy recorded two panels (on the same boulder or outcrop?) with altogether four examples of the Saluting Anthropomorph (Figure 11). They all are simple representations, arranged in pairs, and all have their left arm raised over the head. The right arms do not show digits, but it is possible that either a hand or a small object in the right hand has been depicted in some cases. The feet are featureless.

Figure 11: Petroglyphs from Yangastambo, southern Peru. Relative positions not correct. Different scales. Drawings © by Maarten van Hoek, based on photographs by Jean Guffroy (2009: Figs 369 and 370).

9: Chuquillanqui

The impressive rock art site of Quebrada de Algarrobos of the Chuquillanqui Complex in the Chicama Valley of northern Peru (652 km NW of Yangastambo) houses only one simple example of the Saluting Anthropomorph (however with both arms raised). On Panel CH-ALG-2-025 I recorded a fully pecked petroglyph at the base of a huge, almost vertical outcrop stack. It is a fully frontally depicted anthropomorph with its left arm (or is it an object?) curved over its head (Figure 12). The figure has no digits or any other details. Next to this Saluting Anthropomorph is a fully laterally depicted biomorphic figure that could either be interpreted as a bird flapping a very short wing, or as an exhibitionist anthropomorph showing off his very large male organ.

Figure 12: Petroglyphs on Panel CH-ALG-2-025 at Chuquillanqui, northern Peru. Photograph © by Maarten van Hoek.

10: Cerro Licurnique

The most northerly example of the Saluting Anthropomorph that I know of in South America (though not surveyed by me) is found on a boulder near Cerro Licurnique, 220 km NW of Chuquillanqui, but still in Peru. The flat, sloping surface of this large, isolated boulder features a large number of petroglyphs. One of them is a large, fully frontally depicted, outlined anthropomorph with its right arm completely curved over the head (Figure 13). Both arms have three digits each. The feet are featureless. The curved legs are rather large, while the thorax is extremely small resulting in a rather ‘weird’ looking figure. Because of the appendage between the legs the figure may represent a male.

Figure 13: Petroglyph on a large boulder at Licurnique, northern Peru. Drawing © by Maarten van Hoek, based on a photograph by Víctor Becerra Murillo.



11: La Proveedora

I have no knowledge whether examples of the Saluting Anthropomorph have been reported at any of the abundant rock art sites in the remainder of the Pacific Seaboard of South and Central America until we arrive, 5330 km NW of Cerro Licurnique in Peru, at the most extensive petroglyph site of La Proveedora near Caborca in the extreme north of Mexico (not visited by me). Although this site is located in Mexico, I regard it to belong to one of the rock art traditions of North America. In fact La Proveedora belongs to the SW of the USA because the modern border between Mexico and the USA is of no importance at all regarding rock art distribution. Importantly, at least two panels at La Proveedora feature the Saluting Anthropomorph and thus – also because of several abstract rock art motifs that may have migrated via La Proveedora (see Van Hoek 2018b) – the site may well be key in the discussion about possible diffusion of certain rock art elements along the Pacific Seaboard.

On one panel at La Proveedora (Figure 14A) is a fully frontally depicted and almost completely pecked anthropomorphic petroglyph (45 cm in height) that has one arm with barely distinguishable digits hovering over the head. The other arm touches the genital area. It has two outlined extensions from the head that may represent ears or even eyes. The other panel (on the same boulder) has two examples (Figure 14B). One seems to be unfinished, as it seems to have only one leg. The position of the arms is similar, though. The other example (25 cm in height) is fully pecked. One arm is curved around the head and has no digits. The other (straight) arm is at the two o’clock position and ends in three digits. Also the two short legs end in three digits. Between the legs is a short line that may represent male sex.

Figure 14: Petroglyphs from La Proveedora, northern Mexico. Drawings © by Maarten van Hoek, based on drawings by Dominique Ballereau (1988: Lámina III-a and Lámina III-c).

Besides examples of the standard saluting anthropomorph (Ballereau 1988: Láminas I.c; II.a), La Proveedora also has a number of fully frontally anthropomorphs that have a kind of aureole around the head (in fact this is just a simple circular line). In one case such an aureole seems to have originated from the arm of a possible Saluting Anthropomorph petroglyph (Ballereau 1988: Foto 9). It resembles the left-hand example in Figure 14.B.

