Majes Rock Art – evaluating a thesis

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This paper analyses the 2018-thesis by Prof. Scaffidi. It concerns a revision (dated September 2023).

by Maarten van Hoek




About Majes Rock Art

Evaluating Scaffidi’s 2018-Thesis


Originally published on the 1st of July 2023 in TRACCE

Revision: September 2023

Maarten van Hoek



Both academic and non-academic archaeologists of all sorts of disciplines and reputations have over time contributed to a better understanding of the archaeology and prehistory of the Majes Valley in southern Peru; an area extremely rich in rock art. Lacking informed knowledge, the only bases they all have to build on, is what is found and observed in the field and analysed at home, data which yield an often complex yet incomplete and thus still (partial) obscure picture. It is understandable that – also because of the complexity and the large amount of available data and the lack of essential data – sometimes unintentional errors will be made.

A simple example of such an unintentional oversight is the photograph published by Mallory Melton et al. (2023: Fig. 2) having the following caption: “Aerial view of Quilcapampa showing the contrast between fertile river bottoms and arid upland areas. Photograph courtesy of Stephen Berquist.”. The caption is (only partially) incorrect, because in fact this photo does not show Quilcapampa, but the area around the petroglyph site of Tintín (or Pisanay or Cerro Blanco) (Van Hoek 2017; see also the video), which is located more than seven kilometres SW of the Wari Enclave above the rock art site of Quilcapampa. For that reason Quilcapampa is nowhere to be seen in their Fig. 2.

I am convinced that the author of the photo (Stephen Berquist) will agree with me that the caption is incorrect (but only regarding the Quilcapampa part). But I also know that Stephen is not at all to blame for this error (perhaps he was not even informed about the goal and/or the contents of the caption of his photo he was asked for). Stephen has intensively surveyed and photographed (also with a drone) the site of Quilcapampa, but also much of the Sihuas Valley and surrounding pampas. Still, I am surprised that all eight authors (none being rock art specialists) have overlooked this error, especially as all the co-authors of the paper – who all have contributed to the 2021-book about Quilcapampa (Jennings et al. 2021) – will undoubtedly have been asked to search for flaws in the draft MS (which is customary): Justin Jennings, Mallory Menton, Matthew Biwer, Aleksa Alaica and Luis Manuel González La Rosa. As I know Justin and Stephen from personal communication for many years and am aware that they have taken possibly thousands of photos at Quilcapampa and the Sihuas Valley and surrounding pampas, it is certain that this error simply concerns an excusable and minor imperfection. Fortunately, the essence of the caption still stands (the stark contrast).


The 2018-Thesis by Scaffidi

The Berquist-photo “issue” in Melton et al. (2023: Fig. 2) triggered me to discuss the 2018-thesis by Cassandra (Beth) Koontz Scaffidi. In her 2018-thesis – referred to in this paper as simply Scaffidi (2018) – are also a few photos that – in contrast with Stephen’s photo – present incorrect information, but also several other imperfections and errors. Her thesis is called: Networks of Violence: Bioarchaeological and Spatial Perspectives on Physical, Structural, and Cultural Violence in the Lower Majes Valley, Arequipa, Peru, in the Pre- and Early-Wari Eras. It thus essentially is supposed to be a bio-archaeological study.

Prof. Scaffidi once started as a student in bio-archaeology (under the wings of bio-archaeologist Prof. Tiffiny Tung) and has later – writing 2023 – evolved into an experienced and highly qualified bio-archaeologist. Therefore, I do not in any way question her skills and publications regarding bio-archaeology, simply because – being a geographer – I do not have the expertise to challenge any of her bio-archaeological results, thus also not the relevant bio-archaeological parts of her 2018-thesis, as long as those parts concern bio-archaeology only.

However, Scaffidi also links her bio-archaeological results with the rock art of her study area. And then it proves that she thinks differently about the rock art, especially for the area she was working in to prepare her 2018-thesis; the Central Majes Valley of southern Peru. Again, I do not question any of the specifically bio-archaeological results published in her thesis, but I have some  problems when she associates her bio-archaeological results with the rock art of the Majes Valley. I will now discuss several issues concerning the Majes rock art aspect.

Indeed, the 2018-thesis by Scaffidi includes several flaws regarding the rock art aspect. Again, I am only questioning her observations regarding rock art, not her bio-archaeological reputation. Her 2018-thesis only deals with the excavations at Uraca, an archaeological burial site located on the desert bank, immediately west of the Majes Valley. Although I have never visited Uraca, I am certain that Scaffidi made some unsubstantiated observations and made some errors in her dissertation (but only when related to Majes rock art). Her thesis was approved by four PhD’s, including her thesis-advisor, Prof. Tiffiny Tung, who also did visit Majes. My comments are based on my (our – the much appreciated assistance of my wife Elles in the field and at home always was and still is invaluable) rock art surveys in Arequipa.


About Toro Muerto

First of all, Scaffidi claims that both the rock art sites of Toro Muerto and Alto de Pitis are visible from Uraca – Sector 1 when she writes that from Uraca 1, there are direct sight-lines to Toro Muerto (her Fig. 5.1) and the rock art site of Pitis, across the river (2018: 165). Regarding Toro Muerto this is definitely not true, as she herself demonstrates in her Fig. 6.2. Although in her Fig. 5.1 Toro Muerto is indeed “visible” from Uraca, the red “circle” in her Fig. 5.1 gives the false impression that the whole of Toro Muerto is visible, because she unquestionably states that Uraca I is located, within full view of the Toro Muerto and Alto de Pitis sites  (2018: 235).

