Why Selecting Mollebaya Chico ?

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This paper again demonstrates that in the area of the Majes Rock Art Style (Arequipa; southern Peru) many sites are firmly and ritually connected with at least one of the Sacred Mountains (the Apus) of the area. Those volcanoes play an important role in selecting spots for rock art production. Mollebaya Chico is one of those sites.

By Maarten van Hoek


Why Selecting Mollebaya Chico

for Rock Art Production?


Maarten van Hoek



Mollebaya Chico is a rock art site located immediately north of the Río Chili in the Department of Arequipa, southern Peru. It should not be confused with the town of Mollebaya, which is located about 24 km to the ESE of Mollebaya Chico. Mollebaya Chico is one of the sites that – together with Culebrillas, La Caldera and Cerro Verde – form the very eastern limit of the Majes Rock Art Style (MRAS), which is found between the valleys of the Río Caravelí in the west and the drainage of the Río Vítor (which includes the Río Chili as well). There are at least five rock art sites immediately along the Río Chili between the confluence of the Río Yura (or Río Aycata) in the west and the confluence of the Río Yarabamba with the Río Chili in the east and four sites further away from the valley (Figure 1). Of the five sites along the Río Chili Mollebaya Chico is (at least statistically) the most important.

Figure 1: Map showing the rock art sites in the valley of the Río Chili. Inset: Mollebaya Chico. Drawings © by Maarten van Hoek, based on Google Earth.

Click on any illustration to see an enlargement. Click on the enlargement to return to the TRACCE web page.

However, a problem regarding statistics is the use of the word “petroglifo” in Spanish publications by Peruvian archaeologists. In several cases it proves that – despite the use of the singular – the term “petroglifo” refers to a decorated panel, which may in fact have numerous images. This is for instance the case with the remarks by Augusto Cardona Rosas about decorated panels at Mollebaya Chico (2016). However, in my studies a “petroglyph” always refers to one image, not to the whole decorated panel.

Rock Art Sites along the Río Chili

Site 1 (in Figure 1) is Mollebaya Chico; the subject of this study. It has been labelled A17 by Cardona Rosas who divided the site in two Sectors. Sector A17-B has not been surveyed by my wife and me, but  Cardona Rosas claims to have registered 14 panels/boulders with petroglyphs at Sector B, which is found a short distance NW of and on the steep slope above of Sector A at Mollebaya Chico. Cardona Rosas (2016) recorded 62 “petroglifos” at Sector A (henceforth simply referred to in this study as Mollebaya Chico), whereas our surveys at the site yielded a minimum of 74 decorated boulders (several with more than one panel, rendering a total of 90 decorated panels). In his “Inventario Nacional” Rainer Hostnig (2003: 52) only very briefly mentions Mollebaya Chico, referring to Linares Málaga (1992: 146) and Cardona (2002). With his entry Hostnig also published a drawing of some petroglyphs allegedly from Mollebaya Chico (Hostnig 2003: 52; after Cardona 2002: 12), but – according to Cardona Rosas (2016: unnumbered illustration) – those images (a row of camelids; arrow in Figure 2) are not found at Mollebaya Chico, but at Mollebaya Grande (a site located some 3 km further WNW in the same valley). Unfortunately, many boulders at Mollebaya Chico are vandalised and even quarried (Van Hoek 2014: Figs 4 and 5).

Figure 2: Panel with petroglyphs at Mollebaya Grande, Drawing © by Maarten van Hoek, based on an unnumbered illustration by Cardona Rosas (2016).

Visible from Mollebaya Chico is Site 2 (see Figure 1), called La Estrella Baja (A19) by Cardona Rosas (2016) who recorded 27 “petroglifos” at that site. Site 3 has no specific name and was labelled A15  by Cardona Rosas (2016) who recorded one “petroglifo” (most likely only one image as well) on the steep cliff, possibly overlooking the confluence of the Quebrada Culebrillas (also known as Río Las Andenes) and the Río Chili. Site 4 is Mollebaya Grande, labelled A10 and Pacallane Este by Cardona Rosas (2016) who recorded 16 “petroglifos” on the steep slope, overlooking the confluence of the Quebrada Las Apachetas.

