War and Weapons in Majes Style Rock Art?

This study investigates the possibility whether rock art images in the Majes Valley of southern Peru indeed depict weapons or conflicts between humans. The bio-archaeological excavations and research at Uraca (Majes Valley) by Beth Scaffidi and Tiffiny Tung  suggest that the rock art of especially neighbouring Toro Muerto conveys a preoccupation with violence (Scaffidi and Tung 2020). However, the current study demonstrates that there is not any proof or any convincing graphical context confirming “violent events in nearby petroglyphs”.

By Maarten van Hoek


War and Weapons in Majes Style Rock Art?

Maarten van Hoek

Click on any illustration to see an enlargement.


In Andean archaeology there often seems to be a discrepancy between the rock art imagery of a region and the images or patterns in other art expressions, for instance in architectural art and items retrieved from excavations, like ceramics and textiles and other objects. For instance, the stepped pattern that is frequently found in textiles, ceramics and even in architectural art, is – surprisingly – very rare in Desert Andes rock art.

Another striking example concerns the well-known “dancer” icon from the Majes Valley in southern Peru. So far I have recorded more than 1100 petroglyphs of this icon at only three rock art sites in the territory of the Majes Rock Art Style. Remarkably, the Majes “dancer” is often ascribed to the Wari culture of the Middle Horizon. However, I seriously dispute this claim, as I am certain that Wari only marginally influenced local rock art production and also because I cannot recall to have ever seen Wari ceramics or textiles or any other Wari object depicting a Majes “dancer”. The only artefacts definitely depicting the Majes “dancer” so far retrieved, are four small, pyro-engraved objects (canes and a gourd) allegedly found “somewhere” in Arequipa. Moreover, they are said to be much older than Wari (Van Hoek 2018: 82).

Therefore any statement claiming a correlation between rock art imagery and locally excavated artefacts and biological remains – and even conclusions based upon those artefacts and biological remains – should always be authenticated by reliable evidence.

For that reason I was very surprised to learn that the results of a scientific archaeological excavation at Uraca in the Central Majes Valley of southern Peru had been linked with the rock art of the nearby rock art sites of Toro Muerto and Alto de Pitis. The leading excavators – academic bio-archaeologists Beth Scaffidi and Tiffiny Tung – notably wrote “Uraca may have actively constructed their reputation for violence through raiding other groups, taking trophy heads (Scaffidi, 2018), and recording these violent events in nearby petroglyphs.” (Scaffidi and Tung 2020: 18-19; my emphasis). Whether the first part of their statement is correct or not is irrelevant in this study, but the claim that “these violent events were recorded in nearby petroglyphs” is astonishing, as it is in my opinion highly controversial and downright unsubstantiated. By writing this, they explicitly claim that (part of) the imagery at Toro Muerto and at Alto de Pitis depicts “violent events of raiding other groups and taking of trophy heads”. This is not true, as will be demonstrated in this study.

Moreover, in order to strengthen their arguments they also included two photographs in their publication about the Uraca excavations for which their caption reads: “Fig. 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.” (Scaffidi and Tung 2020: 8; my emphases). In this caption they not only claim that those petroglyphs depict “violent practices”, they also suggest that (possibly) weapons have been depicted. I will return to their conclusions later on. This study now will discuss two issues in this respect, disputing their claims.

Firstly I will make evident that unambiguous representations of weapons are almost non-existent in Majes Style Rock Art. Only an extremely small number of petroglyphs unambiguously involving weapons have so far (2021) been recorded. For the rest there are rare instances where a possible object might tentatively be interpreted as a weapon. Secondly I will demonstrate that there is also no question of “violent practices” dominating or even being represented in Majes rock art imageries, although there are many scenes of confrontations, some even involving aggression, so it seems. However, based on the information that is available, I claim that, “violent practices” involving two individuals or groups of people are completely absent in Majes Style Rock Art.

Weapons in Rock Art

Many thousands of years ago humans soon figured out that a natural object could serve as a tool or as a weapon. A simple stone was equally easy used to crush nuts or to smash the head of an enemy. The same goes for artificially made objects, like knives, axes, spears, atlatls and bows and arrows. At certain times other artificial objects were made solely for their use in conflicts and warfare, like helmets and armours and swords and shields. Weapons have been depicted in rock art at several places in the world, but not in every area and not in every era. Also in the Desert Andes – the wide coastal strip of extremely dry land west of the High Andes – there are regions where weapons have been depicted in rock art, while other areas are completely bereft of rock art images depicting weapons or conflicts.

In general there are three categories of activities in which weapons can be used. Although there is no evidence to establish a chronological order, I tentatively would like to suggest that weapons were first used in hunting practices. There are many rock art scenes in which humans hunt game with the atlatl and – in North and South America introduced “somewhat” later – the bow and arrow. When populations in certain areas increased, weapons will also have been used in local conflicts and ultimately in large scale warfare. Also conflict or warfare scenes have been found at several rock art sites in the world and also in the Andes (for instance, several rock art scenes involving combatting archers have been discussed and illustrated by me [Van Hoek 2019]).

Thirdly, it is a fact that certain weapons have been used in rituals, like the obsidian knifes in Meso America, where – for instance – the Maya used obsidian blades for bloodletting rituals. In certain parts of the Desert Andes the elite of several societies used a sacred knife – called Tumi – in certain rituals, but the Tumi was also used for more mundane practices. Images of the Tumi – either worn by anthropomorphic figures or depicted in isolation – are rather frequently found in Desert Andes rock art sites (Van Hoek 2013b; 2016; 2017). Yet Andean rock art scenes unambiguously involving weapons used in rituals are extremely rare or even absent (depending on someone’s interpretation of the term “scene”). Perhaps the (almost complete?) absence of ritual scenes involving weapons in Andean rock art is explained by a kind of taboo.

Weapons and Confrontations

in Majes Style Rock Art?

