A New “Venus” Cross Petroglyph

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This short paper discusses a new find of another petroglyph depicting the “Venus-Cross” in the Vítor Valley of Southern Peru. The paper also reviews its distribution within the Majes Rock Art Style (MRAS) and within a much larger area (the Desert Andes). It proves that – for still some unknown reason – the “Venus-Cross” is overrepresented in the Vítor Drainage.

By Maarten van Hoek



A New “Venus” Cross Petroglyph

in the Vítor Valley, Peru


Maarten van Hoek *


One of the most interesting yet enigmatic rock art symbols found at numerous sites across the world, is the so-called “Venus-Cross”; ideally an equal armed cross, outlined by one or more crosses. Earlier I have discussed this enigmatic symbol in much detail, simultaneously listing numerous spots with rock art images of the “Venus-Cross” (Van Hoek 2018; 2024) and yet I am still surprised to find a new site that features the “Venus-Cross”. The title reveals that this time a new “Venus-Cross” has been recorded in the Vítor Valley of southern Peru. However, this “new” find in Vítor does not come as a total surprise, because similar symbols have been recorded several times in this valley earlier, even more than in all other drainages of the Majes Rock Art Style (MRAS) together. The MRAS extends from the river Caravelí in the west to the river Vítor-Chili in the east, covering a distance of about 200 km (Figure 1).


The “Venus-Cross”

The typical “Venus-Cross” is composed of an equal-armed cross that is surrounded by one outlined cross (or more). It comes in different sizes (from about 10 cm to even more than 60 cm) and in many, many differing layouts (yet still being recognisable as a “Venus-Cross” or as a spin-off). Most images of the “Venus-Cross” are petroglyphs; only a few pictographs have been recorded. In Vítor – but also in all other drainages of the Majes Rock Art Style (MRAS) – all examples of the “Venus-Cross” are petroglyphs. The MRAS is found in the SW coastal desert of the Department of Arequipa, between the rivers Caravelí and Vítor; Vítor being the eastern boundary of the MRAS (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Map of the MRAS Sphere, showing the sites where petroglyphs of the “Venus-Cross” have been recorded, together with their site-number in yellow (referred to in the text). The smaller numbers indicate the minimum number of “Venus-Cross” petroglyphs in each drainage. Near the South America map is the (provisional) grand total of “Venus-Crosses” in the MRAS (area indicated by the small green square). Map © by Maarten van Hoek, based on the map © by OpenStreetMap – Contributors.

Click on any illustration to see an enlargement.


The “New Venus-Cross” in Vítor

First of all, the new “Venus-Cross” petroglyph that this study presents, most likely is not new at all. The panel on which the “new” “Venus-Cross” appears, belongs to a rock art site in the Vítor Valley that is known since at least 1975 (Linares Málaga 2008: 90), perhaps even earlier. However, only in April 2024 I found an illustration of this new “Venus-Cross” on a video (dated 2023) published by Mary Alejandra Paco and Jorge Luis Suni. They stated that this site (1 in Figure 1) is called La Pampilla, but one of the recorded rock art panels (see Figure 2A) –  definitely present at this new site – was called Huachipa by Eloy Linares Málaga (Linares Málaga 2008: 90), but Linares Málaga is often wrong in location-details and site-names.

The problem is now that other sites in the valley have also been labelled La Pampilla (further north) or Huachipa (further south and west). Maps of the area also provide the following names for this specific site: Huachipa – La Puente (Linares Málaga 2008: 87), Panvilla and La Monjaras, thus adding further to the name-confusion.

Confusion regarding site-names is rather common concerning rock art sites in the Vítor Valley (Van Hoek 2022a: Fig. 1). Therefore, it would be a good idea to extensively and scientifically survey all Vítor Valley rock art sites, giving each site a code (like VIT-1 etc.), providing (Google Earth or GPS) co-ordinates, together with all alternative names ever (un)officially assigned or published for each site.

Finally, the site with the new “Venus-Cross” is definitely located approximately 160 to 200 m north of a small hamlet (road at 183159.40 m E and 8169318.90 m S in Google Earth – 2023), while the rock art site itself is found on a NE facing outcrop ridge, approximately at 183176.00 m E and 8169482.00 m S (as I have not visited this site during my Vítor survey, I cannot be absolutely certain about the exact location). However, a map published by Linares Málaga in 1975 (2008: 87) includes three dots that could indicate the “new” site (at the far left of his map). I leave it to future research to decide what the name of this “new” site will be.


Petroglyphs of the “New” Site

Not having seen this “new” site myself, I can only rely on illustrative material that has been published in order to describe the most relevant petroglyphs. Therefore, I will only discuss the most interesting petroglyphs of the site (depicted on an estimated nine panels at at least three different spots). A drawing of the first panel was published by Linares Málaga (2008: 90), who labelled the site Huachipa. However, his B&W drawing (Figure 2A) is incorrect regarding important details. First of all, the petroglyph of the larger camelid (its interior polished smooth) on the panel, has a more distinct, angular-hooked tail, which is remarkably deviant (Figure 2B).

