Vandalism and Falsification of Rock Art

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Especially in this time of a dangerously increasing amount of online (deep) fake-news, outrageous lies, falsified photos and misleading information that are used to – for instance – “justify” a disgusting and horrible war in Europe, it should not be tolerated that similar false illustrations are being used in scientific publications by academic professionals. In the following two publications I expose and criticize some of those incorrect illustrations in rock art publications, focusing on the Majes Valley in Peru (Revised September 2023).

By Maarten van Hoek



Vandalism and Falsification of Rock Art

A Matter of Integrity

Maarten van Hoek



It is generally accepted among rock art researchers that ancient rock art sites – wherever located and no matter how unpretentious (in our minds only!) – should be treasured as Sacred Sites and that Sacred Images and Sacred Sites should therefore be respected and protected. However, the great majority of the visitors to a rock art site are not rock art researchers, but governmental officials, locals and tourists. Those three groups of people are often not aware of the enormous cultural value of rock art, or – even worse – they are aware, but still prefer not to show any respect at all. Both ignorance and intentional vandalism too often result in the most unwanted partial or complete destruction of Sacred Sites or desecration of individual rock art panels. Although vandalism is a global problem, this study only focusses on the extremely dry coastal strip west of the High Andes in South America; the area called the Desert Andes.

Even when officially protected, rock art sites run the risk of being violated because it proves that even at legally protected sites visitors continue to add graffiti or “enhance” images in several – most destructive – ways. It also proves that the more accessible and more advertised a site is (Yonán), the more unwanted vandalism occurs. In this respect it is also disadvantageous that an increasing number of dirt tracks in the Desert Andes become asphalted and that recently erected signs along the road announce archaeological sites, including rock art sites. However, even rock art sites that are hard to find increasingly suffer from vandalism (Cerro Utua). It also makes no difference whether or not a site is officially controlled by a warden who is present at a site. For instance, it is impossible for a warden to monitor every visitor to every corner of extensive rock art sites like Toro Muerto and Miculla in the south of Peru.

Therefore, authorities and the general public, especially locals, should be made aware about the immeasurable value of rock art and rock art sites. But it even proves that – in fortunately only some exceptional cases – also academics do not act responsibly regarding the recording and presentation of rock art images in their publications. Therefore, in this paper I will not only discuss the various types of physical on-site vandalism, but I will also compare vandalism caused by an (academic) visitor to a rock art site with digital malpractices. Finally, at the end of only the PDF-version of the paper, several instances of vandalism will be illustrated.


Types of Vandalism

Although in general (only?!) physically damaging a decorated rock surface is being considered to be an act of vandalism, there are many more types of activities that I consider to be vandalism. Over a distance of 3200 km my wife and I have seen numerous instances of vandalism at rock art sites all over the Desert Andes. It must be realised however that after our visit to a site, other people will have visited the site and consequently new vandalism may have occurred of which I am not aware, or that I can only find out viewing internet-photos made more recently by other visitors (photos that I cannot publish without the author’s permission). In many countries world-wide vandalism to rock art sites is punishable by law and vandals should therefore be regarded to be criminals. However, there also is a grey area in which culpability is hard to pinpoint. Is the labourer who widens the road and unknowingly damages rock art culpable? Not in my view. The authorities are accountable. Unfortunately it is often hard to find out who exactly is responsible for the damage. What is more, people usually turn a blind eye towards even the tiniest of accusations.



First there is the partial or complete destruction of a Sacred (rock art) Site. This often happens when a new road is being constructed (Cerro Pano: Van Hoek 2011a; Huaca Blanca: Van Hoek 2021a) or when existing dirt roads are being widened or asphalted. In many cases the people doing the construction or building are not aware of what the consequences are for the rock art panels that often are located down the slope. An illustrative example is Quilcapampa in the Sihuas Valley of southern Peru, where – over a distance of at least two kilometres – fallen rocks damaged several rock art panels (Van Hoek 2021b). However, the rock art at Quilcapampa is known for many decades and therefore local, regional and national authorities should have known the importance of their national heritage and should have taken adequate measurements to protect Quilcapampa. But the rock art was ignored. A similar problem occurs a few kilometres further east where a new highway from Arequipa to the Pan-americana is being constructed. This new road, the collateral damage of the constructing activities and even the proposed tunnel will seriously damage and violate the integrity of all archaeological sites in the area, especially the rock art site of La Caldera (Van Hoek 2022).