Majes Style Rock Art comprises a rather easily recognisable collection of rock art images that are almost exclusively found in the area between the valley of the Río Caravelí in the west of the Department of Arequipa, southern Peru, to the valley of the Río Vítor in the east (a coastal strip of roughly 200 km wide and reaching about 90 km inland). Although I have visited many sites in this area and have literally seen thousands of photographs with petroglyphs (and a few pictographs) of rock art images in this area, I am not aware to have ever seen an unambiguous depiction of an archer using his bow and arrow in this area. Yet, there exist very rare rock art images of weapons or of anthropomorphs carrying weapons in Majes Style Rock Art. Also images of confrontations occur, but whether anthropomorphic figures are involved remains to be seen. Known images of (possible) weapons and (possible) confrontations in Majes Style Rock Art will now be discussed from west (Caravelí) to east (Vítor), without claiming that I have seen all rock art images of this enormous area in the field. In fact, nobody has.



The rock art sites of the Caravelí drainage are only poorly documented and publications are scarce and sometimes misleading (Van Hoek 2018: 39 – 41) and for that reason only little is known about the occurrence of weapons and/or confrontations in Caravelí rock art. Yet, some images might be revealing. On Boulder SCP-006 at Socospampa is a petroglyph of a “waving” anthropomorph that apparently holds an object in its right hand. This might be a weapon (an axe, or – because of the hook – an atlatl perhaps). The square motif to its right might be a shield or may be completely unrelated (see inset: Van Hoek 2018: Fig. 6). An anthropomorphic petroglyph reported by Mario Antonio Casas Berdejo from Arequipa on Boulder RCC-Pe-031 at Sector 2 of the rock art site of Río Caravelí Centre not only shows characteristics of the Paracas iconography of the Palpa-Nasca area (evident in both rock art and geoglyph art), but it also seems to hold an object in its left hand, which might represent a weapon (see: Van Hoek 2018: Fig. 41).

To show how tricky interpretation of rock art can be, I very tentatively would like to suggest that the petroglyph of a quadruped reported by Mario Antonio Casas Berdejo on Boulder RCC-Pe-036 at Sector 2 at Río Caravelí Centre, might possibly represent a camelid (?) hit by a bola. The body of the animal has eight appendages, four of which will be legs, while the left-most line may be an (exaggeratedly long) tail. The shortest appendage has a knob, which might be the stone at the end of the bola, while also the rope seems to be visible (Figure 1). The neck and head are turned awkwardly backwards (depicting a struggle or even agony?). Similarly, a few petroglyphs of camelids at Quilcapampa in the Sihuas drainage have a line from the neck ending in a small circle (Stephen Berquist 2021: pers. comm.). These lines may represent leashes with perhaps a tethering-stone. However, it even might represent a bola.

Figure 1. Inset: the original image of a petroglyph of a quadruped on Boulder RCC-Pe-036 at Río Caravelí Centre, a rock art site in the Caravelí drainage. The larger drawing shows my tentative suggestion of a bola-hunt being depicted. Drawings © by Maarten van Hoek, based on a photograph by Mario Casas Berdejo.

A second possible hunting scene in the Caravelí drainage that might involve two very simple archers (?) also reported by Mario Antonio Casas Berdejo on Panel QSC-Pe-006AB in Sector 3 of the Río Caravelí rock art site in the Caravelí drainage. On this panel is a long row of thirteen match-stick camelids that is seemingly attacked (?) by a dog-like zoomorphic figure and by a few match-stick anthropomorphic figures, two of which might aim a bow and arrow at the row of camelids. Unfortunately, these two anthropomorphs (and possibly others) are partially buried beneath rubble (Van Hoek 2019: Fig. 39).



Only 25 km east of Caravelí is the rock art complex of Chillihuay in Ocoña, one of the few sites in the Majes Style Rock Art Sphere where at least three unambiguous images of anthropomorphs carrying weapons have been recorded by Rainer Hostnig in 2008. The main group is found on Panel CHY-F-004 where two large petroglyphs definitely represent warriors, both armed with atlatls (Van Hoek 2014: Figs 8, 9 and 10 ). However, it is obvious that they are not involved in a conflict. One warrior is depicted fully frontally, facing east, while the other is looking north, away from him, aiming its spear and throwing-spear towards the path immediately north of the panel. Earlier I suggested that those two impressive, Paracas-related warriors symbolically guarded the eastern entrance to the Sacred Site of Chillihuay (Van Hoek 2014). The third example on Panel CHY-A-007 is less impressive, but very informative as well. It concerns a small, fully frontally depicted anthropomorphic figure with a square head, apparently without facial features. It has an X-symbol on its thorax. Its right hand holds a simple object that could be the spear-thrower, especially as in its left hand it seems to “hold” a stash of four spare spears (see Figure 6A). I will briefly return to this figure later on.

A fully frontally depicted anthropomorphic petroglyph on Panel CHY-D-027, also with an X-motif on the thorax, has a vertically depicted object in its right hand (Van Hoek 2018: Fig. 33), which also could be a weapon (a throwing stick?). Another, very complex anthropomorphic figure (recorded by archaeologists Daniel Chumpitaz Llerena and Maritza Rodriguez Cerrón somewhere at the Chillihuay complex) shows a short, linear groove across both hands (weapons?). Two simpler anthropomorphic figures on Panel CHY-A-001, recorded by Rainer Hostnig, have short horizontally arranged arms ending in outlined objects that might represent a shield. Rainer Hostnig recorded three more possible warriors or hunters, including a fully frontally depicted anthropomorph on Panel CHY-D-015 and another on Panel CHY-D-024. Each figure holds a vertically arranged object  in its right hand, while the left hand is connected by a line to a quadruped. On Panel CHY-D-025 is a small, fully frontally depicted anthropomorph with a vertically arranged object in its left hand. All those objects could be weapons. However, in general any simple, straight object could easily represent something else. Moreover, one should always consider the possibility that parts of a petroglyphs (like a linear “object”) have been added at a later stage for reasons that differ from the initial meaning of the image. This difference in content may even be enormous. For instance when an initially peaceful and inactive anthropomorph is changed into a hunting archer or menacing warrior.