First I will explain my concerns regarding “Toro Muerto” incorrectly being claimed to be visible from Uraca and later I will deal with a similar situation regarding Alto de Pitis. My comments involve the fact that in fact only an extremely small fraction of the very SE end of Toro Muerto (Line 3 in Appendix Figure) is “visible”, which she herself illustrates in her Fig. 6.2 – bottom maps. Indeed, only an extremely small fraction of the very southern tip of the Toro Muerto boulder field (Area A in Figure 2 and Appendix Figure) and its extreme SE corner (Area B in Appendix Figure) “are visible”, moreover – according to her own maps (2018: Fig. 6.2) – from only Sectors IIB and IIC (which are found no less than six kilometres distant from the southernmost tip of Toro Muerto) and – according to her Fig. 6.2 top-left – definitely not from Sector I at Uraca (which is nevertheless still claimed by Scaffidi in her thesis [2018: 165]; see her remarks referred to in the previous paragraph).

Figure 1. Map of the Central Majes Valley showing the burial sites of Uraca Sector (Scaffidi 2018: Fig. 6.2). Click Figure 1 to download her thesis and scan her photo. My Figure 1 had to be deleted because Scaffidi rightly objected to her material being used.

Figure 2. View of Toro Muerto and Uraca Sector I from Alto de Pitis. Uraca Sector II is blocked by a low hillock. The volcano Apu Coropuna is visible from both Boulders AP3-071 and AP3-065. Photograph © by Maarten van Hoek.

Click on any illustration to see an enlargement. Open the enlargement in a new window to see an even bigger format, showing more details.

Figure 3. View of the Majes Valley; the blue pins marked by Scaffidi. Google Earth map compiled by Scaffidi (2018: Fig. 6.5). Deleted. Click Figure 3 to download her thesis. My Figure 3 had to be deleted because Scaffidi rightly objected to her material being used.

In the same “way”, Toro Muerto proves not to be visible from Uraca-Sector IIA (Scaffidi 2018: Fig. 6.2 top-right). Yet Scaffidi graphically claims that from Uraca-Sectors IIB and IIC Toro Muerto is visible (2018: Fig. 6.2; bottom-right and left), but then again this only concerns an extremely small bit, which is moreover hardly visible because of being six kilometres distant (conveniently disregarding the blasting sand storms and mist patches that both frequently occur in this part of the valley). Therefore, I claim that visibility of Toro Muerto did not play any premeditated role in selecting the locations of the Uraca burials. In my opinion they just were convenient locations on higher ground, protected against flooding.

Moreover, I am convinced that also not a single boulder with petroglyphs at Toro Muerto is visible from Uraca (whether viewed from Sector I or from Sector II). Therefore, I claim again that from the whole of the Uraca area Toro Muerto is in fact completely blocked (by Cerro Zuñimarca; see Figure 2) and thus I do not agree with Scaffidi’s suggestion that the Uraca burial sites were selected for any visibility reason. Numerous other locations in the Majes Valley would have been much more suitable to achieve visibility, if visibility was indeed a necessity.

Of course there is in some way a connection between some motifs on artefacts found at Uraca and (some of, but not all of) the petroglyphs of the Central Majes Valley, but I do not agree with the way Scaffidi (and Tung; see Scaffidi and Tung 2020) link the excavation data with the rock art repertoire of the Central Majes Valley. Besides the realistically only extremely few unambiguous graphical links between Uraca and Toro Muerto, Scaffidi seeks to establish also a visual link between Uraca and Toro Muerto, which in my opinion does not exist at all. Also this flaw weakens several of her observations regarding Majes rock art.


About Alto de Pitis

Scaffidi also states that no Sacred Mountains are observable from any spot at Uraca, and that Uraca 1 is unquestionably visually linked to rock art images at Toro Muerto and Alto de Pitis (2018: 236). Indeed, she is right, no Apus (the revered Sacred Mountains of the area; in the Majes Valley only Apu Coropuna, the highest volcano of southern Peru) are visible from Uraca, but Scaffidi seems not to be aware of my published conclusion that especially Alto de Pitis was selected because of the most convincing Apu-alignments from numerous decorated boulders, in particular those boulders with ‘Carcancha” petroglyphs, many providing direct sightlines with Apu Coropuna (see Van Hoek 2013). Yet, the fact that both Uraca Sectors have views of the site of Alto de Pitis, is completely accidental and not premeditated at all. If Majes People were indeed looking for an Apu-linked and a Toro Muerto linked spot to bury their dead bodies and artefacts, Alto de Pitis would have been perfect. Also the possibly important Red Spots of the Majes Valley (fully explained  in Van Hoek 2013) are visible from Alto de Pitis, making Alto de Pitis the most appropriate spot offering numerous religious and symbolic links with Sacred Apu Coropuna and the surrounding Sacred landscape.

However, also regarding Alto de Pitis there are problems in the 2018-thesis by Scaffidi. Indeed Alto de Pitis is “visible” from Uraca and vice versa (see Figure 2). However, did Scaffidi indeed visit Alto de Pitis, or not? Does she really know where to locate Alto de Pitis; the site she calls “Pitis”? And why does she actually use the imprecise name “Pitis” (introduced by Núñez Jiménez 1986: 323 – 336), which refers to only a very small part of Alto de Pitis? She could have known this salient difference. I have surveyed the site of Alto de Pitis several times and for that reason I have labelled the site Alto de Pitis (Van Hoek 2013) in order to eradicate the existing, much differing, confusing names for the several different, yet irrelevantly labelled sections of Alto de Pitis (see Van Hoek 2013 and Álvarez Zeballos 2009).