12: Three Rivers

North of La Proveedora and crossing the Mexican-US border is the extensive area called the South West of the USA. This large area has an abundance of rock art sites with often most characteristic rock art images including numerous most idiosyncratic anthropomorphic figures (both petroglyphs and rock paintings). Yet, at the time of writing I know of only a few examples of the Saluting Anthropomorph in the whole of North America (not counting La Proveedora). One petroglyph at the very extensive rock art site of Three Rivers in central New Mexico (660 km NE of La Proveedora) represents a fully frontally depicted anthropomorph (Figure 1.12; see Figure 1). It has its left arm (with three digits) raised above its square head (Tlaloc-related?) having one small circle representing the left eye. The right eye seems to have weathered off.

Figure 1.12: Petroglyph from Three Rivers, New Mexico, USA. Drawing © by Maarten van Hoek, based on a photograph by Margaret Berrier.

13: Little Petroglyph Canyon

About 770 km to the NW of La Proveedora is the major rock art complex of Little Petroglyph Canyon (part of the well known Coso Complex) in California (not visited; my observations are based on an internet-photo by Ron Wolf). Among the many idiosyncratic anthropomorphic figures of the rock art imagery of this extensive zone is a simple, fully frontally and fully pecked figure that seems to be unfinished (Figure 15). Its left hand holds a straight object (a weapon?), while its right arm is curved over its round, fully pecked head (without showing any facial features).

Figure 15: Petroglyph from Little Petroglyph Canyon, California, USA. Photograph © by Ron Wolf.

14: Utah

One petroglyph of the Saluting Anthropomorph icon has been reported at a site – unfortunately location and name are unknown to me (information based on a photograph found on the internet, long ago) – in the State of Utah, estimated to be located roughly 1000 km NNE of La Proveedora. The anthropomorphic figure (a female?) has its right arm curved over the head (Figure 1.14; see Figure 1). The arm ends in an excessively large hand with rather long digits. Also the other, downward pointing hand is rather large with – again – long fingers. The feet are missing.

Figure 1.14: Petroglyph from a site, unknown to me, Utah (?), USA. Drawing © by Maarten van Hoek, based on a photograph by an author unknown to me (please contact me if you have further information).

15: McElmo Creek

Another panel with the Saluting Anthropomorph icon(s) has been reported at Site 5MT312 at the McElmo Creek rock art site on Cannonball Mesa, SW Colorado, USA, (almost bordering Utah to the west, but not visited by me) about 800 km NE of La Proveedora. The only true example on this panel is almost similar to the Utah figure, except that it has its left arm curved over the head (Figure 16). Moreover, it has feet that are – like the hands – larger than life-size. Like the Utah example it has extensions from the head that could represent ears, but equally they may represent hair whorls. This latter suggestion could indicate that those figures represent females. Whether this suggestion also applies to the Saluting Anthropomorph at Quebrada Agua Blanca in Argentina, which also seems to have ears or hair whorls (Figure 1.1a), is uncertain.

The Saluting Anthropomorph of McElmo Creek (40 cm in height) is flanked to its right by an almost similar saluting figure, but the left arm is not curved over the head. To its left is another, more weathered figure that could be an example of the Saluting Anthropomorph, but the position of its left arm is most uncertain. The petroglyphs on this panel are estimated to be between 700 and 2000 years old.

Figure 16: Petroglyphs from McElmo Creek, Cannonball Mesa, SW Colorado, USA. Drawing © by Maarten van Hoek, based on a photograph by Sally Cole (1990: Plate 47).



Surprisingly, so far only fifteen rock art sites with images of the Saluting Anthropomorph have been reported in the whole of the Study Area. In view of the enormous number of rock art sites in this area (there will be thousands), this is an extremely low number. Also the total number of images at those fifteen sites is extremely low. Excluding some doubtful examples the total of truly true examples is 26, which results in an average of about two examples per site. Again, in view of the many thousands rock art images of anthropomorphs in the Study Area, this is an extremely low number. It thus proves that the icon of the Saluting Anthropomorph is extremely rare. This fact may point to diffusion from one area to another, although this is by no means certain. The icon may as well have developed independently at all – or some – sites. If indeed the icon diffused from one area to another it is also most uncertain where the icon initially originated. It is tempting – because of the relatively high number of examples (12) – to see the Huancor-Yangastambo area in southern Peru as the possible birthplace of the Saluting Anthropomorph, but then it is possible that the same mistake is made when people consider Rome to be the birthplace of Christianity, or to regard Chavín de Huántar as the cradle of Andean Civilisation, only because those places are best known or best documented.