On a large boulder in the Quebrada de Manga, recorded for the first time by Kurt Rademaker and David Reid (Rademaker 2012: pers. comm.), is – among many other petroglyphs – a petroglyph comprising an equal-armed cross of which each arm ends in a small circle (Van Hoek 2013a: Fig. 44). My tentative suggestion is that this motif could represent or symbolise some sort of a bola (or sling?). Comparable – but not identical – petroglyphs have been reported from Toro Muerto in the Majes drainage and at Quilcapampa in the Sihuas drainage.

Further north in Manga is the extensive petroglyph site of Illomas (Jennings, Van Hoek et al; 2019) where only few indications of possible weapons have so far been recorded. On Boulder PAJ-019 is a small anthropomorphic figure with a straight object in each hand. On Boulder PAJ-001 are some fully pecked discs with a short groove from the top, for which I have tentatively suggested that they possibly represent bola stones (Jennings, Van Hoek et al.; 2019: Fig. 18). Also the few instances of confrontations at this site are rather ambiguous. On Panel PAJ-005 it seems as if two large birds and two snakes are confronting each other (Jennings, Van Hoek et al.; 2019: Fig. 29). More convincing are the  two large quadrupeds with wide open mouths on Panel PAJ-043 at Illomas that are (aggressively?) confronting each other (Jennings, Van Hoek et al.; 2019: Fig. 20). A possible (peaceful?) confrontation between two quadrupeds appears on Panel PAJ-146. However, especially the imagery of the neighbouring Majes drainage will explain why confrontations between zoomorphs are important in this study.



In the scope of this study it is the Majes drainage which is the most important, as the conclusions based upon the results of the Uraca excavation by Scaffidi and Tung (2019) actually refer to only the rock art images of the Central Majes Valley; more specifically to only the rock art sites of Toro Muerto (with an estimated 30.000 petroglyphs) and Alto de Pitis (with possibly over 6000 petroglyphs). Mainly these two sites will be considered in this study.

A major characteristic of the rock art at Toro Muerto and – to a lesser extent – at Alto de Pitis, is that there are numerous scenes, often involving groups of Majes “dancers” that sometimes are even standing on a horizontal bar. However, unambiguous representations of weapons, of anthropomorphs carrying weapons and scenes where two individuals or groups of people are confronting each other, are as far as I know unknown at those two sites (and – for that matter – anywhere else in the Majes Valley). Yet there are two groups of petroglyphs that are important in this study.

Anthropomorphs and Weapons

To start with, there are only very few anthropomorphic petroglyphs at Toro Muerto that possibly may be carrying weapons. However, in every case these objects may equally represent sticks, staffs or some other object. On Panel TM-Bn-004 at Toro Muerto (TM) a distorted one-armed anthropomorphic figure (a Majes “dancer”?) seems to carry a curved object (a bow?). On Panel TM-Bn-005 (see cover photo) is a Majes “dancer” petroglyph that seems to hold a short object in its left hand, while two possible Majes “dancers” on the same panel also have a linear object in the left hand. Below those two images are two confronting zoomorphs. On Panel TM-Da-048 is a small petroglyph of an anthropomorph with both arms raised possibly holding three short, linear objects. More interesting is the petroglyph of a possible Majes “dancer” on Panel TM-Bg-028A. The strangely flexed figure seems to carry two parallel objects that are diagonally orientated. They are held either by one (outlined) arm or by its two (single-lined) arms (Figure 2A). Also interesting is the single anthropomorphic figure (a Majes “dancer”?) with outstretched arms that both almost touch two groups of two parallel grooves. It was recorded by the Proyecto Toro Muerto in 2015 and listed as Boulder TMP-0772. Finally it also must be mentioned that among the hundreds of Majes “dancer” petroglyphs that I have inspected at Toro Muerto and Alto de Pitis there is not a single instance of a confrontation scene. Majes “Dancers” never face or challenge one another.

On Panel AP3-076E at Alto de Pitis is a possible scene involving an anthropomorph apparently standing on (riding?) a quadruped. This outlined anthropomorph (related to the Majes “dancer”?) is frontally depicted and has a straight object (weapons?) in each hand. One arm is raised; the other is drooping (Figure 2B). Mention must be made of the possible deity petroglyph on Panel AP3-059 at Alto de Pitis. It may carry a spear-thrower (Van Hoek 2013: 88; Fig. 85). Although I do not know of other petroglyphs at Alto de Pitis possibly depicting weapons, there is one anthropomorph – on Boulder AP3-186 (Van Hoek 2019: Fig. 38) – that might carry a bow (and arrow?).

Figure 2. A: Petroglyph of a Majes “Dancer” (?) on Panel TM-Bg-028A at Toro Muerto in the Majes drainage. B: Petroglyph of an anthropomorph standing (?) on a quadruped on Panel AP3-076E at Alto de Pitis. Photographs © by Maarten van Hoek.

At Toro Muerto there may exist other (but still ambiguous) indications of weapons. On Panel TM-Cd-024 there is an equal-armed cross of which each arm ends in a curl. This motif (which is extremely rare in Majes Style Rock Art) may be compared with a similar petroglyph in the Manga drainage and with two examples in the Sihuas drainage. This motif might represent a bola-device (this is only my subjective and tentative interpretation). In this respect it is important that Tung records the recovery of bola stones from both the two important excavation sites in the Majes Valley: Beringa and La Real (2007: 944).

Although Scaffidi and Tung mention the existence of a possible “shield” petroglyph in their discussion (2019: Fig. 3), there is – as far as I know – only one petroglyph at Toro Muerto of an anthropomorph that might carry a shield. On a large undisclosed panel with mainly abstract petroglyphs and some images of the Rectangular Bird there is also a fully frontally depicted anthropomorphic figure with a centrally placed, vertical line flanked by rows of dots on its body. In its left hand it seems to hold a long, rectangular object filled with dots; an object which might represent a shield. However, the complete lack of comparable objects in Majes Style Rock Art (whether held by anthropomorphic figures or not) seems to undermine my suggestion.