Importantly, the distance between Uraca – Sector 1 and the estimated centre of Alto de Pitis (see Figure 2) is 6635 m (Line 2 in Appendix Figure). Again, over such a long distance, no (rocks with) petroglyphs can be detected. Consequently, only the direction in which Alto de Pitis is “visible” from both Uraca – Sectors can be ascertained, however, only if you know where to look. And this last remark announces my next problem that I have with the dissertation by Scaffidi. It seems that she does not know where Alto de Pitis is located.

In this respect it is remarkable that Scaffidi incorrectly locates “Pitis” no less than 2300 m north of the very northern tip of Alto de Pitis (see Line 4 in Appendix Figure). In the Google Earth map of her Fig. 6.5 she fixes her “Pitis” on an alluvial fan (at 460 m asl). However, in fact the marker indicating her “Pitis” on her Fig. 6.5 only indicates the village of El Pedregal. The rock art site of Alto de Pitis is not even visible on her Fig. 6.5 (and her marker [as marked in her Fig. 6.5] indicating Toro Muerto – indicated by a green dot in Appendix Figure- is also confusing because it even confirms invisibility from Uraca)! Moreover, the average height of the slightly undulating “platform” at Alto de Pitis (site measuring 4080 m from north [at 540 m asl] to south [at 450 m asl]) is about 500 m asl, thus views from Uraca hardly involve the rock art site of Alto de Pitis. Only the high wall of the Majes Valley east bank is visible from Uraca.

Moreover, her photo of Fig. 5.2 indicates the rock art site of “Pitis” with a red “circle” (Figure 4), but again that “circle” only indicates the alluvial fan on which the village of El Pedregal is found (Figure 4; red oval in Appendix Figure). The rock art site of Alto de Pitis is – again – not even visible in her Fig. 5.2. Because of these remarkable errors, I wonder whether Scaffidi ever visited Alto de Pitis (a site which is only – easily – accessible by car from the south, at a spot (on the main Arequipa – Corire road) which is in fact 5975 m south of her marker indicating “Pitis” in her Fig. 6.5.

Figure 4: The (incorrect) location of the rock art site of “Pitis” according to Scaffidi (2018: Fig. 5.2). My Figure 4 had to be deleted because Scaffidi rightly objected to her material being used. Use the link in this caption to see her thesis.

I now wonder why Scaffidi makes those geographical errors in her 2018-thesis. She could have known the correct location of Alto de Pitis. A map indicating (most of) the rock art site of Alto de Pitis was published by Álvarez Zeballos (2009: page 13; his illustrations are unnumbered). Moreover, also in my 2013-book are three maps indicating the exact location of the rock art site of Alto de Pitis (Van Hoek 2013: Figs. 3, 64 and 65).

Whether Scaffidi actually visited Alto de Pitis seems to be most uncertain and references to it are confusing. Regarding their Fig. 2c (a small photo on her map) Scaffidi et al. (2021) seem to suggest that they did not see this specific Alto de Pitis petroglyph in the field (marked “65” in Figure 2); at least in their Note 3 they write that Scaffidi and her group did not trace this petroglyph at Alto de Pitis! However, in an “Erratum” published by Scaffidi and Tung (2022)  they write that the original photographs of certain Toro Muerto and the Alto de Pitis panels were made by Scaffidi during the excavation-period at Uraca. However, the original photos of those incorrect illustrations – published by Scaffidi and Tung (2020: Fig. 3b) of the Toro Muerto and Alto de Pitis petroglyphs – were never shared with me, despite several polite requests, while this is highly desirable in affairs like this. I still would like to see those original photographs.


About Interpretations

Also Scaffidi’s interpretations of rock art related matters are a source of  concern for me. Although I do not in any way deny anybody the right to publish their own interpretations, it must be said that – in my opinion – the interpretation of rock art (related) images by Scaffidi is often debatable or even too absolute.

An example – involving an instance of absolute interpretation – is the following observation by Scaffidi when she states that one of the rock art panels at Toro Muerto shows a feline (an interpretation which I question in another paper [see Van Hoek 2023c]) carrying a “Trophy” Head  from its mouth (her Fig. 8.42). However, she continues to say that on the same panel is a human tibia [?] situated in an inverted position [?], which borders [?] the scene, implying that “Trophy” Heads were used in certain rituals (2018: 342). First of all, her photo (2018: Fig. 8.42) does not show the whole panel of Boulder TM-Cc-005 and thus only the upper part of the purported “tibia” (but why not an ulna or humerus?) is visible. For that reason it is virtually impossible for any reader to judge – having only an incomplete image – whether her (in my opinion unsubstantiated) interpretation of “tibia” (or any other human bone) is correct. Her observations makes her suggestion (and conclusions) questionable.

Secondly, the petroglyph in question (Figure 5) only shows a vertically orientated (not an upside-down image) sort of (fully pecked) bar with two very short V-shaped extensions at each end (the lower end not shown in her Fig. 8.42). It is completely unknown to me what this petroglyph depicts. And what to think of the row of items at the bottom of this Toro Muerto panel? Are these things bones as well? There are several more such enigmatic petroglyphs at Toro Muerto. In my opinion Scaffidi too absolutely interprets the item as a human bone, without expressing any doubt. However, I seriously doubt whether the petroglyph indeed depicts a human “tibia”, and if I am right, her conclusions are questionable. Mind you, I do not deny her the right to interpret a petroglyph as a “tibia” or whatever. That is freedom of speech. After all, she may be right, being specialised in investigating human bones.