Figure 2. A: Petroglyphs at the “new” site according to Linares Málaga. B: My interpretation of the larger camelid. C: The possible “Trophy” Head on another panel at the same site. Drawings © by Maarten van Hoek, “A” based on a drawing by Linares Málaga (2008: 90). “B and C” based on the pictures published by Mary Alejandra Paco and Jorge Luis Suni (2023).

The second discrepancy concerns the six very short appendages that descend from the belly-line in his drawing. In fact, those pecked (and abraded?) appendages are much longer lines and – in my opinion – may represent the long hair of the (undomesticated?) camelid. Belly-hair is only very rarely depicted in images of camelids in Andean rock art. There are more (often very faint) petroglyphs on this panel, including a smaller, also abraded camelid petroglyph. The V-shaped serpentine element has been interpreted by Linares Málaga as a “Liwi [Quechua] o Boleadora” (a bola or a sling), which – if correct – could mean that the (wild?) camelid was possibly hunted. Below this panel is a smaller panel with a fainter, yet similar small petroglyph of a camelid (also with belly-hair?).

Possibly only a short distance down-slope is a second group of panels, one with many petroglyphs, which include a simple match-stick camelid with cupules as hooves, and a circular element with four parallel lines from the lower arc (Figure 2C). The interior of the ring shows traces of a possible smaller second ring, but also of random hacking, possibly (intentionally?) obliterating relevant details. In my opinion this circular element might represent a “Trophy” Head (it is similar to two examples found at the rock art site of La Cantera, further south in the valley; see Van Hoek 2022a: Fig. 3B).

Further uphill is the outcrop with at least four decorated panels (three shown in Figure 3A). The largest panel shows – among other images – a large, smoothly abraded petroglyph of a camelid, showing the same curiously bent, angular-hooked tail as the other large polished camelid (of Figure 2B). Petroglyphs of camelids with similar tails are unknown to me. On the next panel to the right sits the new “Venus-Cross”, shown in detail in Figure 3B. The next panel shows a group of closely arranged, parallel serpentine grooves; possibly a (vertically arranged) snake. There are more petroglyphs that I could not identify with certainty and  – for that reason – have not been shown or discussed.

Figure 3. Petroglyphs at the “new” site in the Vítor Valley. Drawings © by Maarten van Hoek, based on the pictures published by Mary Alejandra Paco and Jorge Luis Suni (2023).


The “Venus-Cross” in the Remainder of Vítor

In general the “Venus Cross” Symbol is very rare in Majes Style Rock Art (surprisingly, it is  even completely lacking at the biggest rock art site of the whole area: Toro Muerto) and yet it seems to be (relatively) overrepresented in the Vítor Valley, where – apart from the “new” site (Huachipa?) – at least five other rock art sites have altogether 19 examples of the “Venus-Cross”. This brings the total – together with the example at the “new” site – up to 20 examples. The other examples will briefly be discussed now (all numbers mentioned in this study only represent minimum numbers, as more examples may exist).

Further upstream from the “new” site (Site 1 in Figure 1; see also the map of the upstream area in Van Hoek 2022: Fig. 1) are at least five sites, rather “close” together that have petroglyphs of the “Venus-Cross”. The first site, and the only site on the left (south) bank of the Río Vítor (called Río Chili at that spot), is La Caldera (Site 2 in Figure 1). My study of La Caldera yielded at least five examples of the “Venus-Cross” (Van Hoek 2022b: 11: Fig. 8).

On the right (north) bank and all immediately overlooking the Río Chili are three sites located quite close together (therefore collectively indicated as Site 3 in Figure 1). One large, vertical panel at the rock art site of Gentiles shows a rather complex “Venus-Cross” (A and B in Figure 4), while a neighbouring (or the same?) site further east (?) is called Mollebaya Grande, where Augusto Cardona Rosas (2016: no Fig. numbers or page numbers provided) recorded one petroglyph of the “Venus-Cross” (Figure 4C), without mentioning the symbol in his text. Quite a distance north of the Río Chili is the unusual rock art site of Culebrillas (Site 4 in Figure 1), set in a narrow cleft (a slot canyon), with at least one petroglyph of a “Venus-Cross”.

Figure 4. A and B: Petroglyphs at Gentiles. C: Petroglyph recorded at Mollebaya Grande. Drawings © by Maarten van Hoek, “A and B” based on a photograph – downloaded many years ago – by an author who is unknown to me; “C” based on an illustration by Augusto Cardona Rosas (2016).