Interestingly, there are a few petroglyphs of anthropomorphic figures that could symbolise some sort of ritual as they are topped by or directly associated with objects that I have interpreted as “Insignia Tumis”; high-status objects (Van Hoek 2016). A tumi is a sacred Andean ceremonial knife and is sometimes found in rock art imagery in an inverted position (blade down) hovering over an anthropomorphic figure. One extremely rare type of petroglyph – occurring only at Toro Muerto –  is associated with “snakes” from the arm-pits. Only four examples – on three boulders – have so far been recorded by me. Three other Toro Muerto petroglyphs of anthropomorphs (not associated with “snakes”, though) also have an inverted tumi; one replacing a nose, so it seems. As far as I know, no isolated petroglyphs of the inverted tumi have been reported at Toro Muerto. Only at the rock art site of La Laja, north of Toro Muerto in the Majes Valley, I noticed one example surrounded by (but not associated with) other – mainly zoomorphic – petroglyphs. Despite the occurrence of petroglyphs of the “Insignia Tumi” in the Majes Valley, there are no scenes involving a tumi in Majes Style Rock Art and definitely no scenes involving violence and a tumi.

Confrontation Scenes

Secondly, although there are no scenes where anthropomorphic figures are directly confronting each other in Majes Style Rock Art, it is surprising to see how numerous scenes there are at Toro Muerto (and to a lesser extent at Alto de Pitis and other Majes Style sites) in which zoomorphs (involving for instance two birds, two quadrupeds or mixed species) are confronting each other. In some instances those scenes seem to depict peaceful, even playful events (my subjective interpretation), while in other scenes there seems to be a certain degree of aggression involved, especially when open mouths are displayed. In some instances those open mouths could also represent the making some kind of sound, like – in the case of canines – (aggressively) barking (Jennings, Van Hoek et al.; 2019: Fig. 20).

A few scenes at Toro Muerto even seem to depict a situation in which zoomorphs aggressively dispute an object that – in most cases – most likely symbolises a “trophy” head. On Panel  TM-Bd-007D an aggressive-looking feline (?) and a large Rectangular Bird seem to dispute a “trophy” head (Van Hoek 2010: Fig. 32), while on Panel TM-Cb-002 two birds appear to dispute a very small “trophy” head (Van Hoek 2010: Fig. 33). On Panel TM-Aa-048C two quadrupeds (foxes or dogs?) dispute an unidentifiable petroglyph (an animal or an object?). On Panel TM-Bb-002 two large birds seem to dispute a prey (a snake?). Finally (but there are more examples), a large Spitter on Boulder TM-Bc-004 “spits” at the first animal of a row of six camelids (a ritual, symbolic confrontation or just plain aggression?).

On Panel TM-Aa-007B are three small zoomorphs that seem to attack a larger zoomorph that is in turn confronted (attacked?) by a similar, large zoomorph. One unique scene on Panel TM-Bf-061 depicts a feline (?) that seems to be occupied devouring a bird (Figure 3A). In another extremely rare, possibly unique scene on Boulder TM-Bg-002 there are three zoomorphs (dogs or foxes?) that seem to attack or (about to) devour a recumbent (dead?) anthropomorphic figure (Figure 3B). Although there is a bow-shaped groove next to the scene, there are no unambiguous weapons involved in this scene.

Figure 3. Petroglyphs A: on Panel TM-Bf-061 and B: on Boulder TM-Bg-002, both from Toro Muerto, southern Peru. Photographs © by Maarten van Hoek (all heavily enhanced).



Also the rock art imagery of the sites in the Sihuas Valley does not involve any confrontation between people as far as I know. Only a very limited number of confrontations between zoomorphs have so far been recorded, for instance at Quebrada de la Tuna (a rather peaceful-looking encounter between two camelids) and for instance at Quilcapampa (a rather aggressive-looking confrontation between two birds, recorded by Stephen Berquist in 2016 [ 2021: pers. comm.]). Some other instances at Quilcapampa seem to depict non-aggressive confrontations between quadrupeds (mainly camelids). In this drainage there are at least two petroglyphs of cross-shaped devices with curled or circular ends (more or less comparable with a similar design in the Manga drainage and at Toro Muerto. I recorded one example at Quilcapampa (Figure 4), while another was recorded by Stephen Berquist of the Proyecto de Investigación Arqueológica Quilcapampa La Antigua (PIAQ), also at Quilcapampa (Figure 4: inset). They might represent bolas, but again, my interpretation may be questionable.

Figure 4. Petroglyphs from Quilcapampa in the Sihuas Valley, southern Peru. Photograph © by Maarten van Hoek and (inset) ©  by Stephen Berquist of the Proyecto de Investigación Arqueológica Quilcapampa La Antigua (PIAQ).



So far only one rock art site in the Vítor drainage (Tacar) embodies the only spot – besides Toro Muerto and Alto de Pitis – where rock art images of the Majes “dancer” and the Majes Spitter have definitely been recorded (Van Hoek 2018). On Boulder TAC-004 are five simple, randomly placed Majes “dancers” and – on another panel of the same boulder – two confronting Majes Spitters (Van Hoek 2013a: Fig. 57). At the same site are also the petroglyphs of two confronting camelids. Possibly at the same site a second scene of two confronting Majes Spitters was reported (Van Hoek 2013a: Fig. 53) on a boulder said to be found “at Huachipa” by Rodolfo Talavera Zúñiga (Talavera Zúñiga 2009: pers. comm.).

More importantly, the Vítor drainage is (after Ocoña) the second drainage in the Study Area  where unambiguous rock art images of weapons have been recorded. At the extensive petroglyph of La Caldera, a short distance south of the Río Vítor (or Río Chili), are two boulders that are informative. On Boulder CAL-060 is a fully frontally depicted anthropomorphic figure with possibly three simple appendages from its head. In its right hand it holds an object that could well represent a spear-thrower (Figure 5B). More convincing is the second petroglyph on steeply sloping Panel CAL-035B. It shows the image of a fully frontally depicted anthropomorph with a triangular head from which seven more complex appendages emerge. In its right hand it holds a spear-thrower, which can be identified by the hook at one end. Importantly, it seems to hold a stash of two spears in its left hand (Figure 5A).