Figure 5: Parts of the panel of Boulder TM-Cc-005 at Toro Muerto, showing the purported “feline” petroglyph and the purported “tibia” petroglyph below the purported “feline”. Photographs © by Maarten van Hoek.

I have more problems with certain interpretations by Scaffidi, especially because too often they are presented as absolute (like the “tibia”). The way she formulates her readings of rock art (and related) imagery seems to suggest that there is no room for another interpretation. Hardly ever does she express any doubt at all (regarding rock art related matters).

Such a rock art related example concerns the beautifully inlaid Spondylus shell that has been illustrated in the her thesis (2018: Fig. 8.41), which – in her caption – is claimed by her to depict a feline with a club. I for one would prefer a more acceptable interpretation. To me the object held by the feline is better interpreted as a “Trophy” Head held by the bundle of hair (a curved bundle, which is often seen in Páracas and Nasca iconographies). A “Trophy” Head is also more acceptable in view of several Arequipa petroglyphs of felines carrying a “Trophy” Head (Jennings, Van Hoek et al. 2019; Van Hoek 2010, 2018; and 2023a). Moreover, nowhere in Arequipa rock art (and in fact nowhere in any other Desert Andes rock art region) have I ever seen a rock art image of a feline unambiguously carrying a club (or a “gourd”, for that matter).

The same can be said for her interpretation of several small fragments of ceramics and textiles (mind you, I am not at all claiming to be an expert on Andean ceramics or textiles). For instance her caption for her Fig. 5.18 describes the illustration as a geometric design. This is of course possible, but why not offering an alternative interpretation reading the motif as a possible zoomorphic figure; a snake (or two snakes) perhaps? Segmented biomorphic (snake-like) petroglyphs – looking more or less the same like the design on the ceramic fragment – occur for instance at Chillihuay in Ocoña, but have also been reported at Toro Muerto, for instance on Boulder TM-Da-068 (Figure 6) and on Boulder TM-Dx-072.

Figure 6. Upper part of a biomorphic petroglyph on Boulder TM-Da-068 at Toro Muerto (left), compared with a design on a ceramic fragment from Uraca (right). Left: Photograph (rotated) © by Maarten van Hoek; Right: Photograph by Scaffidi (2018: Fig. 5.18). My Figure 6-right (the ceramic fragment) had to be deleted because Scaffidi rightly objected to her material being used.

Similarly, her Figure 5.23. is said to depict a face (2018: 196). However to me it looks more like a snake’s head (a face image has no head-contour). Petroglyphs of snakes or snake-like creatures with only eyes as facial features (within a head-contour, of course) do occur in Andean rock art (also on Boulder TM-Da-068 at Toro Muerto). She also states that her illustration 5.20. depicts an Owl, which is – in my opinion – only a possibility. Finally, her Illustration 5.26 fails to recognise possible bird imagery.

Her absolute interpretations also seem to suggest that Scaffidi is not aware that – in general – there is often a big “gap” between imagery found at Andean rock art sites, and images found on Andean ceramics, textiles, temples and other image bearing objects and structures (Van Hoek 22f). I can make this claim, having intensively studied Andean (rock art) iconographies from all over the Desert Andes in the field and at home for more than 20 years.

Scaffidi also writes that the petroglyphs from Toro Muerto often depict masked dancers, and that – for that reason – it is not unexpected to find musical instruments in the nearby burial sites. (Scaffidi 2018: 186). In my opinion this claim should be read the other way around. First musical instruments were made and only later these were included into the local rock art repertoire, and – in case of the Majes Rock Art Style – only extremely rarely, as I will demonstrate.

I now have three problems with the observations mentioned in the previous paragraph. She writes about “masked”, “dancers” and “musical instruments”. I wonder how she relates any purported “masked” figure with musical instruments, given the fact that – as far as I know – none of the so-called Majes “Dancers” of the Majes Rock Art Style has been unambiguously depicted carrying (let alone playing) a musical instrument. She also seems to have no doubt at all about any type of the Majes anthropomorphs (thus including the Majes “Dancers”) to wear a mask. It is still most uncertain whether Majes “Dancers” (or any other anthropomorphic rock art figure from Majes) are indeed wearing masks (although some petroglyphs of isolated human “heads” in Majes Rock Art Style might depict a mask). More information about this subject is found in my book about the Majes “Dancers” (Van Hoek 2022c).

Moreover, the fact that musical instruments have indeed been excavated at – so far only two – burial sites in the Central Majes Valley (La Real and Uraca), does not imply that musical instruments are (or should have been) indeed reflected in the local rock art. Scaffidi also seems not to have been aware of the fact that – until now – only three anthropomorphic petroglyphs (not involving Majes “Dancers” [but “shamans” rather?]) depicting figures possibly playing a wind instrument have been recorded in the Majes Rock Art Style (of the possibly thousands of anthropomorphic figures). Those three purported “flute playing” figures were recorded by me for the first time and published for the first time in my 2010-paper. Apparently my 2010-paper was accessed by Scaffidi (May 5 2015) and referenced by her in her 2018-thesis, but obviously those three “musical” figures have been overlooked by her (thus also their uniqueness).

There is another comparable case of overlooking published information. Although in her caption Scaffidi (2018: Fig. 5.36) refers to dancers wearing headdresses, she obviously did not read my doubts of Majes “Dancers” really representing dancing figures, which I expressed in an earlier paper (Van Hoek 2003); a paper she also refers to in her 2018-thesis. To demonstrate my doubt again, the Majes “Dancers” shown in her Fig. 5.36 are clearly static – thus definitely not dancing –  figures. And there are many other Majes “Dancers” that are truly static, thus not dancing  (again see Van Hoek 2022c; see also my drawings of the Sihuas Canes: Van Hoek 2018). Hence my labelling those figures as Majes Dancers; “ ” in order to express my doubt.