Also very destructive are quarrying activities. Many sites are destroyed or are seriously damaged by quarrying. Instances are found in both Peru and Chile, for instance at Huaca Blanca in the north of Peru, where many decorated boulders have been scratched and disturbed by heavy machinery (Van Hoek 2021a), Cerro San Simón in the north of Peru, Toro Muerto in the south of Peru and Rosario and Tamentica in the north of Chile. There also is a sort of small-scale quarrying when it concerns robbery of (parts of) decorated surfaces or the removal of isolated boulders from a Sacred Site (although commercial robbery is often very hard to prove). What is definitely a kind of commercial robbery is the looting (and thus destroying) of ancient burials. Even when no harm is done to the rock art in the looted area, I consider this activity as illegal and as a form of vandalism to a rock art site. A sad example is the burial-field inside the rock art site of Tomabal in the Virú Vally of northern Peru (Van Hoek 2007).


Unwanted Additions

Most visitors (locals and tourists) to a rock art site do not see the site as a whole and thus in most cases do not realise that it actually is a Sacred Site that is firmly integrated into a wide ancient cultural and religious landscape. Even scratching your name onto an untouched rock panel in a rock art site is a form of vandalism, as in this way the site becomes desecrated. People are inclined to “leave their mark” at a spot they have visited. However, there is a huge difference between marking a spot in prehistoric times and nowadays. Ancient manufacturers of rock art ritually sanctified the site (further), which is culturally completely understandable and acceptable. But some people nowadays blaspheme the spot, as they leave their marks “just for fun”, or to leave a message addressed to only a few people. There is no religious or spiritual intention whatsoever. A sad example are two anthropomorphic figures (one male, one female) scratched onto Boulder CAL-166 at the rock art site of La Caldera in southern Peru (Van Hoek 2022). Those figures – together with other recent graffiti on the panel – also represent unwanted graffiti, as they are part – together with the usual heart-symbol – of a recently added love message that is only addressed to two persons (of which the initials J and E are completely uninformative).

Indeed, initials, words, names, slogans, numbers and dates are the most common form of unwelcome graffiti. For that reason I also consider the numbers or signs that rock art researchers add to rock art panels as a most unwanted form of vandalism (Van Hoek 2017; Video). Graffiti may be randomly engraved into or painted onto the rock surface, which – in both cases – seriously damages the natural and cultural canvas and consequently violates the prehistoric message. In some cases the prehistoric images are intentionally (and often indecently) changed, like the petroglyph of a quadruped at Toro Muerto in southern Peru that has a phallus added (a motif which has nothing to do with fertility). In the extremely dry environment of the Desert Andes some visitors also use liquid (water, or something else they happen to carry with them) to enhance the art, which in all cases is most harmful to the art. In several cases a panel is stained with a sticky substance, which may prove to be permanently destructive.

In all cases follow the following rule when visiting a rock art site: only leave your footsteps. Therefore, leaving rubbish at a site (empty bottles, cigarette-ends, cans or whatever) is also a form of disrespect and thus of vandalism. Compare this with a catholic who visits a church. She or he will not leave rubbish in the aisles or scratch the seats (at least I hope so). And in South America the majority of the people is catholic. When you respect your Church, also respect the prehistoric open air temples that rock art sites are.