Figure 5. Petroglyphs from La Caldera, Vítor drainage, southern Peru. Photographs © by Grupo Andaray from Arequipa, Peru.

Only 4 km upstream is the important rock art site of Mollebaya Chico, which is located immediately north of the Río Chili – Río Vítor). On a small boulder (MOL-042) is a row of vertically arranged petroglyphs, some of which may represent phytomorphs. However, among these petroglyphs are also two simple, rather crudely executed straight grooves, but because of a prominent hook at the lower end they might represent spear-throwers.

Death-Related Images

In order to put the rock art images of the Majes Valley into the appropriate context, it will also be necessary to discuss unambiguous death-related images, as violence often ends in death. There are three types of Majes Style petroglyphs that are indubitably death-related. However, two types of images have – in my opinion – no relationship at all with “violent acts perpetrated by Uracans” claimed by Scaffidi and Tung (2019). Firstly there are the rare petroglyphs that seem to depict Mummy-Bundles. Rather convincing examples of petroglyphs depicting Mummy-Bundles have been recorded by me at Toro Muerto (Van Hoek 2012: Figs 301 to 305) and Alto de Pitis (Van Hoek 2012: Figs 298 to 300), while also at Quilcapampa in Sihuas a few small (possible) examples have been recorded.

The second type of definitely death-related images encompasses the exceptional petroglyphs of “Carcanchas”; also called “Skeleton-Anthropomorphs” by me (Van Hoek 2012; 2013a; 2018 and 2019). Those anthropomorphs clearly express the Andean concept of duality: their active upright poses prove that they are not dead, but still they are depicted as skeletons, with ribs and skeletal joints. They are found in every drainage of the Study Area, with – however – an overkill of examples at Alto de Pitis, which is explained by me as follows (Van Hoek 2013a): only from Alto de Pitis there is an uninterrupted view of the Sacred Mountain of Apu Coropuna, where the deceased travel to in order to join the realm of the ancestors on top of this snow-covered volcano.

Importantly, I cannot remember to have ever seen a “Carcancha” image carrying a weapon or being involved in any “violent act”. However, there is a clear link between “Carcanchas” and the third category of death-related images: “trophy” heads, although this relationship does not completely confirm the “violent acts perpetrated by Uracans”. At the important rock art site of Illomas in the Manga drainage there is Boulder PAJ-143 with a row of three petroglyphs of “Carcanchas” (Jennings, Van Hoek et al.; 2019: Fig. 25). The “Carcancha” in the middle (a female?) carries a Majes Style “trophy” head in the left hand, while the figure to the (her?) right also seems to carry a “trophy” head in the left hand, which – possibly – is a Paracas-Nasca Style “trophy” head. More examples of “Carcanchas” and anthropomorphic figures that carry a “trophy” head will be discussed in the next section.

“Trophy” Heads

Surprisingly, rock art images of “trophy” heads are essentially the only category of images that indeed connects the ritual of “taking trophy heads” (a statement based on the results of the Uraca excavations) with the rock art imagery of Toro Muerto and Alto de Pitis. However, there is not any proof or any convincing context confirming “violent events in nearby petroglyphs” in relation with  the imagery of “trophy” heads as suggested by Scaffidi and Tung (2019). Yes, there are several petroglyphs of “trophy” heads in the Majes Valley, especially at Toro Muerto (and to a lesser extent at Alto de Pitis) and also at several sites in the other drainages of the Study Area (especially at Quilcapampa in Sihuas). In fact petroglyphs of “trophy” heads – another Andean symbol of the life-death relationship – mainly have been manufactured as isolated heads (repeatedly with hair dangling downwards) without any specific context.

It is also a fact that only in exceptional instances anthropomorphic petroglyphs in the Study Area carry a “trophy” head, but not a single instance shows any (recognisable) violence. I already mentioned the group of three ‘Carcanchas’ at Illomas, two with a “trophy” head. On an ancient route from Illomas to Toro Muerto is the rock art site of Quebrada Pampa Blanca where James Posso Sánchez recorded a petroglyph panel on which a “Carcancha” figure is carrying a “trophy” head (Van Hoek 2020a: Fig. 6), while hovering over this scene is an isolated “trophy” head.

At Toro Muerto there are at least three petroglyphs of anthropomorphs that unambiguously carry a “trophy” head; two of them (on Panel TM-Bb-009B; Van Hoek 2010: Fig. 3) – probably reported by me for the first time in 2009 – simultaneously are playing a possible wind-instrument, which is not really a violent act. However, Scaffidi and Tung (2019) suggested that the third “trophy” head carrier (their Fig. 3a, which is found on Boulder TM-Da-032) also holds a weapon. However, I have demonstrated that this figure does not carry a weapon or any object at all, except – of course – for the “trophy” head (Van Hoek 2021).

A Majes Style “trophy” head is best recognisable by the parallel, vertically arranged grooves from the “chin” area of the head (representing the hair) and by the single, vertically arranged groove from the top of the head (representing the hanging cord; which is often T-shaped). In this respect there is a scene at Toro Muerto possibly depicting or hinting at the “taking of a ‘trophy’ head”. Below a row of anthropomorphic figures (dancers?) on panel TM-Cd-057 is a row of three frontally depicted anthropomorphic figures, tentatively suggested by Núñez Jiménez to be “musicians” – “tres personas con ¿instrumentos musicales?” (1986: Fig. 2303). Each figure holds an outlined, circular object that might be a musical instrument, but – despite the lack of “hair” – it more likely is a “trophy” head, also because all figures have the circular object connected with a short, vertical line (the carrying rope) to the outstretched right arm/hand (Van Hoek 2010: Fig. 6). Interestingly, the central figure also has an object in his left hand, which may represent a weapon or a ceremonial cutting device perhaps, but this is not at all certain. Two of the figures also have an outlined, circular head (and a dot between the legs; indicating a vulva?), while the third figure on the right seems to be incomplete. The analogy between the shape of the heads of the three figures and the circular objects may also indicate that the circular objects are “trophy” heads. But again, this scene expresses no violence. At the most it is violence-related, like all images of “trophy” heads and “trophy” head carriers.