Another instance of Scaffidi being uncritical concerns the figures on textile bands (2018: Fig. 5.35) which she excavated at Uraca, about which Scaffidi remarks that those textiles also represent themes found at Toro Muerto, including an anthropomorph with raised-arms (2018: Fig. 5.34), and the man with lowered-arms  (Scaffidi 2018: 205). Any rock art expert could have informed her that both types of anthropomorphic figures do occur at many Desert Andes rock art sites (though never abundantly) and thus such figures can be expected to show up in Majes rock art as well.

One example (with an outlined head and large raised hands) is found on Boulder AP3-017 at Alto de Pitis (not every boulder will be illustrated by me, but any original photograph is available). Another fine, yet even more complex example of the “surrendering” type is found on Boulder CHY-C-001 at Chillihuay in Ocoña, while petroglyphs of figures with both arms drooping also occur at that site. More examples are found for instance at Cerro Mulato and Alto de la Guitarra in the north of Peru and at Miculla in the south of Peru, and – much further south – at Taira in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile (URL). Most of those rock art examples are more complex, however. Remarkably, petroglyphs very much looking like the very simple Uraca textile figures have only very sporadically been recorded at Toro Muerto. An example occurs on Boulder TM-Ba-006 (Figure 7), while others have been recorded on Boulders TM-Cd-035 and TM-Da-038. Thus, it proves that these figures are not exclusive for Toro Muerto.

Figure 7. A: Boulder TM-Ba-006 at Toro Muerto showing an anthropomorphic petroglyph (in the yellow frame) compared with 7B: a similar textile figure from Uraca. A: Photograph © by Maarten van Hoek; 7B: Photograph by Scaffidi (2018: Fig. 5.34). My Figure 7B (the textile fragment) had to be deleted because Scaffidi rightly objected to her material being used.

Moreover, scanning the figures in her illustrations (5.34 and 5.35), it seems that she did not realise that manufacturing two anthropomorphic figures next to each other on such a narrow band of textile (in one case less than 3 cm in width; Scaffidi 2018: Fig. 5.34) will have limited the layout so much that only very simple and much stylised figures – showing hardly any or no detail at all – must have resulted. Similar figures in rock art do exist, but are usually larger and thus have often more detail. Yet she was able to identify one of the textile-figures as a man.

Regarding the excavated textile bands she further argues that only Uraca I yielded the only textile bands with Toro Muerto imagery, as well as the only Wari-inspired textiles (Scaffidi 2018: 209), apparently overlooking the fact that both Uraca Sectors I and II experienced extensive looting, as she herself writes (2018: 21). This means that at both Uraca Sectors (Wari) textiles and other artefacts could well have been entombed, yet possibly being looted later. Thus the picture of the Uraca Burials (and of numerous other [looted] burial sites in the Desert Andes) is actually incomplete. This makes her observation referred to in this paragraph questionable, and thus some observations of her thesis as well.

My comment also involves her claim that exclusively Toro Muerto motifs (without mentioning which motifs) were limited to Uraca I, which implies that high-elite individuals had special access to not only imported, but also significant local, inherited themes that were visibly connected to the site of Toro Muerto (2018: 209). Again, Scaffidi should have mentioned that the archaeological records regarding the Uraca Burials are incomplete due to looting. Moreover, the (often very) strong winds in the Majes Valley (especially generated near the Uraca and Punta Colorada bottle-necks) may have exposed often fragile textile fragments (even wooden [flute] fragments) and may even have blown them away. I already rejected her claim of Uraca being visibly connected with Toro Muerto in another section of my paper. But here she again unconditionally links Uraca motifs with exclusively Toro Muerto designs, without indicating which motifs she refers to and without offering any illustration of those exclusively Toro Muerto designs. When not offering (links to) reliable graphical evidence, anybody can claim anything.

My reservations also involve another observation when she states that the excavation of musical flutes at Uraca I, placed in the context of Toro Muerto imagery, implies that musical dancing was part of death rituals at Uraca I, but not at Uraca II (2018: 210). Again, also from Sector II the (often small, lightweight) musical instruments may have been looted (or even blown away). Moreover, I also wonder what context of Toro Muerto imagery she refers to (read the above paragraph about the three unique “musical” petroglyphs that I recorded at Toro Muerto). Without offering any illustration, her conclusions remain unconfirmed.

Another example of questionable interpretation concerns an observation by Scaffidi who states (2018: 210) that the excavation of toupees, headbands, and the skull of a cat at Uraca similarly reaffirm the Toro Muerto petroglyphs representing ritual garments (Fig. 5.53). In this respect it is a pity that her Fig. 5.53 cannot be found in her thesis.

Having studied Toro Muerto for many years (in the field and at home) I am convinced that not a single petroglyph unambiguously depicts a ritual garment. I do not deny that possibly some anthropomorphic figures at Toro Muerto may be wearing some kind of ritual garment, but her claim is too absolute. Often a ritual aspect is simply guesswork, also because the use of the term “ritual” is almost always appropriately applicable within the cultural context of prehistoric societies. Moreover, I take it that Majes people wore garments in daily life as well. Yet, Scaffidi seems to be able to distinguish between daily life garments and ritual costumes (possibly) depicted in anthropomorphic petroglyphs, while I cannot even recognise that distinction. Therefore, it may be possible that some petroglyphs in Majes show ritual garments, but without offering any photograph of a Majes anthropomorphic petroglyph, combined with a realistic and reliable explanation, it is impossible to check this. Again, in this way – not offering convincingly graphical evidence – anybody can claim anything.