Site 5: is known as (La) Palca. It is a rock art site at the confluence of the Río Yura (also known as the Río Aycata) and the Río Chili (which changes its name into the Río Vítor from that point on). I know of at least seven MRAS decorated panels at this site, but the exact location (which is important in the scope of my studies of MRAS) is unknown to me.

None of the Sites 2 to 5 is mentioned in the “Inventario Nacional” by Hostnig (2003). However, in 2011 Rainer Hostnig informed me about a rock panel at a site (according to him at 2035 m asl, but in reality more likely to be at about 1900 m) that he called Mollebaya Grande or Gentilles-Mollebaya with “motivos zoomorfos (serpiente bicéfala de cuerpo dentado, aves), geométricos, astro sol” (Hostnig: pers. comm. 2011). This (outcrop?) panel might be located at (or near) Site 4, labelled Mollebaya Grande by Cardona Rosas (2016). The panel Hostnig refers to may be the same as mentioned and illustrated by me earlier (Van Hoek 2022: 16; Fig. 15A).

Sites 6 to 9 (respectively Culebrillas, Puente de Arenas, La Caldera 1 and 2, and La Caldera 3 to 6) are found farther away from the valley and especially Culebrillas and La Caldera 5 (Van Hoek 2022), as well as Palca are definitely linked with Mollebaya Chico and with the MRAS.

The Imagery

Before answering the question “Why Selecting Mollebaya Chico for Rock Art Production?”, it will be useful to describe the rock art panels/images that we recorded at Mollebaya Chico during our surveys in 2011 and 2012. Because an official scientific survey has never been carried out at Mollebaya Chico, there does not exist a complete numbering system either. For that reason I introduce my own system of numbering, in which all panels are labelled MOL-001 etc. (in case of boulders known to have more than one panel, the capital letters A, B etc. will be added, for instance MOL-002A and B). This numbering system only includes panels that are found at Sector A and my record of the panels does not pretend to offer an official, scientific inventory. As I never used GPS or any other comparable method to exactly locate panels, I could not make a plan of the site. I will leave that to future researchers.

It also is important to realise that only the more clearly visible and recognisable petroglyphs will be mentioned and identified in the list below. Many images are much weathered and eroded or are superimposed and thus are often beyond recognition. One needs perfect light for optimal recording. Therefore, several panels may have more petroglyphs than mentioned by me. Furthermore there may exist more decorated panels or boulders at the site that possibly escaped attention. The list below therefore offers only the very minimum of what may be available at this site.

MOL-001: One simple, frontally depicted bird with outspread wings (19 cm across).

MOL-002A: One simple, frontally depicted bird with outspread wings. Two fully frontally depicted anthropomorphs (one outlined, 22 cm high; the other much weathered). B: Ringmarks (and more markings?). C: Three parallel, joined lines with ring at the top; an anthropomorph? (35 cm in height). Groups of curving lines (partially covered by sand).

MOL-003: Pecked grooves.

MOL-004: Five incised (concentric) circles (three with a central dot; four connected by a small line). Largest ring 8 cm. Rectangle with lines and dots. Pecked lines (anthropomorph?).

MOL-005A and B: Zigzagging parallel lines (snake?). C: Anthropomorph? Frontally depicted bird with outspread wings. Solar motif. D: Frontally depicted bird with outspread wings (28 cm across) (Figure 3B).

Figure 3: A: Panel MOL-038; B: Panel MOL-005D. Photographs © by Maarten van Hoek.

MOL-006A: Outlined quadrupeds (each about 14 cm across). One fully pecked quadruped. Other figures. B: Outlined quadrupeds. Numerous other lines and motifs that are hard to recognise, including two “strange” zoomorphs (?) and two possible “Trophy” Heads (?) both extremely small (one measuring 2.5 cm across).

MOL-007: A complex of pecked lines (an anthropomorph?).

MOL-008: Anthropomorph (about 42 cm in height) with “feathered” X-motif on its thorax (Van Hoek 2021: Fig. 66C).

MOL-009: One crudely pecked, outlined quadruped.

MOL-010: Figure 4. A: Anthropomorph (“Carcancha”?) (Van Hoek 2016: Fig. 13B). Double outlined, concentric “Venus Cross”. At least six abstract-looking motifs. B: At least two anthropomorphs (“Carcanchas”?) (Van Hoek 2016: Fig. 14B). All three “Carcanchas” have incorrectly been illustrated by Cardona Rosas (2016).

