False Information Concerning Majes Rock Art, Peru

Scientific publications should always be reliable. The content may never be incorrect or misleading. This also goes for publications regarding rock art, whether by amateurs or by academics. This short paper deals with two photographs of petroglyphs from the Majes Valley, southern Peru, and the conclusions based upon those illustrations published by two academics from the USA. Regrettably, both the photos and the conclusions are unambiguously incorrect.

By Maarten van Hoek


False Information Concerning Majes Rock Art, Peru

Maarten van Hoek – rockart @ home.nl



Looking for additional information about the rock art in the Majes Valley, southern Peru, I came across two disturbing photos published by two academic scientists, Beth Koontz Scaffidi (School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona, USA) and Tifiny Tung (Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee, USA). The two alarming photos concern Figure 3A and B of their research article published in 2020: “Endemic violence in a pre-Hispanic Andean community: A bioarchaeological study of cranial trauma from the Majes Valley, Peru”; American Journal of Physical Anthropology; Issue 2020; pp. 1 – 24. This current report will discuss the serious flaws of those two photos and the incorrect conclusions.


The Two Photos

The caption of the two photos by Beth Koontz Scaffidi and Tifiny Tung reads: FIGURE 3 Photograph documenting violent practices from petroglyphs near the Uraca cemetery. (a) Anthropomorphic figure holding a human trophy head from its right hand and a possible weapon from its left hand, and (b) figure whose right hand terminates in a human trophy head, possibly holding a spear or shield in the left hand (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Drawing © by Maarten van Hoek, based on the two photos published by Beth Koontz Scaffidi and Tifiny Tung (2020: Figure 3a and b).

There are four serious issues regarding those photos. Firstly, it is uncertain whether the authors chalked/painted the petroglyphs or that they digitally drew the images onto (their?) photos. I have seen the Toro Muerto petroglyph (Figure 1A) several times and never did I notice any traces of paint or chalk. However, a photograph of the Alto de Pitis anthropomorph (Figure 1B) published by Paul Álvarez Zeballos (2009: 34, Fig. P-ps8) shows faint traces of chalk. As archaeologist Álvarez Zeballos claims to be the first to have recorded this boulder, it is likely that he chalked the petroglyph, faint traces of which were still visible when I inspected the boulder in 2009; a completely unacceptable action for any rock art researcher. Therefore, in the caption of the two photos published by Beth Koontz Scaffidi and Tifiny Tung (2020: Figs 3a and b) it should have been described what was done either with the petroglyphs in the field or with the photos to get this (misleading) result. Secondly, the authorship of the photos is not mentioned in the caption and it is thus uncertain who the author(s) is (are). It is possible that the original photos were made by Beth Koontz Scaffidi and/or Tifiny Tung, but I highly doubt that. I even doubt whether they have actually seen the two relevant boulders in the field that are located 6450 m apart.

Thirdly and most disturbingly, both images in their Figure 3 are completely incorrect and therefore (fourthly), because their photos are fabricated and thus misleading, their conclusions are misleading as well. Based on their photos Scaffidi and Tung write (2020: 7; Figure 3): Rock art scenes at the neighboring petroglyphs of Toro Muerto convey a preoccupation with violence. Various scenes include a halfhuman, half-animal figure holding a human trophy head by the hair (Figure 3a); a cat holding a human head by the hair from its mouth (Figure 3b); and at the petroglyph site of Pitis, just across the Majes river from Uraca, there is a warrior wearing a decorated tunic holding a human trophy head (Figure 3b) (see also Núñez Jiménez, 1986; Van Hoek, 2010).

However, their Figure 3a is not half-human, half-animal. It clearly is a fully frontally depicted anthropomorphic figure (Figure 2A). Moreover, this “trophy-head” carrier definitely does not hold “a possible weapon from its left hand”. That conclusion is completely fabricated, being based on a false photograph (see the empty space in Figure 3A). Their Figure 3b definitely is nota cat holding a human head by the hair from its mouth” (see Figure 1B).


Figure 2: A. The Toro Muerto petroglyph; B. The Alto de Pitis petroglyph. Drawings © by Maarten van Hoek (please excuse minor inaccuracies).

Also, their Figure 3b is not an anthropomorphic warrior “possibly holding a spear or shield in the left hand”. I even doubt for several reasons if the figure is a warrior. In fact the two feet and the left arm and hand are not even shown in their photo and consequently they misinterpreted a rake-like petroglyph to its left (a crudely executed zoomorph?) as a spear or shield. I cannot recall to have ever seen an anthropomorphic figure in Majes Rock Art carrying a shield and the only unambiguous depictions of spears (arrows or atlatls) in Majes rock art have been recorded at the rock art site of Chillihuay in Ocoña (Van Hoek 2014). Finally, in an earlier publication I expressed my doubts whether the right hand of their Figure 3b is holding a “trophy-head” (Van Hoek 2010: 11). The two “eyes” in the hand of the figure in their Figure 3b are in fact a cluster of random markings. Concluding, both their photos and their conclusions are false.

Figure 3: A. The Toro Muerto petroglyph; B. The Alto de Pitis petroglyph. Photographs © by Maarten van Hoek.