Scaffidi is also rather inaccurate regarding the presentation of facts. For instance, Scaffidi – referring to my 2013-publication about Majes Valley rock art – writes that in 1912 pioneer Hiram Bingham visited the rock art site of Alto de Pitis and Toro Muerto during his expedition to the summit of Coropuna (van Hoek 2013) (Scaffidi 2018: 88). I checked my 2013-publication and nowhere could I find any hint that Hiram Bingham indeed visited Toro Muerto. I only wrote that I was the first who found out that Bingham was the very first explorer to discover Alto de Pitis in 1911, thus not in 1912 as claimed by Scaffidi (1912 being the year of publication by Bingham). I also checked Hiram Bingham’s full 1922-account and again I could not find any mention of Toro Muerto.

Another instance of inaccuracy concerns her data of the altitudes of both Uraca Sectors, as she writes that Uraca I is found on a high promontory at 500 m asl, and Uraca II at around 100 m [?] asl, on the floodplain [?] of the river valley (2018: 128). These data – suggesting a huge difference of 400 m between Uraca I and II – are contradicted by several of her own illustrations and by her Table 4.1, all of which show hardly any difference in elevation, while her Figs 4.1 and 4.4 also clearly show that none of the burial sites is found on the valley floor of the River Majes (which would be truly exceptional, as the valley floor was most likely reserved for mainly agricultural use, while higher ground was usually selected for sacred spots [like burials] because those higher spots more easily escaped destructive flooding).

Another instance is found on her page 198 – discussing placas pintadas (strangely not referring to the two most informative publications about placas pintadas by Renate Faron-Bartels [2011a and b]) – when Scaffidi writes that (some of?) those placas pintadas showed complicated scenes involving for instance anthropomorphs with avian wings (2018: 198; Fig. 5.36). However the caption of her Fig. 5.36. only mentions petroglyphs of Majes “Dancers” with headdresses at Toro Muerto, and an interested reader will in vain be looking for those bird wings. Yet, there are petroglyphs at Toro Muerto of enigmatic biomorphic figures with one or two elements (mainly emerging from the [top of the] head) that look like “bird-wings”, but those wing-like elements may well represent or symbolise something else (Van Hoek 2021a).

Scaffidi also remarks that the objects found at Uraca 1 correspond to the cases represented in the rock art scenes, referring especially to wind-instruments and tubes (2018: 210; Fig. 5.52). First of all, I repeat that there is – in general – an (often big) “gap” between imagery found at Desert Andes rock art sites and images found on ceramics, textiles, temples and other image bearing objects and structures (Van Hoek 2022f). For instance, so far, outside the Majes Rock Art Style area, the purported “Wari” image of the Majes “Dancer” has never been found on any (Wari) textile, ceramic or any other (Wari) object or structure (of interest however are the easily portable pyro-engraved examples on the “Sihuas” Canes [Van Hoek 2018: 88 – 98]), which prove that – in my opinion – Majes “Dancers” are a purely local and indigenous Majes invention (for more information see Van Hoek 2022c).

And secondly, in the whole of her thesis she does not offer a single piece of illustrative evidence supporting the above claims, while the two Figures she does refer to (Fig. 5.52 in the previous paragraph, and Fig. 5.53 several paragraphs earlier) are both untraceable in her thesis and thus cannot be examined. And when I asked for photographic evidence in another case, Scaffidi ignored any request. So I did not take the trouble to ask for her absent Figs 5.52 and 5.53 to be shared with me, which would have been desirable.

On her pages 215 – 216 is a remark that I do not understand. She wrote that specific local burial styles persisted as long as Uraca was exploited, including the practice of camelid entombments and the use of Toro Muerto motifs not found at other sites in the region. (2018; 215 – 216). I mean: which “region” does she mean? Majes? Arequipa? And what “sites” does she refer to: rock art sites?; burial sites? And more importantly, which motifs is she referring to? Again no illustrations have been included in her thesis that would authorise her claims. I am very curious to learn which “Toro Muerto motifs” are not found at other “sites” in that “region”.

Finally, Scaffidi correctly remarks that camelids were a crucial image in the iconography of the Majes Valley, and are omnipresent in the petroglyphs at Toro Muerto (2018: 211). Indeed, there are numerous petroglyphs of all sorts of camelids in MRAS (see Van Hoek 2022a for a comment on an important Majes camelid petroglyph, recorded [?] by Tiffiny Tung) and at many sites from Toro Muerto southwards across the Desert Andes. Then, why does Scaffidi include a photograph (2018: Fig. 5.37) of which her caption states that the photo shows petroglyphs of camelids (notice the plural) found at Toro Muerto? On her photograph are visible petroglyphs of two single-line quadrupeds (possibly dogs or foxes), an outlined bird of the Three-Digit-Claw-Bird type, some partially visible petroglyphs (I have the complete images) and a zigzagging outlined element (snake or abstract?), but only one (internally decorated) camelid. The whole of this panel (on Boulder TM-Cd-008) is almost completely covered with mainly biomorphic petroglyphs, yet only including one camelid petroglyph. If indeed camelids are that ubiquitous at Toro Muerto, why not including a photo (with a correct caption, of course) of a panel covered with camelids? There are many of such panels (Figure 8). 

Figure 8. A small selection of petroglyph panels at Toro Muerto showing groups of camelids (randomly arranged or in rows or “corrals”). Photographs © by Maarten van Hoek.