At Alto de Pitis an anthropomorphic figure seems to carry a “trophy” head and is also interpreted as such by Scaffidi and Tung (2019: Fig. 3b), but much earlier I defended the idea that the purported “trophy” head is in fact the hand of the figure (Van Hoek 2010: 11; Fig. 8), which in my opinion is much more likely. I will return to this specific figure further on. The same uncertainty concerns the petroglyph of a “Carcancha” on Boulder TUN-006 at Quebrada de la Tuna in the Sihuas drainage (Van Hoek 2013a: Fig. 97).

In equally rare cases “trophy” heads are held by or are intimately associated with zoomorphs, again without any trace of violence. At Toro Muerto several bird-petroglyphs prove to carry simple “trophy” heads (Van Hoek 2010; 2018: Fig. 10). It is important to mention that the Uraca-excavations by Scaffidi and Tung (2020) also revealed some remains of a feline (mummified head/skull and paws). I have published a lengthy discussion about the feline in Majes Style Rock Art in order to attempt to put also these feline-remains in a proper rock art context (Van Hoek 2021a). Indeed, there are a few petroglyphs that confirm the relationship between felines and “trophy” heads. On Boulder PAJ-022 at Illomas in the Manga drainage a large petroglyph of a feline has a “trophy” head dangling at the end of a carrying-cord from the mouth (Jennings, Van Hoek et al.; 2019: Fig. 27), while a possible “Carcancha” is hovering over the scene. On Boulder PAJ-012 at the same site a “trophy” head is connected by the typical T-shaped carrying-rope to a feline, a camelid and a snake. The feline petroglyph below this scene seems to depict a “trophy-cat” because of the “hair” from its chin-area (Van Hoek 2021a: Fig. 22). A comparable “trophy-cat” petroglyph is found on Boulder TM-Fa-001 at Toro Muerto (Van Hoek 2021a: Fig. 21). Despite the grinning mouth both “trophy-cats” do not show any aggression and are not associated with other figures.

Also at Quilcapampa in the Sihuas drainage there are several petroglyphs of isolated “trophy” heads, as well as at least one anthropomorphic figure – recorded by Stephen Berquist in 2016 – that is carrying a “trophy” head  in its right hand (Van Hoek 2018: Fig. 8) and a large snake-like petroglyph that encloses a camelid petroglyph and the image of a “trophy” head (Van Hoek 2018: Fig. 9). Another panel at Quilcapampa has a “trophy” head directly associated with a snake image, while yet another panel has a quadruped with a possible, atypical “trophy” head directly held in the mouth (no carrying rope visible; it thus might be the head of a prey, though). A sophisticated petroglyph of a large bird seems to hold a “trophy” head in one of its claws, while another “trophy” head on a panel only a short distance to the south seems to be linked to the tail of a large, decorated quadruped petroglyph (a camelid?) (Justin Jennings and Stephen Berquist 2017 to 2021: pers. comm.).

Also the drainage of Vítor in the far east of our Study Area has several petroglyph sites where images of “trophy” heads have been recorded (several with the characteristic T-bar), for instance at La Cantera, La Caldera and Culebrillas. I know of only one rock art site SW of and outside our Study Area where two petroglyphs of “trophy” heads occur (San Antonio in the Locumba Valley), while the Nasca-Palpa rock art region to the NW of the Study Area has several comparable images of “trophy” heads, mainly carried by anthropomorphs. This establishes a more positive relationship between the Majes Style Rock Art region and the Paracas-Nasca heartland than between our Study Area and the rock art regions further south.

Weapons in Neighbouring Rock Art Regions

In this section I will briefly discuss the representations of weapons and conflicts in the rock art of the areas “immediately” neighbouring our Study Area to the SW, NE and NW., which shows a notable discrepancy between the Majes Rock Art Style and the neighbouring areas. First of all I am not aware of any rock art image unambiguously depicting a weapon or a conflict scene in the Paracas-Nasca heartland NW of our Study Area, while it is a fact that conflicts occurred regularly in that area, often ending in the taking of “trophy” heads as well, many of which have been found at burial sites. Probably for that reason also several petroglyphs of “trophy” heads have been recorded in the Paracas-Nazca heartland (Van Hoek 2010), mainly held by “trophy” head carriers (some simultaneously holding linear objects). For instance at Chichitarra and La Cabañita in the Palpa Valley I recorded several instances (Van Hoek 2010: Figs. 11 to 14). The petroglyph on Boulder CHI-022 at Chichitarra shows an anthropomorphic figure (Van Hoek 2010: Fig. 11) with a “trophy” head in its right hand, while the left hand holds a simple straight object (a cutting knife?). At La Viuda – also in the Palpa Valley – I recorded a characteristic Paracas-Style Seated Anthropomorph that carries a “trophy” head in its right hand and two parallel objects in the other hand (Van Hoek 2010: Fig. 10). Anthropomorphic petroglyphs holding a small, straight object are known from the rock art sites of El Vado and La Cabañita in the Palpa Valley. On Boulder 1 of the rock art site of X03 in the Nasca drainage Ana Nieves recorded the petroglyph of a fully frontally depicted anthropomorphic figure with bifurcated hair (a female?) that holds a round object in the left hand (a “trophy” head, or a shield?) (Nieves 2007: Fig. A.34). Nieves also illustrates a Paracas figure of an anthropomorph with bifurcated hair or headdress (also female?: see Van Hoek 2012), while holding a “trophy” head in the right hand and an object that seems to be a cutting knife in the left hand (Nieves 2007: Fig. 6.10).