Not only liquids are often used to enhance the art, many visitors intentionally scratch rock art images with a sharp (metal) object, while others use chalk or some kind of paint to “enhance” the art (as – unfortunately – often happens in Scandinavia). In one case I know of petroglyphs having been chalked-in, while the academic archaeologist who recorded the petroglyphs even justified his malpractice twice. It concerns a publication by archaeologist Paul Álvarez Zeballos (2009), in which he included several photos of petroglyphs at Alto de Pitis in southern Peru that he recorded and that he himself chalked-in. Álvarez Zeballos (2009: 29) justifies his malpractices as follows: “Para poder apreciar mejor las figuras se las marco con tizas alcalinas”. Besides this malpractice, Álvarez Zeballos also included photos of petroglyphs that have been chalked-in by him in an incorrect way, for instance Boulder AP4-017 (2009: 18), thus also publishing an incorrect drawing of Boulder P-Ps-1: “Todas estas imágenes se encuentran semi-borradas y para resaltar su imagen se las repaso con tiza alcalina o básica.” (2009: 27). Any kind of on-site enhancement is destructive and should be avoided and discouraged. Some respected rock art journals even categorically reject the publication of photos of chalked-in rock art images (for instance: Rock art Research; see also Bednarik 1987).

In any case are on-site “enhancing” practices intolerable. First of all, the “enhancement” often distracts the observer from the original image. Moreover, not only is the art damaged and violated, in many cases the “job” is done incorrectly and thus imposes a subjective, incorrect impression of the original image on any subsequent visitor. An enhancement – like on-site chalking-in – often superimposes an incorrect second layer. Unfortunately, also comparable digital malpractices occur (fortunately only very rarely).


Digital Falsifications

It is obvious that on-site chalking-in of petroglyphs creates a distracting and often incorrect interpretation of the factual image. Thus the result may be (highly) misleading. Also the recent adding of certain graphical elements to an existing prehistoric petroglyph results in a false image. A good example is the recent addition of a phallus to a sophisticated prehistoric image of a quadruped on a boulder at Toro Muerto in southern Peru. It conveys false information, especially as in desert environments patina may form very rapidly and the recent character of the phallus will soon disappear. Future visitors to Toro Muerto may not notice the falsification.

I now stress that on-site creating or on-line publication of any kind of incorrect information is intolerable. Unfortunately, nowadays the creation of deceitful information and fake-illustrations is also very easily achievable digitally. What is more, any falsification can simply be published on the internet as if the information is correct. Yet, also rock art researchers and/or archaeologists publish incorrect illustrations, whether intentionally or … not intentionally, like in the case of the numerous drawings published by Núñez Jiménez (1986; see Van Hoek 2011b). The problem is now that, when academic scientists fabricate and publish incorrect (graphical) information, their readers are being deceived, because they will take the information for granted (they have no choice) and in most instances the reader cannot check the information in the field. It is then inevitable that the incorrect illustration is being accepted by the reader, as if it is truthful and – moreover – that it is distributed further. Therefore, anybody who spots such an incorrect illustration should take action to reveal and stop any unwanted distribution.

(Un)fortunately I know of – so far (only) – three instances of publications in which digitally altered illustrations of images on rock art panels are presented as being correct. All three concern publications by academic scientists. These three instances will now be discussed.


The Palamenco Falsification

The first digital falsification that I stumbled upon (in 2009) concerns a published photograph of the best-known petroglyph at Palamenco, a major, isolated rock art site in northern Peru. The Palamenco petroglyph in question depicts a complex, fully frontally depicted anthropomorphic figure of the MSC-Style (for more information about the MSC-Style in Desert Andes rock art see Van Hoek 2011c). The problem started with the fact that Núñez Jiménez published an incorrect drawing of this Palamenco petroglyph in his book (1986: Fig: 1053). There are several inaccuracies, but the major error concerns the layout of the left-hand leg and foot. In the drawing by Núñez Jiménez (Figure 1A) the feet and the leg-faces face in opposite directions. However, in reality the left-hand foot has claws that point to the right. Thus – despite being weathered – it is a fact that the claws of each foot point into the same direction. Moreover, each leg shows a profile face, which in reality both face to the right as well. An academic archaeologist published a photo that was digitally manipulated in such a way that it matched the illustration by Núñez Jiménez, not realising that in this way he copied the errors by Núñez Jiménez and published and distributed a misleading photo. In the digitally falsified photo it is still possible to discern details that are mirrored on one side, which proves that the right-hand leg-foot was digitally copied, then digitally mirrored and then pasted onto the left-hand leg, only with the intention to match the otherwise incorrect illustration by Núñez Jiménez (Van Hoek 2011c: 64).