Regarding her conclusions I can be brief. Scaffidi summarises her findings using the following words: combat prestige, and violent ritual status (2018: 389). She thus combines Combat with Prestige and Violent Ritual with Status, ignoring any other explanation. War and violence being the only key words of her thesis.

She moreover writes (going in more detail) that Andean bio-archaeologists have deliberated significantly over whether severed heads represent respected ancestors or disembodied antagonists. According to Scaffidi, evidence for aggressive behaviour discussed in her Chapter 8 supports the interpretation that the severed Uraca “Trophy” Heads were war-related (2018: 10 – Note 4). By referring to only bio-archaeologists (who often seem to overlook the valuable graphical records supplied by rock art imagery), she as well misses the observations and theories of certain rock art experts and for that reason she apparently misinterprets many of the rock art messages from Toro Muerto and from (especially) Alto de Pitis.

Regarding the word respectfully that she uses in her Note-4, I argue that by using this term Scaffidi seems to impose her western-orientated idea of “being respectful” upon the prehistoric Majes societies she in fact knows very little about (and nobody does). She seems to ignore the possibility that (even disrespectfully) severed heads may still have – in my opinion – respectfully served as an invisible, ritual bridge conveying the deceased souls with the ancestors, who reside(d) on top of Apu Coropuna, the Sacred Mountain of the area (Van Hoek 2013).

I also argue again that the data collected at Uraca are incomplete due to looting. Any conclusion based on an incomplete record may thus be premature. Moreover, both points of view (whether – or) may well have simultaneously been valid, because each society in Andean prehistory may have had its own set of rationales to create “Trophy” Heads and images thereof. Recently this idea (still an unverified theory!) was elaborated on by me further (Van Hoek 2023a). Earlier I also demonstrated that in Majes Rock Art Style there is not a single indication of war or conflict (Van Hoek 2021b). This contradicts her “trophies of war” claim. Her war claim is in fact only based on traumas inflicted on human bodies unearthed at two burials in Majes, in which no weapons or objects used in conflicts or used in severing heads have – so far – been recorded.

The fact that relatively (very) many petroglyphs of “Trophy” Heads (Van Hoek 2023a), “Carcanchas” (Van Hoek 2013) and Mummy Bundles have been recorded in Arequipa rock art – importantly without involving scenes showing any factual violence! – indicates that violence and “Trophy” Heads may have played a different role than claimed by Scaffidi (see Van Hoek 2023a). Of course, everybody is entitled to express their opinions and formulate their own interpretations, but the rock art aspect and its context should then correctly and consistently be interpreted.

Yet, Scaffidi (and Tung) claim that the rock art of the Majes Valley depicts violence. They even claim that petroglyphs at Toro Muerto convey a preoccupation with violence (Scaffidi and Tung 2020: 7). However, their claim is based on only two illustrations published by Scaffidi and Tung (2020: Fig. 3) that are – moreover – demonstrably incorrect (Figure 9). In August 2022 Justin Jennings confirmed to me that their illustrations (2020: Fig. 3) are not correct. Yet, I was never allowed to see their original 2020-photos, not even after several requests. Supplying originals is highly desirable in a case like this, but all my defensible requests have so far been ignored.

Figure 9. Drawings (© by Maarten van Hoek) of the incorrect illustrations published by Prof. Tiffiny Tung and Prof. Beth Scaffidi (2020: Fig. 3). Compare the false white lines in their 2020-Fig. 3 with their correct D-Stretch photo published in their 2022-“Erratum”.

In a lengthy paper I convincingly demonstrated that interpreting the rock art images at Toro Muerto as being obsessed with violence, is definitely not true (Van Hoek 2021b). In this respect it is revealing that academic archaeologist Justin Jennings (confirming my 2021b-findings) once emailed me that he indeed thinks that the authors (Scaffidi and Tung) see violence everywhere. According to Jennings they – for instance – interpreted some headdresses as helmets that he doubt functioned as so (see also Scaffidi 2018: 50). Thus, I am not the only one having serious problems with certain interpretations regarding rock art imagery by Scaffidi and Tung.

I now hope that any future publication by any [bio-]archaeologist – especially when they refer to the rock art locally – will be as correct as possible. In this respect it is a good idea for anybody to consult – especially when intending to include remarks about the local rock art – persons who are well informed about the rock art of whatever area. Therefore, in case rock art is involved, everybody is encouraged to first consult and then to unbiasedly and correctly use the information in the numerous publications about rock art (see the extensive Bibliografía published by Rainer Hostnig and my publications webpage).



Above all I value the generous help of Justin Jennings and Stephen Berquist regarding my studies about Arequipa rock art and that of Illomas and Quilcapampa in particular. I also appreciate the support by Justin regarding the issue of the incorrect illustrations by Scaffidi and Tung (2020: Fig. 3). Last but definitely not least I am – as ever – most thankful for the assistance in the field by my wife Elles and her ongoing support at home.


Appendix Figure

The locations of several sites in the Central Majes Valley. Map © by Maarten van Hoek, based on Google Earth. Importantly, the red oval indicates – according to Scaffidi (2018: Fig. 5.2) – the (otherwise incorrect) location of “Pitis”. The much larger area – framed in yellow – marks the correct location and the correct extent of Alto de Pitis.



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

Berquist, S., F. Gonzalez-Macqueen and J. Jennings. 2021. Making Quilcapampa. Trails, Petroglyphs, and the Creation of a Moving Place. In: Quilcapampa. A Wari Enclave in Southern Peru. Jennings, J., W. Yépez Álvarez and S. L. Bautista (eds.). University Press of Florida.