Besides the icon of the Saluting Anthropomorph, other specific motifs, like the Pipette, the Grecian Border, the Barbed Geometric, the Row of Triangles, the Textile Pattern, the Dotted Cross and the Crescent Moon may have diffused along (parts of) the Pacific Seaboard of the Americas (Van Hoek 2018b). Although in many cases there is no factual proof, it seems quite well possible that those rock art motifs travelled from one area to another area (although establishing the birthplace of each motif as well as the direction of the possible diffusion of each motif will remain problematic).

Just as the icon of the Staff Bearer of the Andes travelled – in space and time – from the ancient Cupisnique Cultures that developed along the coast of northern Peru to the High Andes (for instance to Chavín de Huántar) and from there diffused south across the Andes to emerge in later civilisations such as Tiwanaku and finally transforming into the Avian Staff Bearer in the rock art repertoire of northern Chile (the journey of the Staff Bearer has fully been discussed by me [Van Hoek 2016a]), the Saluting Anthropomorph may in the same way have diffused from the Huancor-Yangastambo area to other areas; even to distant areas as San Juan in Argentina or Utah in the USA. The problem is how to prove this. Unfortunately, at the moment there is no proof and definitely no informed knowledge regarding the Saluting Anthropomorph; only graphical parallels are available.

The Case of the Aguada Diffusion

The following discussion proves how differently rock art researchers think about diffusion of rock art images. I demonstrated that the Saluting Anthropomorph has been reported several times at rock art sites in the Desert Andes, the desert area west of the High Andes, but – so far – only in one region on the eastern side of the Andes, at Quebrada Agua Blanca, San Juan, western Argentina. Although I have no proof at all, it is possible that this icon travelled from the Desert Andes across the High Andes to the deserts of what is now western Argentina. It is a fact that at least one other important icon from the Andean Pantheon crossed the Andes; the Staff Bearer. It is also one hundred percent certain that also people and travellers crossed the Andes. Especially the Incas are known for their extensive long-distance networks all over the Andes, many of which already existed in pre-Inca times. There is also no doubt that all those travellers, whether local people, merchants or high status officials diffused goods, ideas and symbolism. Therefore, the following negative comments by Robert, G. Bednarik, editor of the high-quality journal of Rock Art Research regarding the Aguada Diffusion are most surprising.

In a well reasoned paper – published in Rock Art Research – Professor Andrés Troncoso Mélendez and Dr Donald Jackson Squella analyse and discuss two biomorphic petroglyphs in central Chile (2010: Figs 4 and 5) that – so they argue – possibly are testimonies of ‘Aguada’, a ‘culture’ that once occupied northwest Argentina on the western side of the Continental Divide that runs north-south across Andes of South America. Troncoso & Jackson argue that those two images ‘travelled’ across the Andes. Surprisingly, their paper was unsympathetically commented on by Robert Bednarik in Rock Art Research.

Bednarik based his arguments ‘against’ the diffusion theory by Troncoso & Jackson on some petroglyphs from northern Peru and western Canada. In this respect (!) I personally find it rather petty of Bednarik when he continues to write that ‘perhaps there is more to the Andean connection than Troncoso & Jackson suspected; perhaps the ‘Aguada people’ migrated from Peru? Or vice versa?. In this way Bednarik belittles the legitimate attempts of Troncoso & Jackson to establish a case of diffusion from the ‘Aguada’ heartland in Argentina to central Chile. In this way Bednarik also ignores the possibility that not the ‘Aguada people’ migrated from Peru (this I find a typical sneer of Bednarik, who often uses sarcasm to ‘prove’ his point), but that the graphic content of an ancient image diffused across the Andes (from ‘Peru’? – why not?; in several cases ancient imagery did travel across the Andes) to ultimately appear in a different format in ‘Aguada’ iconography and then to diffuse across the Andes to emerge again in central Chile. The scenario presented by Troncoso & Jackson is not at all unthinkable or far fetched, especially as in northern Chile more graphical data have been reported (both textiles and rock art) that seem to substantiate the diffusion hypothesis by Troncoso & Jackson.

I personally think that in his comments Bednarik confuses two levels of reasoning. His ‘broader perspective’ in his Comments is well underpinned and I am convinced that – in global (rock) art – many examples of ‘similar’ feline-looking creatures can indeed be traced back to some sort of ‘fear-generated’ archetype. But I personally find it far too far fetched of Bednarik to even suggest that the ‘Canadian petroglyphs are perfect further candidates for ‘Aguada status’ (those Canadian petroglyphs he is referring to are found more than 10.200 km NW of the Aguada heartland on Vancouver Island). Even if those Canadian examples would have diffused to Argentina (which I doubt very much), I personally find that this way of reasoning belittles the initial and sincere intention of Troncoso & Jackson.