Figure 1. Drawing of the Palamenco Petroglyph. A: According to Núñez Jiménez (1968: Fig. 1053). B: According to me. Drawings © by Maarten van Hoek.

Click on any illustration to see an enlargement. Open the enlargement in a new window to see an even better legible enlargement.

Shortly after the publication of the falsified photo the author acted respectably and ethically admitted the malpractice and – what is even more honourable – he apologised in public on the internet. Unfortunately the book in which the falsification was published, is still available and thus still offers misleading information. It is a matter of integrity (an internal mechanism that an increasing number of people seem to have lost or simply prefer to ignore) to acknowledge, expose and fight falsifications and fake news, especially as in this chaotic century – writing July 2022 – fake news and outrageous lies are dangerously booming. Lies even “justified” a most disgusting “peace” invasion (a war started by the Russians). The only (huge) difference between fabricated Z-photos and falsified illustrations of rock art images is a matter of scale!


The Marcas Falsification

A few years later – in 2016 – I came across a slightly different example of photo-falsification. In an online article by Professor Eucadio Gutiérrez Solano, published in February 2016, information about a new rock art site in southern Peru was presented (source). The article was accompanied by a photo, which was claimed to show the new rock art site of “Marcas II” in the valley of the Río San Juan, east of Chincha, southern Peru. However, it proved that the only petroglyph panel (which was moreover horizontally flipped!) visible in the photo is in fact located at Huancor, a major rock art site a few kilometres to the WSW of Marcas.

In 2016 I reported this falsification to Diego Martínez Celis, editor of “Rupestreweb”, and my short note was published on the website “Rupestrerias” of Martínez Celis as follows: Publicado el 8 de Abril de 2016 en “Rupesterias”, Blog de Diego Martínez Celis, Editor-moderador de Rupestreweb: Advertencia de foto trucada de los petroglifos de ‘Marcas’ (Huachos, Perú). En efecto, el lugar en la foto A es el nuevo sitio rupestre de Marcas (II) en el Valle de San Juan, Chincha, pero el panel con petroglifos (marcado con una flecha amarilo en la foto A) es un panel con petroglifos en el sitio rupestre de Huancor (ubicación original marcado con una flecha amarilo en la foto B). However, I was unpleasantly surprised that my contribution to “Rupestrerias” was deleted by Martínez Celis in July 2016, without any explanation. Clicking the URL only resulted in: “la página que estabas buscando en este blog no existe”. I emailed Martínez Celis about this matter, but I never got any explanation/answer from him (it thus looks as if – on second thoughts – he did not mind incorrect information being published).

Figure 2. Inset ‘A’ published in Rupestrerias 2016. Photo ‘B’ © by Maarten van Hoek.


Incorrect Illustrations of Majes Petroglyphs

Also the final example of a publication of incorrect illustrations of rock art I find worrying. It concerns a publication by two academic bio-archaeologists, Prof. Beth Koontz Scaffidi and Prof. Tifiny Tung. Their research paper was called: “Endemic violence in a pre-Hispanic Andean community: A bioarchaeological study of cranial trauma from the Majes Valley, Peru”. It was published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology; Issue January 2020; pp. 1-24. In their paper the authors published a “photograph” (actually presenting two illustrations; Fig. 3) onto which they superimposed demonstrably incorrect “tracings” (the term “tracings” explained by them in their 2022-“Erratum”. Their Erratum features two correct D-Stretch photos, which were ignored by them when creating the two illustrations (Fig. 3) that definitely convey incorrect information. Another issue concerns the fact that they digitally added “weapons” to the images (compare this with the unwelcome addition of a phallus onto a petroglyph at Toro Muerto). However, it is a fact that those added “weapons” do not exist.