To the SW of the Study Area is a coherent rock art region that is located between the valleys of the Río Locumba in southern Peru and the Río Camarones in northern Chile (Van Hoek 2019: Fig. 10). In this large area are relatively numerous rock art images of individual archers (some engaged in hunting practices) and also of two or more archers that are engaged in real fights or perhaps in ritual fights, like the Andean “tinku” (Van Hoek 2019). For instance, a complex scene involving a group of 14 confronting archers (a “tinku” or just a conflict-scene?) has been recorded at Ausipar in the Azapa Valley of northern Chile (Van Hoek 2019: Fig. 21G). Ausipar is located 387 km SW of Uraca in the Majes Valley, while the closest scene of two confronting archers in this area (Van Hoek 2019: Fig. 11B) is found at Locumba, 240 km SW of Uraca. Remarkably, petroglyphs of “trophy” heads are extremely scarce in this area. So far only two examples have been recorded (by Rainer Hostnig on Boulder SAL-071) at the petroglyph site of San Antonio in the Locumba Valley (Van Hoek 2010: Fig. 40).

An enormous group of rock art sites is found near the town of Macusani across the Andean watershed on the eastern slopes of the High Andes, 315 km NE of Toro Muerto in the Majes Valley. The rock art images mainly concern pictographs, many reported by Rainer Hostnig in several publications (see for instance Hostnig 2010 and 2018). Importantly, among the images recorded by Hostnig are numerous depictions of anthropomorphic figures that are recognizably carrying or using weapons, like atlatls, axes and even shields (Figure 6C), which also points to conflict or even warfare (no images of archers have so far been recognised by him in this area, though). There are scenes where anthropomorphic figures clearly are using the atlatl and dart while hunting camelids. In several cases pictographs of hunters also carry a stash of darts, for instance at the rock art site of Abrigo de Cheqtata, Tantamaco (Hostnig 2020: Fig. 108) or at Huarachani, Tantamaco (Hostnig 2010: Fig. 116) (Figure 6B). Those figures carrying stashes may be compared with the petroglyphs of anthropomorphs in coastal southern Peru, like the example on Panel CHY-A-007 at Chillihuay (Figure 6A) and the two petroglyphs at La Caldera (see Figures 5A and B). There are also scenes in which two “hunters” with atlatls (why not warriors?) are confronting each other (Hostnig 2018: Fig. 57a), or scenes of confrontations (conflict- or war-scenes?) between two groups of anthropomorphic figures aiming their atlatls-darts at each other (Hostnig 2018: Figs 55a and 56).

Figure 6. A: Petroglyph on Panel CHY-A-007 at Chillihuay, Ocoña drainage, southern Peru. B: Pictograph from Huarachani, Tantamaco, eastern Peru. C: Pictograph from Chillihua, eastern Peru. Drawings © by Maarten van Hoek, A: based on a photograph by Rainer Hostnig; B: after a drawing in Hostnig 2010 (Fig. 116); C: after a drawing in Hostnig 2010 (Fig. 266).


Having browsed and meticulously scanned the available graphical information of the rock art images of the Majes Rock Art Style, focussing on the Majes Valley and simultaneously on possible violence-related images, it became clear that there is no question of any image directly depicting violence within the Majes Rock Art Style; only the result of violence: the “trophy” head. Especially regarding Toro Muerto and Alto de Pitis it is also obvious that there are no unambiguous depictions of weapons, either isolated or carried by persons. There are also no hunting scenes. Also confrontations between two or more anthropomorphic petroglyphs are completely lacking. The only noteworthy type of confrontation (mainly occurring at Toro Muerto) takes place between two or more zoomorphic petroglyphs. And then only occasionally there seems to be a question of aggression or conflict between those zoomorphs.

Yet Scaffidi and Tung (2019: 7; my emphasis) remark that “Rock art scenes at the neighboring petroglyphs of Toro Muerto convey a preoccupation with violence.”. Based on the observations presented in this study it is a completely enigma on what grounds they make this claim. The only type of violence-related petroglyphs are the images of isolated “trophy” heads and of “trophy” head carriers. They continue to say that “Various scenes include a half-human, half-animal figure holding a human trophy head by the hair (Figure 3a); ….”. Although the rock art of Toro Muerto has numerous confrontation scenes, they all involve zoomorphs only. Moreover, the purported “half-human, half-animal figure” does not exist. The – otherwise manipulated – illustration that they presented in their paper, serving to defend their claims, concerns the “trophy” head carrier on Panel TM-Da-032 at Toro Muerto. Moreover, Scaffidi and Tung suggest that this “Anthropomorphic figure [is] holding a human trophy head from its right hand and a possible weapon from its left hand” (2019: Fig. 3; my emphasis). However, this purported “weapon” was added by them onto the photo and does not exist in reality. The “trophy” head carrier on Panel TM-Da-032, which was already photographed before 1965 by Henry Reichlen (photograph stored at the Musée de Quai Branly, Paris, France; Numéro d’inventaire: PF0115731), has also been illustrated by several researchers (Núñez Jiménez 1986: Fig. 2304 [and also on the cover of his book]; Linares Málaga 1999: 142; Van Hoek 2010: Fig. 2) and in none of those illustrations an object is visible in the left hand/arm, which actually is curved and almost touches the head of the figure. There is definitely no question of a depiction of a weapon, not even a possible weapon. In an earlier publication I challenged the authenticity of their illustrations in their Fig. 3, as they applied incorrect overlays (Van Hoek 2021b).

Yet, weapons have been found in excavations in the Majes Valley and possibly as surface finds as well. During his visits to Toro Muerto in 1964-1965 Henry Reichlen, a swiss archaeologist, found several hammer stones (used to manufacture petroglyphs?), but also many arrow- and/or spear-heads (for instance the object [Figure 7] stored at the Musée de Quai Branly, Paris, France; Numéro d’inventaire: PP017476), although it is unclear exactly where and in what context he found them (as surface finds or in burial sites?). They may have been used in hunting and (possibly) in conflict.

Figure 7. Object found by Henry Reichlen before 1965 somewhere at Toro Muerto, southern Peru. Photograph © by Henry Reichlen.