Figure 4: Panel MOL-010. Photographs © by Maarten van Hoek.

MOL-011: Snake. More lines?

MOL-012: Outlined oval with short lines. Indistinct long symbol. Anthropomorph? Two vertically arranged, incised “Trophy” Heads; the upper one having two dots for eyes, seven lines from the “chin” area and two lines representing the “hanging” cord (see Figure 16)

MOL-013: Long meandering, bicephalic snake comprising three parallel lines. It has an upper, triangular head (base 7 cm across) showing two eyes, each with two “tears”. Pecked (rotated?) zoomorph?

MOL-014: Solar motif.

MOL-015: Frontally depicted bird with outstretched wings. Damaged (head missing).

MOL-016: Very large, split boulder. A: Undulating surface with many petroglyphs. Abstract motifs. Snakes; one possibly dented. Complex bicephalic zoomorph with dented body (34 cm in length) (Figure 5). Phytomorph? B: Bird with its two wings on one side. Numerous straight and undulating lines. Pecked anthropomorph with incised digits (“Carcancha”?). C: Much weathered and blurred lines.

Figure 5: Detail of Panel MOL-016A. Photograph © by Maarten van Hoek.

MOL-017: Outlined camelid. Two fully laterally depicted, spotted felines (one illustrated in Van Hoek 2013: Fig. 61), both with raised tail.  Two more quadrupeds (very faint: felines?).

MOL-018A: Large group of undulating, parallel lines; a snake? B: Outlined anthropomorph on a narrow ledge.

MOL-019: Very large boulder. A: Large solar motif (34 cm across). At least two dented snakes. Spiral (?) connected to a snake? Very large, deeply engraved, bicephalic dented snake, more than 100 cm in length (Van Hoek 2013: Fig. 59). Bird with outstretched wings. Numerous faint lines and motifs (Figure 6A). B: Large bicephalic, dented snake (Figure 6B). A chaos of faint lines and motifs. C: Very faint petroglyphs.

Figure 6: Panels A and B of Boulder MOL-019. Photographs © by Maarten van Hoek.

MOL-020: Fish-bone pattern? Parallel, S-shaped groove-pattern. Random grooves.

MOL-021: Figure 7. Large (bicephalic?) snake (partially dented?). Possibly nine cupules (which are rare in MRAS) superimposed upon older petroglyphs. Delicately incised fish-bone pattern (32 cm in length) (depicting an insect; a centipede?). Fully laterally depicted feline (with two tails!). Many other faint lines and patterns.

Figure 7: Boulder MOL-021. Photographs © by Maarten van Hoek.

MOL-022: Three or four (concentric) rings connected by a set of short, cross-shaped, parallel lines.

MOL-023: Two long parallel lines connecting two possible solar motifs. More faint lines.

MOL-024: At least one ring-mark and several (long) lines.

MOL-025: Very large, split boulder. A: Very long, bicephalic, dented snake. Three other dented, snake-like creatures. “Venus Cross” (inset). Cupule with two concentric rings. Outlined quadruped. One, perhaps two frontally depicted birds with outstretched wings (Figure 8). Numerous faint lines and motifs. B: Snake? Several faint petroglyphs. C: Two solar motifs.

Figure 8: Panel MOL-025A. Photographs © by Maarten van Hoek.

MOL-026: Possible “Venus Cross”. Curved parallel grooves.

MOL-027: Incised motif, possibly a dented insect? Curvilinear (pecked) groove.

MOL-028: A: A number of rather long parallel lines. Rectangular motif with internal lines. “Trophy” Head? B: Pattern of parallel lines.

MOL-029: Incised lines of about 15 cm in length, topped by a neck and head (a bird?).

MOL-030: Two long, curved and parallel lines (a snake?) following the upper edge of the panel. Circular motifs. Many very faint lines and motifs.

MOL-031: Incised “Venus Cross”. Zigzagging parallel lines (a snake?).

MOL-032: Strange-looking zoomorph (25 cm in height); a “camelid-bird” conflation?

MOL-033: Large pattern of deep, straight grooves. At least two ring marks. Three (connected?) small zigzags.

MOL-034: A: Two undulating, parallel lines (a bicephalic snake?). Incised and pecked lines. B: Group of grooves.