In my opinion, their incorrect illustrations of Majes petroglyphs were made to circulate the (otherwise) incorrect conclusions regarding the content and meaning of certain images of the rock art of the Majes Valley: violence (which I also lengthily demonstrated to be wrong: see Van Hoek 2021). It seems that Scaffidi and Tung are obsessed with violence in Majes. They may be right about occasional (ritual?) violence in local communities, but they are definitely incorrect about violence depicted in Majes rock art. It is relevant that – in November 2020 – academic archaeologist Justin Jennings emailed me about this matter and wrote – regarding the paper by Scaffidi and Tung – that my argument about the rock art was correct. He moreover wrote that he thought that those authors observe violence everywhere. In one case Scaffidi and Tung – so Jennings said – interpreted certain headdresses as helmets, which he doubted. He also thought that I was correct to call out the superimposing of the rock art in their Fig. 3 and that I correctly questioned the introduction of a weapon, which is – so he wrote – absent in the original.

In my opinion, superimposing incorrect “tracings” onto photos of rock art images is only a digital variant to the incorrectly chalking-in of petroglyphs in the field and/or adding non-existent items. Yet, I find their incorrect illustrations even more questionable, because the authors are in this way also misinforming their readers, who cannot check the original photos, nor the original petroglyph panels in the field. The unaware readers of their paper have no other choice then to take their incorrect illustrations and their incorrect conclusions based on those incorrect illustrations for granted.

I do not know whether Prof. Scaffidi and Prof. Tung have seen and photographed the two panels (that are exactly 7279.17 m distant) in the field themselves, but I know that I have. In various papers and books I hitherto published several photos/drawings of those two panels (see also the Addendum available in the PDF-version of this paper, available only at ResearchGate), which all prove that the illustrations published by Prof. Scaffidi and Prof. Tung (Fig. 3) are incorrect. Being convinced for 100%, I published an online paper in November 2020 (Van Hoek 2020) in which I (also graphically) demonstrated that their illustrations are incorrect. I also immediately emailed the two authors – and repeatedly many times since then – but I never got any response. It is now remarkable that – after being alerted by me in 2020 – Scaffidi and Tung never refuted my claim. Moreover, they never defended the publication of their illustration (Fig. 3), probably because it cannot be defended. It again proves that some people prefer to submerge themselves in the well-known Egyptian river!

Figure 3A: Drawing of the Toro Muerto petroglyph (based on Scaffidi and Tung 2020: Fig. 3a). The question mark indicates the added “weapon”. B: My drawing showing the factual design of the same petroglyph (Van Hoek 2010). C: My photo of the original petroglyph (see a larger photo at the end of this study). All illustrations © by Maarten van Hoek.

In November 2020 Justin Jennings also informed me that it was his understanding that Scaffidi and Tung would be writing a short Erratum that would be published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology. However, more than a year passed by and yet no Erratum was published anywhere. Therefore, in February and March 2022, I wrote to the Editor of the American Journal of Physical Anthropology – Prof. Trudy Turner – politely asking her (twice) for her assistance (all those emails were also sent CC to Prof. Tung and Prof. Scaffidi – yet [again] without any reaction).

Fortunately, in her email of the 21st of March 2022 Prof. Trudy Turner promised me that an Erratum would be published and that the publication of the Erratum would take a month or two (thus it would be published online before the end of May 2022) and finally in her Journal. On the 22nd of March I answered her that I also expected that the two authors would acknowledge in their Erratum that not only their 2020 – Fig. 3 illustrations are incorrect, but also that their conclusions regarding Majes rock art are incorrect. I also asked her to send me the original, untouched photos. By the end of May 2022 I had not received any answer or any original, unaltered photo from her (mind you: “Original unprocessed images must be provided by authors” [source]). By mid-July 2022 I still had not received any answer from Scaffidi, Tung or Turner. Therefore, I stopped waiting for their answers or an appropriate Erratum and published this full report on TRACCE.

What bothered me most is that – by the end of March 2022 – the Editor promised me that an Erratum would be published by the end of May 2022. This did not happen. No Erratum was published by that time. However, in the end an – in my opinion and in that of Justin Jennings –  irrelevant “Erratum” was published in July 2022; irrelevant, because nobody responsible confirmed that the 2020-Fig. 3 illustrations are incorrect, which is a fact.