Moreover, Tung writes “In the drier setting of Majes valley, wood clubs, wood clubs with doughnut-shaped stones on the end (maces), slings (hondas), and bola stones were recovered from both Beringa and La Real.” (2007: 944). But Tung also writes that “No shields were recovered from any of the [Beringa and La Real] sites.” (2007: 952; my emphasis and addition). Regarding the subject of “shields” the following remark by Scaffidi and Tung is remarkable, as they also suggest that “…. 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).” (2019: 7; my emphasis), while this “warrior” is further described by them as a “figure whose right hand terminates in a human trophy head, possibly holding a spear or shield in the left hand.” (2019: Fig. 3; my emphases). Also this photograph received a fabricated overlay (Van Hoek 2021b). It is moreover completely uncertain whether this anthropomorphic figure indeed carries a “trophy” head, as I explained earlier (Van Hoek 2010; a publication Scaffidi and Tung refer to and must have read). It is also certain that the figure does not carry any object in its left hand, let alone a spear or a shield. Therefore, the figure almost certainly is not even a warrior.

Finally, based on the observations in the above paragraphs, also the following remarks by Scaffidi and Tung (2019: 7; my emphases) are therefore completely unsubstantiated as well: “It is unclear whether these carvings record the violent acts perpetrated by Uracans, other Majes valley residents, or visiting pilgrims or travelers. In the alternative, the violent scenes may have been carved by an enemy group to depict violent acts carried out against Uraca and Majes people”. There are – as far as I know – no scenes involving violence between two or more anthropomorphic figures at Toro Muerto or at Alto de Pitis. Also, there are no petroglyphs depicting weapons, either in hunting scenes or in conflict scenes in the rock art imagery of the Majes Valley. Except for only one rather ambiguous petroglyph at Toro Muerto of an anthropomorph possibly carrying a shield, there are also no images unequivocally involving shields (which could have been a more explicit indication of conflict). Moreover, in the whole of the Majes Style Rock Art Region images of anthropomorphs definitely carrying weapons are extremely rare. Only five convincing examples (among the many thousands of petroglyphs) have so far been recorded.

The conclusion of this study is therefore simple. There is not a shred of evidence confirming the occurrence of “War and Weapons in Majes Style Rock Art”, as the title of this study questions. This does not mean that the bio-archaeological conclusions by Scaffidi and Tung (2019) regarding violence among and against humans in the Majes Valley are incorrect. Their bio-archaeological research and the evidence offered, is most convincing. However, claiming, even suggesting that the real-life practice of violently taking “trophy” heads has been depicted in the rock art imagery of the Majes Valley is far too far-fetched, even when considering the relatively many petroglyphs of “trophy” heads at Toro Muerto. In my opinion, the many “trophy” head petroglyphs in Majes symbolise the ritual of taking “trophy” heads. Moreover, petroglyphs of “trophy” heads are found in many other drainages in this part of Arequipa, like Manga, Vítor and Sihuas. Therefore, I also wonder whether the practice of taking “trophy” heads was indeed endemic to only the Central Majes Valley. Finally and sadly, the only truly noticeable evidence of meaningless violence at Toro Muerto concerns the ongoing defacing of the petroglyph boulders by vandals who visit this Sacred Site.


First of all I would like to thank Rainer Hostnig, rock art researcher from Peru, Stephen Berquist, rock art researcher from Canada, and Mario Casas Berdejo photographer from Peru, who all kindly shared numerous examples of their valuable photographs with me, as well as most useful additional information. I am also grateful to Grupo Andaray from Arequipa for their permission to use their photographs. Finally, Rodolfo Talavera Zúñiga and Kurt Rademaker provided with me with (photographic) information, which has been used in this study.


Hostnig, R. 2010. Carabaya: Paisajes y cultura milenaria. Municipalidad Provincial de Carabaya, Lima.

Hostnig, R. 2011. Inventario y análisis iconográfico de las manifestaciones rupestres de Coasa en la vertiente oriental de la cordillera de Carabaya, Puno, Perú. In: Rupestreweb.

Hostnig, R. 2018. Representaciones humanas y composiciones escénicas en pinturas rupestres de Carabaya, Puno, Perú. 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.

Nieves, A. C. 2007. Between the river and the pampa: a contextual approach to the rock art of the Nasca Valley (Grande River system), Department of Ica, Peru. The University of Texas at Austin, U.S.A.

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, Perú: exploring their possible origin. In: Rupestreweb.

Van Hoek, M. 2012. Rumimantam Llaqllasaq Wirpuykita: The ‘Cycle of Life’ in the Rock Art of the Desert Andes. Oisterwijk, The Netherlands. PDF available at ResearchGate.

Van Hoek, M. 2013a. The Carcancha and the Apu. Rock Art in the Death Valley of the Andes. Oisterwijk, The Netherlands. PDF available at ResearchGate. (Note: the chronology presented in this book is outdated. For an update see my 2018 publication).

Van Hoek, M. 2013b. The Tumi-Bearer of Pampa Grande, Lambayeque, Peru. Adoranten. Vol. 2013; pp. 97 – 109. Underslös, Sweden. PDF available at ResearchGate.

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

Van Hoek, M. 2016. The Frontal Insignia-Tumi. A Rare High-Status Object in Desert Andes Rock Art. In: TRACCE – Online Rock Art Bulletin, Italy. PDF available at ResearchGate.

Van Hoek M. 2017. Petroglifos en Yarabamba, Arequipa, Perú: ¿Aplacandos los Apus? In: TRACCE – On-Line Rock Art Bulletin, Italy. PDF available at ResearchGate.

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

Van Hoek, M. 2019. The Book of Bows. Archers in Desert Andes Rock Art. Oisterwijk, Holland. PDF available at ResearchGate.

Van Hoek M. 2020a. New “Carcancha” Petroglyphs in Arequipa, Peru. Illustrating the “Road to Coropuna”. In: TRACCE – Online Rock Art Bulletin, Italy. PDF available at ResearchGate.

Van Hoek, M. 2020b. False Information Concerning Majes Rock Art, Peru. In: TRACCE – Online Rock Art Bulletin, Italy. PDF available at ResearchGate.

Van Hoek. M. 2021. Contextualising the Unexpected Plethora of Feline Petroglyphs in the Majes Valley, Peru. In: TRACCE – Online Rock Art Bulletin, Italy. PDF available at ResearchGate.


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