MOL-035: Four quadrupeds? (three fully pecked). Bird with outstretched wings. Small pecked grid pattern. Many faint (often parallel) lines.

MOL-036: Figure 9. “Venus Cross”. Large, decorated quadruped (with a “Trophy” Head or an object dangling from its mouth?). Very complex (rectangular) pattern with many internal (parallel) lines (an anthropomorph?). More lines.

Figure 9: Boulder MOL-036. Photographs © by Maarten van Hoek.

MOL-037: Figure 10. Panel almost completely covered with petroglyphs. Small quadruped. Large, dotted quadruped. Quadruped with ring mark. Snakes. Complex curvilinear pattern. Small and large concentric rings. Large “dented” creature with semi-circular head and curved appendages. Smaller creature, dented on one side only. Small anthropomorph. Birds with outstretched wings. Fully pecked phytomorph (or dented creature?). “Venus Cross”.

Figure 10: Boulder MOL-037. Photographs © by Maarten van Hoek.

MOL-038: Bird with outstretched wings (29 cm across). See Figure 3A.

MOL-039: Empty rectangle. Solar motif? Four other motifs.

MOL-040: Two simple anthropomorphs. Abstract square motif.

MOL-041: Pecked line. Pecked ring enclosing natural holes for eyes? Rake motif.

MOL-042: Figure 11. Four hooked grooves (atlatls?). Three simple quadrupeds (one with crossed legs?). Snake-like creature (26 cm in length). At least three phytomorphs (one possible example possibly intentionally topped by a bird with outspread wings?). Lines.

Figure 11: Boulder MOL-042. Photograph © by Maarten van Hoek.

MOL-043: Fully pecked, inverted quadruped. Roughly pecked lines and areas (biomorphs?). Possible biomorph (a bird?).

MOL-044: Two fully pecked, simultaneously outlined quadrupeds. Pecked lines. Incised lines?

MOL-045: Figure 12. Very complex, dented creature (57 cm in length) with two curls at each end (bicephalic?). Snake. Faint quadruped.

Figure 12: Boulder MOL-045. Photograph © by Maarten van Hoek.

MOL-046: Serpent-like creature with nine incised lines from the head-area (15 cm across). Incised line(s?).

MOL-047: Three roughly pecked circles in a horizontal row, each with a serpentine groove running downwards.

MOL-048: Figure 13. An exceptional configuration of three “Venus Crosses” that are joined in a linear row. Pecked groove, randomly curling. Parallel grooves (snake?).

Figure 13: Boulder MOL-048. Photograph © by Maarten van Hoek.

MOL-049: At least three outlined quadrupeds. Faint lines.

MOL-050: Single serpentine groove (a snake?). Parallel grooves (a snake?). Oval ring.

MOL-051: Set of four parallel meandering grooves (a snake?). Recent damage.

MOL-052: Figure 14. One incised (unfinished?) anthropomorph. Pecked groves, one snake-like. Complex (anthropomorphic?) incised figure (with incised feathered lines from the “head” area), partially superimposed by four short and broad pecked grooves in two parallel rows.

Figure 14: Boulder MOL-052. Photographs © by Maarten van Hoek.

MOL-053: Two crudely pecked “Venus Crosses”. Many roughly pecked grooves and patterns.

MOL-054: Incised and pecked lines forming no recognisable pattern.

MOL-055: Large complex solar motif. Possibly a second example (extremely faint). Faint curved line (a ring mark?). Very faint lines.

MOL-056: Pecked oval mark. Group of small incised lines.

MOL-057: Group of crudely pecked grooves.

MOL-058: Pecked herring-bone pattern. Two groups of very faint lines (one depicting an anthropomorphic figure?; the other a zoomorph?). A small group of incised/pecked lines.

MOL-059: A: Two concentric rings. Group of pecked grooves. B: Small ring mark?

MOL-060: Snake.

MOL-061: Row of possibly four ring marks (two very faint).

MOL-062: Confusion of many (mainly) incised and some pecked lines (including phytomorphs? or anthropomorphs?).

MOL-063: Confusion of many (mainly) pecked lines. Serpentine line (a snake?).

MOL-064: Quarried boulder. Solar motif with internal X-mark. One anthropomorphic figure with internal lines. At least six groups of (abstract or biomorphic?) patterns (see Van Hoek 2016: Figs 15 and 16).