The conclusions are simple. Vandalising a rock art site is (in many countries) a criminal act. Therefore, always respect every rock art site, and always realise that they are Sacred Sites that are deeply cemented in ritually charged, spiritual landscapes. Therefore, never touch rock art panels in any way or damage the site in any way. Always respect the sacredness and the integrity of a rock art site and the cultural landscape it is placed in. Moreover, never publish (whether on purpose or unintentionally) incorrect illustrations of rock art images and/or misleading textual information that is based on an illustration, whether correct or incorrect. Acting responsibly in the field and being trustworthy in the office or at home is simply a matter of integrity. If damaging a rock art panel or a rock art site is a criminal act, then – in general – also knowingly publishing incorrect information should be regarded as unethical and unlawful. In those cases the publication of incorrect material will damage the reputation of the publishing author (s).

It seems that Prof. Scaffidi and Prof. Tung are not willing to admit (after being alerted by me in 2020) that the illustrations (and their conclusions regarding Majes rock art) they published in a scientific journal are incorrect. People should realise that only people can be respected; not the journals or publications. Therefore, I was disappointed to see that also the Editor of the journal – Prof. Trudy Turner – actually did not do anything to rectify this instance of published incorrect information.

Finally, a – hitherto undiscussed – form of vandalism at rock art sites is to use the rock art panels as shooting targets. Of course this is also a most shocking way to act at a Sacred Site. Therefore, do not shoot at rock art. But I also would like to add: do not shoot the messenger, as yet this happens too often as well, mainly by ignoring and boycotting the messenger (or even worse!). Publicly acknowledging that somebody is right, is also a form of integrity! Knowing that “some” people do not like my (exposing/alerting) publications (some criticise me or even ditch me, while others disagree with me because of the tone and words that I use [which is still freedom of speech]), I still hope that my papers are appreciated and accepted as an SOS, but also as a caveat for anybody who intends manipulating (graphical) material to be published and/or for anyone who intends or chooses to publish demonstrably misleading information.

Larger photo of the Toro Muerto petroglyph, clearly showing the difference between the factual layout and the incorrect interpretation  by Scaffidi and Tung (2020: Fig. 3a [based on their incorrect “tracing” of their correct D-Stretch photo published in their 2022-Erratum]).



Álvarez Zeballos, P. J. 2009. Petroglifos de Cantas, Pitis, La Mezana y La Laja; Valle de Majes. Once accessible in: Arqueología de Perú:

Bednarik, R. G. 1987. The chalking of petroglyphs: a response. La Pintura. Vol. 15 (2+3); pp. 12 – 13.

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.

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. 2007. Petroglifos Chavinoides cerca de Tomabal, Valle de Virú, Perú. BOLETÍN DE SIARB. Vol. 21; pp. 76 – 88. La Paz, Bolivia. Available as PDF in ResearchGate.

Van Hoek, M. 2010. ‘Trophy’ heads in the rock art of the Majes Valley, Perú: exploring their possible origin. In: Rupestreweb.

Van Hoek, M. 2011a. Cerro Pano: A violated and endangered rock art site in Southern Perú. In: Rupestreweb.

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

Van Hoek, M. 2011c. The Chavín Controversy – Rock Art from the Andean Formative Period. Oisterwijk, The Netherlands. Book available as PDF only at ResearchGate.

Van Hoek, M. 2017. El Arte Rupestre en el Valle de Yarabamba. Linked with my paper in TRACCE: Petroglifos en Yarabamba, Arequipa, Perú: ¿Aplacandos los Apus? In: TRACCE – Online Rock Art Bulletin, Italy. Video available at YouTube.

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

Van Hoek, M. 2021a. Updating the Rock Art near Huaca Blanca. Lambayeque, Peru. In: TRACCE – Online Rock Art Bulletin, Italy.

Van Hoek, M. 2021b. Accessing the Inaccessible. Rock Art of Quilcapampa, southern Peru. Oisterwijk, the Netherlands. Book only available as PDF at ResearchGate.

Van Hoek, M. 2022. The Road to Apu Misti. The Rock Art of La Caldera, Southern Peru. In: TRACCE – Online Rock Art Bulletin, Italy.

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