Bingham. H. 1912. The Ascent of Coropuna. Harper’s New Monthly Magazine. Vol. 125; Number 741-45: pp 489–502. Henry Mills Alden, editor.

Bingham. H. 1922. Inca Land, Explorations in the Highlands of Peru. The Riverside Press Cambridge. Boston and New York.

Faron-Bartels, R. 2011a. Piedras votivas de Pampacolca. Nuevos datos sobre las lajas pintadas del sur del Perú. Inauguraldissertation zur Erlangung des Grades eines Doktors der Philosophie am Fachbereich Geschichts- und Kulturwissenschaften der Freien Universität Berlin. Berlin.

Faron-Bartels, R. 2011b. Piedras votivas de Pampacolca. Nuevos datos sobre las lajas pintadas del sur del Perú. Anexo. Inauguraldissertation zur Erlangung des Grades eines Doktors der Philosophie am Fachbereich Geschichts- und Kulturwissenschaften der Freien Universität Berlin. Berlin.

Jennings, J., M. van Hoek, W. Yépez Álvarez, S. Bautista, R. A. San Miguel Fernández and G. Spence-Morrow. 2019. Illomas: the three thousand year history of a rock art site in Southern Peru. Ñawpa Pacha, Journal of Andean Archaeology. Vol. 39- 2; pp. 1 – 31.

Jennings, J., W. Yépez Álvarez and S. L. Bautista (eds.). 2021. Quilcapampa. A Wari Enclave in Southern Peru. University Press of Florida.

Melton, M. A., A. K. Alaica, M. E. Biwer, L. M. González La Rosa, G. Gordon, K. J. Knudson, A. M. VanDerwarker and J. Jennings. 2023. Reconstructing Middle Horizon Camelid Diets and Foddering Practices: Microbotanical and Isotope Analyses of Dental Remains from Quilcapampa, Peru. Latin American Antiquity. Vol. 2023; pp. 1 – 21.

Scaffidi (Koontz), C. (B). 2018. Networks of Violence: Bioarchaeological and Spatial Perspectives on Physical, Structural, and Cultural Violence in the Lower Majes Valley, Arequipa, Peru, in the Pre- and Early-Wari Eras. PhD Dissertation. Vanderbilt University: PDF, also uploaded onto Academia by Scaffidi.

Scaffidi, B. K., G. D. Kamenov, A. E. Sharpe and J. Krigbaum. 2021. Non-Local Enemies or Local Subjects of Violence?: Using Strontium (87Sr/86Sr) and Lead (206Pb/204Pb, 207Pb/204Pb, 208Pb/204Pb) Isobiographies to Reconstruct Geographic Origins and Early Childhood Mobility of Decapitated Male Heads from the Majes Valley, Peru. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory. 2021 refers to the publication online; 2022 to the factual publication. PDF.

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.

Scaffidi, B. and T. Tung. 2022. Erratum to “Endemic violence in a pre-Hispanic Andean community: A bioarchaeological study of cranial trauma from the Majes Valley, Peru”.

Van Hoek, M. 2003. The rock art of Toro Muerto, Peru. Rock Art Research. Vol. 20-2; pp. 151 – 170. Melbourne, Australia.

Van Hoek, M. 2010. “Trophy” Heads in the rock art of the Majes Valley, Perú: exploring their possible origin. In: Rupestreweb.

Van Hoek, M. 2013. The Carcancha and the Apu. Rock Art in the Death Valley of the Andes.  Oisterwijk, The Netherlands. Book (full text and fully illustrated – unlike the Rupestreweb version) available as PDF only at ResearchGate.

Van Hoek, M. 2017. Los Petroglifos de Tintín, Sihuas, Arequipa, Perú. In: TRACCE – On-line Rock Art Bulletin, Italy. Linked with my video on YouTube.

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. Book available as PDF only at ResearchGate.

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

Van Hoek, M. 2021a. The Enigma of the “Feathered Homunculus” in the Rock Art of the Majes Valley, Peru. In: TRACCE – Online Rock Art Bulletin, Italy.

Van Hoek, M. 2021b. War and Weapons in Majes Style Rock Art? In: TRACCE – Online Rock Art Bulletin, Italy.

Van Hoek, M. 2022a. The Mislaid Beringa Petroglyph. A Missed Opportunity or a Misleading Missive? In: TRACCE – Online Rock Art Bulletin, Italy.

Van Hoek, M. 2022c. The Majes “Dancer” – Analysing an Enigmatic Icon. Oisterwijk, Holland. Book available as PDF only at ResearchGate.

Van Hoek, M. 2022d. Rock Art at Punta Colorada, Majes, Peru – An Update. In: TRACCE – Online Rock Art Bulletin, Italy.

Van Hoek, M. 2022e. Vandalism and Falsification of Rock Art: A Matter of Integrity. In: TRACCE – Online Rock Art Bulletin, Italy.

Van Hoek, M. 2022f. The Origin of the Cochineros Bird, Río Mala, Peru. In: TRACCE – Online Rock Art Bulletin, Italy.

Van Hoek. M. 2023a. “Trophy” Heads in the Rock Art of North and South America”. Book available as PDF only at ResearchGate.

Van Hoek, M. 2023b. The Case of Boulder AP3-065, Alto de Pitis, Majes Valley, Southern Peru. In: TRACCE – Online Rock Art Bulletin, Italy.

Van Hoek, M. 2023c. The “Camelines” of Toro Muerto; Majes Valley, Peru. In: TRACCE – Online Rock Art Bulletin, Italy.

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