MOL-065: Group of rather deeply carved grooves.

MOL-066: Fully pecked camelid. Some pecked areas.

MOL-067: Two vertically arranged, rectangular zigzags enclosing a possible phytomorph. Pecked lines.

MOL-068: Severely damaged boulder. Complex cross-pattern. Incised lines (one group depicting a bird?). Pecked grooves. Incised phytomorph?

MOL-069: Bird with outstretched wings. Several groups of (very) faint petroglyphs.

MOL-070: Figure 15. Large, very crudely pecked solar motif with numerous very short, incised rays. Row of four rectangles/rings enclosed by a groove (may be compared with a similar configuration at Quilcapampa in the Sihuas Valley). Concentric rings. A roughly pecked “star”. Two long meandering snakes. One partially dented snake. A further chaos of many lines.

Figure 15: Boulder MOL-070. Photographs © by Maarten van Hoek.

MOL-071: A: A group of lines (a quadruped?). B: Pecked lines?

MOL-072: A group of lines (an unfinished bird?). Another small group of lines.

MOL-073: At least one outlined (decorated?) quadruped. Possibly more petroglyphs.

MOL-074: Possible petroglyphs.

Final Observations

Although the rock art at Mollebaya Chico definitely belongs to the Majes Rock Art Style (MRAS) there are notable differences. Most importantly, the most characteristic images of the MRAS like the Majes “Dancer”, the Majes “Spitter”, the Majes “Rectangular Bird” and the “Feathered Homunculus” do not occur at Mollebaya Chico. Moreover, petroglyphs of felines and birds (abundant in the Central Majes Valley) are relatively very rare at Mollebaya Chico. Yet some types of petroglyphs deserve further attention.


“Venus Crosses”

The “Venus Cross” – or outlined cross – is one of the most widespread complex abstract motifs in the world (Van Hoek 2018b). It is also found at many sites across South America and – remarkably – a rather large concentration is found in the Vítor-Chili drainage (which includes the Sihuas Valley). Six examples have been recorded at Quilcapampa in Sihuas (Van Hoek 2021: 32), five examples at La Caldera 5 (Van Hoek 2022: 11), one example at Mollebaya Grande (Cardona Rosas 2016) and another very complex example at nearby (?) Gentilles – Mollebaya Grande (Van Hoek 2022: Fig. 15A), one example at Culebrillas, while no less than eleven examples have been recorded by me at Mollebaya Chico. Altogether 25 petroglyphs of the “Venus Cross” are found in a relatively small area, including the extremely rare variant of the three joined examples on Panel MOL-048 (see Figure 13).

However, this triplet configuration is not unique. Comparable, but not identical examples have been recorded at several rock art sites in northern and central Chile (Sánchez 2008). Probably the largest concentration of the “Venus Cross” (including many complex variations) occurs on the main island of New Caledonia in the Pacific Ocean, some 12.600 km to the west of Mollebaya Chico. No less than 850 petroglyphs of the outlined cross have been recorded at the island, including at least 26 examples of the triplet “Venus Cross” (Monnin and Sand 2015).



On the rock art panel at Gentiles – Mollebaya Grande (Site 4 in Figure 1) are some petroglyphs of (curved) linear motifs with fully pecked, triangular, leave-like appendages (Van Hoek 2022: Fig. 15A). They could be phytomorphs. They very much look like the examples on Panels MOL-037 (see Figure 10) and MOL-042 (see Figure 11). Possible phytomorphic petroglyphs with rows of short (incised) lines are found on Panels MOL-016, 062 and 068.



Besides the “standard” array of biomorphic images from the MRAS there are only a few types of petroglyphs that stand out, either because of their content or because of their pose. For instance, petroglyphs of quadrupeds like camelids (whether simple match-stick examples to more complex, outlined and decorated examples) can be expected at an MRAS site. However, the example on Panel MOL-042 seems to have crossed legs (see Figure 11); a position so far only recorded in rock art images at La Caldera (Van Hoek 2022: Fig. 11A and B) and Quilcapampa (Van Hoek 2021a: Fig. 17). Another image (unique in MRAS?) is the feline with two tails on Panel MOL-021 (see Figure 7).