The ‘broader perspective’ monologue by Bednarik would have been most useful if only he had omitted his ‘Comments’ on the diffusion-issue raised by Troncoso &Jackson (but then his monologue would not be applicable as ‘Comments’). In other words, the archetype-issue is completely different to the issue of ‘Images that travel’ across the Andes. Both issues are legitimate, but as they operate on two completely different levels, I am of the opinion that the macro may not be (ab)used in this respect (!) by Bednarik to ‘comment’ the micro. Therefore, the idea postulated by Troncoso & Jackson that the two Chilean petroglyphs may be related to the ‘Aguada’ iconography and may have travelled across the Andes is very legitimate and deserves further (regional) investigation. Similarly, the Saluting Anthropomorph may have diffused along the Pacific Seaboard of the Americas and may as well have travelled across the High Andes.


I am grateful to Dr. Johan Reinhard for his general permission to use his photographic material (Figure 3). I am also indebted to Ron Wolf for his permission to use and publish his photographs, one of which has been included in this study as Figure 15 and as Cover Photo. Long ago Renata Aguirre Bianchi kindly shared many of his photographs with me, one of which has been used to base Figure 4 upon. I am also grateful to Margaret Berrier for her permission to use and publish her photos, one of which has been used to base my Figure 1.12 upon. Of course the copyright of those photographs remains with those authors and of course every opinion expressed by me in this study remains my responsibility.


The map of Figure 1 is based on Google Earth (Open Street Map) and all distances (as the crow flies) mentioned in this study are based on Google Earth. Notice that the squares on the map only very approximately indicate the locations. The photographs have digitally been enhanced by me. In most drawings all other images on the rock panel have been omitted by me. The illustrations based on sources other than my own surveys concern sites that I have not visited myself. When my drawings have been derived from photos, they are rather accurate, but still they remain my interpretation and thus – in some instances – my drawings may be inaccurate, or incorrect. When my drawings are based on other people’s drawings, I cannot guarantee their correctness. Every illustration in this study is the responsibility of the author. Finally, I would like to thank all people who, directly or indirectly, helped me with the realisation of this study, especially my wife Elles.



Ballereau, D. 1988. El arte rupestre en Sonora: petroglifos en Caborca. Trace. Vol. 14; pp. 5 – 72; CEMCA. Mexico.

Cole, S. J. 1990. Legacy on stone. Rock Art of the Colorado Plateau and Four Corners Region. Johnson Books. Boulder, Colorado, USA.

García, A. 2014. Los petroglifos del Cerro Blanco de Zonda (San Juan).  Comechingonia. Revista de Arqueología. Vol. 18; pp. 161 – 180. Córdoba, Argentina.

Guffroy, J. 2009. Imágenes y paisajes rupestres del Perú. USMP, Peru – IRD, France.

Lee, G. and E. Stasack. 1999. Spirit of Place. Petroglyphs of Hawai’i. Easter Island Foundation. Los Osos, CA, USA.

Troncoso, A. and D. Jackson. 2010. Images that travel: ‘Aguada’ rock art in north-central Chile. Rock Art Research. Vol. 27-1; pp. 43 – 60. Melbourne, Australia. With RAR Comments by Natalia Carden, Dánae Fiore and Robert G. Bednarik; with RAR Reply by the authors. PDF – Read my comments on Bednarik’s Comments.

Van Hoek, M. 2016a. The Avian Staff Bearer. Upgrading a Controversial Icon in Atacama Rock Art. In: TRACCE – On-Line Rock Art Bulletin, Italy.

Van Hoek, M. 2016b. Icons That Travel. The Enigmatic Traveller in Desert Andes Rock Art. In: TRACCE – on-line Rock Art Bulletin. Italy.

Van Hoek, M.  2018a. Indifferent Obliteration of Petroglyph Art. In: TRACCE – Online Rock Art Bulletin, Italy.

Van Hoek, M. 2018b. Possible Indications for Long Distance Diffusion of Rock Art Motifs in the Americas. In: TRACCE – Online Rock Art Bulletin, Italy.

Van Hoek, M. 2018c. Formative Period Rock Art in Arequipa, Peru. An up-dated analysis of the rock art from Caravelí to Vítor. Oisterwijk. Holland. Book available as PDF at ResearchGate.

Van Hoek, M. 2018d. The Supernatural Flight of the ‘Trophy-Bird’ of Alto de Pitis, Majes Valley, Peru. In: TRACCE – On-Line Rock Art Bulletin, Italy.

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