The Historical Context of my Criticism

Their Figures 3a and 3b are disturbing for another reason. The authors could easily (during the preparation of their research article in 2019) have checked the authenticity and correctness of their two photos, especially as they refer to the work by Núñez Jiménez (1986) and to my 2010-publication. First of all, although many drawings by Núñez Jiménez are notoriously incorrect (Van Hoek 2011), his drawing of the “trophy-head” carrier (1986: Fig. 2304) is almost flawless. Moreover, my 2010-publication also features a drawing of the same “trophy-head” carrier on Boulder Da-032 at Toro Muerto (Van Hoek 2010: Fig. 2), which Scaffidi and Tung must have seen (why referring to a publication and not using it?). Not only in 2010 a far more correct illustration of the petroglyph in their Figure 3a was published. Also in the next year a similar drawing was published in a book questioning many of Núñez Jiménez’ drawings (Van Hoek 2011: 123). Moreover, a photograph of their Figure 3b was also published by me earlier (Van Hoek 2013: Fig. 129). Yet, Scaffidi and Tung decided to publish their photographs and their conclusions, apparently without having checked their material in the field or in publications.

Final Recommendations

Every researcher will agree that it is completely inexcusable for scientists (whether amateur or academic) to publish false information, whether this concerns drawings, photographs or textual information. Earlier I exposed a rock art researcher (deceased) for falsely manipulating a photo of the well-known Cupisnique petroglyph at Palamenco in northern Peru (Van Hoek 2011: 64, 71) in order to make his photo looking like the incorrect (!) drawing by Núñez Jiménez (1986: Fig. 1053). In this case the researcher admitted his manipulation and apologised on the internet. Mind you, I am not claiming that Núñez Jiménez intentionally made incorrect drawings; in his case they concern understandable time-related cases of sloppiness. My main concern was and still is that the incorrect illustrations by Núñez Jiménez (and by others!) are being used and published as if they represent the correct images. My recommendation therefore is either not to use any drawing by Núñez Jiménez or any of the drawings discussed in my 2016-publication (unless you have checked in the field or via reliable photos that the drawing is correct), or to mention their incorrectness in the intended publication.

Because I cannot tolerate the publication of incorrect material (and no-one should) , I published a paper in 2016 in which I questioned the incorrect drawings of Andean rock art images published by several academic archaeologists. The title of that publication (in Spanish) speaks for itself. In the paper I also questioned the incorrect drawings published by Maritza Rodríguez Cerrón and Daniel Chumpitaz Llerena (2014). However, also those two professional archaeologists chose to ignore my 2016-publication and my recommendations, as in 2020 they used the same incorrect illustrations in an online presentation about rock art at Chillihuay (Ocoña, southern Peru). Therefore I published my criticism again, in English and in Spanish (Van Hoek 2020), but the only reaction of Daniel Chumpitaz Llerena was that I was free to express my opinion.

Obviously Chumpitaz Llerena completely missed the point. My problem was not “not having freedom of speech”, but the fact that certain academic scientists (fortunately only a minority) prefer to repeat their mistakes or the mistakes made by other “scientists” and thus prefer to continue to publish false information and incorrect conclusions. The information published by such “scientists” is no longer reliable. It is a sad situation when illustrations are deceitfully manipulated in order to add more authority to a publication. This also goes the 2020-publication by Scaffidi and Tung, whether this was done intentionally or not. Professor Tung knows me and had better asked my assistance regarding the rock art part of the publication. The rest of their research paper is most informative and therefore I say: Schoenmaker, blijf bij je leest.

My recommendations therefore are (again): Never publish manipulated or incorrect illustrations and if it is clear that an illustration is definitely incorrect and thus misleading, it should never be used or published by anyone ever again. This also goes for Figures 3a and 3b by Beth Koontz Scaffidi and Tifiny Tung (2020).



Álvarez Zeballos, P. J. 2009. Petroglifos de Cantas, Pitis, La Mezana y La Laja; Valle de Majes. Once available online at: Arqueología de Perú. PDF available from the author.

Chumpitaz Llerena D., Rodríguez Cerrón M. 2014. Los Petroglifos de Chillihuay: La imagen antropomorfa (del formativo al perío o de integración Wari). In: Rupestreweb.

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.

Rodríguez Cerrón, M. and D. Chumpitaz Llerena. 2020. Charla Rupestre: Los Petroglifos de Chillihuay. Arequipa. Video on YouTube.

Scaffidi, B. and T. Tung. 2020. Endemic violence in a pre-Hispanic Andean community: A bioarchaeological study of cranial trauma from the Majes Valley, Peru. American Journal of Physical Anthropology. Vol. 2020; pp. 1 – 24. PDF available at Academia.

Van Hoek, M. 2010. “Trophy” Heads in the Rock Art of the Majes Valley, Peru: Exploring their Possible Origin. In: Rupestreweb.

Van Hoek, M. 2011. Petroglyphs of Peru – Following the Footsteps of Antonio Núñez Jiménez. Oisterwijk, The Netherlands. PDF available at ResearchGate.

Van Hoek, M. 2013. The Carcancha and the Apu. Rock Art in the Death Valley of the Andes.  Oisterwijk, The Netherlands.

Van Hoek, M. 2014. The shaman, the lord and the warrior: anthropomorphic petroglyphs at Chillihuay, Arequipa, Peru. In: Rupestreweb.

Van Hoek, M. 2016. Sobre Dibujos de Arte Rupestre (Andino). Una Petición Para Sólo Publicar Dibujos Que Son Científicamente Sólidos. In: TRACCE – On-line Rock Art Bulletin, Italy.

Van Hoek, M. 2020. Enfrentando los dibujos… ¡otra vez! (Perú). Confronting the Drawings … Again! (Peru). In: TRACCE – On-line Rock Art Bulletin, Italy.


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