Mollebaya Chico also has some remarkable zoomorphic images. First of all there are some (often very large) snake-like creatures with rows of triangular appendages at both sides (often with internal line[s]). They may be straight (like the short example on Panel MOL-016A; see Figure 5) or (slightly) curving, like the examples on Panels MOL-019A (see Figure 6) and 025A (see Figure 8). They often are bicephalic and have characteristic U-shaped heads. Comparable creatures occur at La Caldera (where also snakes with -shaped heads occur [Van Hoek 2022], but these are absent at Mollebaya Chico, though), and at Gentilles – Mollebaya Grande (Van Hoek 2022: Fig. 15A), Quilcapampa in Sihuas (Van Hoek 2021) and at Alto de Pitis and Quebrada Pampa Blanca in the Majes drainage, and Chillihuay in Ocoña.

Also remarkable is that – so far – at Mollebaya Chico only petroglyphs of frontally depicted  birds with outspread wings have been recorded (see Figure 3). The profile birds (the Two-Digit-Claw Bird and the Three-Digit-Claw Bird) that are so characteristic for the MRAS seem to be absent. As far as I can tell profile birds are also absent at sites like Gentilles – Mollebaya Grande (Van Hoek 2022: Fig. 15A), Palca, Culebrillas and La Caldera (Van Hoek 2022). However, not all rock art has fully been documented; there may be petroglyphs of profile birds somewhere.


Anthropomorphs and “Trophy” Heads

Only fourteen petroglyphs of definite anthropomorphic figures plus some possible examples have so far been recorded at Mollebaya Chico (which is well below average). At least five have internal lines; one having a feathered X-Pattern on the body. The Feathered X-Pattern is also found twice at Chillihuay in Ocoña and once at Quilcapampa to the west of Mollebaya Chico and (only once) east of Mollebaya Chico at the rock art site of Quelgua Grande in the valley of the Río Tambo.

With regard to the life-death related images (“Carcanchas” and “Trophy” Heads) it is remarkable that at Mollebaya Chico no undisputable examples of the “Carcancha” icon are found. One petroglyph on Panel MOL-010A (Panel A17-1-p21a according to Corona Rosas [2016]) and two images on Panel MOL-010B (Panel A17-1-p21d according to Corona Rosas [2016]) might represent “Carcanchas”; only one image being more convincing (illustrated as Anthropomorph 1 in Van Hoek 2016: Fig. 14B-1). Importantly, all relevant drawings by Cardona Rosas (2016) are inaccurate (see Van Hoek 2016: Figs 13, 14 and 17). The anthropomorphic figure on Panel MOL-064 (Panel A17-1-p32 according to Corona Rosas [2016]; yet again inaccurately depicted; see Van Hoek 2016: Fig. 16) seems more related to anthropomorphic figures with an X-pattern on the thorax. In conclusion, truly convincing petroglyphs of “Carcanchas” are absent at Mollebaya Chico, except perhaps for Anthropomorph 1 on Panel MOL-010B (Van Hoek 2016: Fig. 14B-1).

The same scarcity concerns the occurrence of the “Trophy” Head icon. Only two unambiguous examples of (joined) “Trophy” Heads – both rather inconspicuously incised – have been recorded by me on Panel MOL-012 (see Figure 16). Four doubtful examples occur altogether on Panels MOL-006A (2x) and on Panels MOL-028A and 036. This low number of two unambiguous examples contrasts with the thirteen (possible) examples of “Trophy” Heads at sites located along the Camino Real, of which seven unambiguous examples are found at  La Caldera 5 (Van Hoek 2022). Further west several petroglyphs of “Trophy” Heads are found at many sites (Van Hoek 2010; 2021, 2022; Jennings, Van Hoek et al. 2019), but to the east only once, at Cerro Verde, 6 km SE of Mollebaya Chico. Importantly, the rather hidden rock art site of Cerro Verde might have an uninterrupted view of Apu Ampato, one of the Sacred Mountains of Arequipa, but not to Apu Misti, which is closer (not checked in the field, though).

Figure 16: Boulder MOL-012. Photographs © by Maarten van Hoek.

Explaining the Selection

Having discussed the imagery at Mollebaya Chico it is now time to explain the reason why Mollebaya Chico was selected to become the most important rock art site along the Río Chili. With more than 70 decorated boulders, some with large and impressive snake-like creatures, and a much diverse collection of other images, Mollebaya Chico must have been a special place for prehistoric peoples living in or visiting the area. By manufacturing their images prehistoric people ritually charged the place and in this way they created a Sacred Site.

One of the obvious reasons to select the site was that Mollebaya Chico had many boulders of rather soft volcanic rock (often with somewhat darker patinated panels) that are suitable to carve images upon. But there are many more areas along the Río Chili where similar boulders (and even suitable outcrops) occur, but most of those places have no rock art. For instance, I superficially searched the rock strewn slope north of the Río Chile between the Wari Settlement at Corralones (Cardona Rosas 2002: 72-73) and La Rinconada further east (a stretch of about 500 meters, indicated as “Area X” in Figure 17), but I was unable to find any rock art. Moreover, opposite Mollebaya Chico there is also a long stretch of boulder-strewn slopes, but as far as I know no rock art was ever reported there. What then makes Mollebaya Chico so special that rock art accumulated especially at that site?

The answer lies in the physical environment. The site of Mollebaya Chico is located at an average altitude of 1915 m asl, at the bottom of a rather narrow, winding canyon, only 60 to 150 m north of the Río Chili. The valley floor of the Río Chili at that point is at 1890 m and the Pampa La Estrella (located just north of the site) is at 2000 m asl (also the cliff across the valley is roughly at 2000 m asl). Thus, the site is on average 25 m above the valley floor, but 85 m below the edge of the Pampas. Therefore, views from the decorated boulders are being blocked in almost every direction.

Yet, it is the view in one direction that may explain why Mollebaya Chico was selected to become the major Sacred Site in the valley. It is the view to the ENE that is special, because on a good day the top of Apu Misti (34 km to the ENE) is clearly visible, although the very top is often shrouded by clouds (Figure 17; see also Van Hoek 2013: Fig. 150). In this respect it is crucial to know that Apu Misti (a volcano of 5822 m) is one of the most Sacred Mountains of this part of the Andes (together with the volcanoes of Apu Pichu Pichu, Apu Chachani, Apu Ampato, Apu Coropuna, Apu Solimana and Apu Sarasara; Apu means “Lord”).

Figure 17: View of Apu Misti from Mollebaya Chico. Photograph © by Maarten van Hoek.

I have convincingly demonstrated that in this part of the Andes many rock art sites are fundamentally linked with the Apus to the north of the rock art region (Van Hoek 2013, 2017, 2018a, 2020, 2021 and 2022). This invisible, spiritual connection was materialised and simultaneously sanctified by the production of many rock art images at several sites. Thus, the reason to especially select Mollebaya Chico is the invisible and spiritual connection of this Sacred Site with Apu Misti (Figures 18 and 19). It is remarkable however that the specific images (“Carcanchas’ and “Trophy” heads) are almost completely absent at Mollebaya Chico, as in my opinion especially those images symbolise the transition of the spirits of the deceased towards the desired Apu.

Figure 18: The spiritual link between rock art sites and Apu Misti (all sites in this map have a visible link with Apu Misti). Drawing © by Maarten van Hoek, based on Google Earth.

Figure 19: The spiritual link between Mollebaya Chico and Apu Misti. Drawing © by Maarten van Hoek, based on Google Earth.

However, not all rock art sites in the area have that invisible link, as several alignments are blocked by high ridges or hills. Therefore, it would be interesting to check in the field whether Apu Misti is also visible from Sites 2 (unlikely), 3 and 4 (it is certain that Apu Misti is visible from Site 9 – La Caldera 5 – the major site along the ancient Camino Real [Van Hoek 2022]). It should also be checked if very specific bird imagery is present at those sites without a visible link (like at Site 6: Culebrillas), as I have argued that also (petroglyphs of) birds may carry the spirits of the deceased across the blocking hills towards the desired Apu (for more information see Van Hoek 2013 and 2021).*

Apu Misti from Mollebaya Chico. Photograph (enhanced) © by Maarten van Hoek.


I would like to thank Rainer Hostnig and Adán Umire Álvarez for sharing information with me about the rock art of Arequipa. As ever I am indebted to my wife Elles who assisted me in the field and encouraged me while preparing this paper.



Monnin, J. and C. Sand. 2015. Essai de synthèse sur les pétroglyphes calédoniens. Kibo, le serment gravé. Archeologia Pasifika. Vol. 5.

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