Further upstream from Mollebaya Grande and immediately north of the Río Chili, is the important rock art site of Mollebaya Chico (Site 3 in Figure 1), surveyed by me in much detail (Van Hoek 2022c). At this site I recorded no less than eleven petroglyphs of the “Venus-Cross”, several illustrated by me earlier (Van Hoek 2022). Most of the “Venus-Crosses” at Mollebaya Chico show the “standard” (simple) layout of the “Venus-Cross” (Figure 5), but “one” example (on Boulder MOL-048) is special – and unique for the MRAS – for having a row of three joined examples (Figure 6). However, globally this “Triplet” configuration is not unique, as it has been recorded in northern and central Chile, as well as on the island of New Caledonia in the Pacific Ocean (Monnin and Sand 2015), some 12.600 km to the west of the Vítor Valley. Yet, the Triplet at Mollebaya Chico is exceptional in the rock art of the Desert Andes for being horizontally orientated.

Figure 5. Four standard petroglyphs of the “Venus-Cross” at Mollebaya Chico, Río Chili. Photographs © by Maarten van Hoek.

Figure 6. Petroglyphs of the exceptional, horizontally arranged Triplet “Venus-Cross” at Mollebaya Chico, Río Chili. Photograph © by Maarten van Hoek.


The “Venus-Cross” in the Remainder of the MRAS

The Sihuas Valley (actually part of the Vítor Drainage) has several rock art sites, of which Quilcapampa (Site 5 in Figure 1) is the most important. It has been fully described by me (Van Hoek 2021). At Quilcapampa there are two (possibly three) panels that bear the “Venus Cross” on which six (seven?) examples have been recorded (Van Hoek 2021: 32).

One panel was possibly first recorded in 1964 and later an illustration of the panel was published by Hans Dieter Disselhoff (1971: Abb. 25) (Van Hoek 2021: Fig. 23A). This most southerly panel is found in a deep, narrow gorge. A very steep stone wall overlooks that gorge to the south and high up this cliff is an almost inaccessible, SE facing panel with at least five petroglyphs of the “Venus Cross” (Van Hoek 2021: Fig 23B). This panel is of great importance, as several petroglyphs show (faint) traces of a red substance – most likely paint – and thus they all may have been painted in in red. Because of the colour used and the sheltered and “inaccessible” position, it is very unlikely that this paint concerns modern vandalism. Just to the right of the panel is another panel that might have another (small and indistinct) petroglyph of a “Venus Cross” (it has not been admitted in the statistics of this study).

About 800 m to the NNE of the gorge (yet still at the same extensive site) is another panel, which is facing east, across the Sihuas Valley. The panel is almost completely covered with a chaos of much worn petroglyphs, although with some difficulty some anthropomorphic figures can be discerned. Conversely, more deeply carved is the “Venus Cross” on the right hand side of the panel (Van Hoek 2021: Fig. 23C). Interestingly however, this time the “Venus Cross” is clearly associated with – or rather, physically linked to – another petroglyph, although it is possible that certain elements of this figure have been added at a later stage. It now looks as if the “Venus-Cross” (deliberately?) serves as the “head” of an anthropomorphic figure. Although arms cannot be detected, the figure clearly has two legs ending in simple feet.

Further west is the Majes Drainage, housing the two most important rock art sites of the MRAS Sphere, but also of the Desert Andes: Toro Muerto (on the right bank of the Río Majes) and Alto de Pitis (on the left bank; Site 6 in Figure 1). Surprisingly only two examples of the “Venus-Cross” have been recorded in Majes, and both are found at  Alto de Pitis in Majes (on Panels AP3-133C [Figure 7A] and AP3-127A [Figure 7B; for its location see the Cover Photo). In view of its enormous amount of petroglyphs and because of its undisputed connection with Alto de Pitis, it is remarkable that Toro Muerto does (so far) not have any petroglyph of the “Venus-Cross”.

Figure 7. A and B: “Venus-Cross” petroglyphs at Alto de Pitis; C: “Venus-Cross” at Chillihuay. Photographs A and B © by Maarten van Hoek. Photograph C © by Rainer Hostnig.

Travelling further west, the Manga Drainage is crossed (so far no “Venus-Cross” petroglyphs have been recorded in Manga) to arrive in the Ocoña Drainage, where (so far) only one petroglyph of the “Venus-Cross” has been recorded (Figure 7C). It is found on a large panel (CHY-F-004) at the very east end of the important and extensive rock art site of Chillihuay-1 (Site 7 in Figure 1), together with two impressively large and unique images of “warriors” (Van Hoek 2014), all recorded by Rainer Hostnig. The drainage at the far west end of the MRAS Sphere (the Caravelí Drainage) has two examples of the “Venus-Cross”, found close together on Panel 2-026B and adjacent Boulder 2-088 at the Río Caravelí Site (Site 8 in Figure 1; fully discussed in my Caravelí-book [2022d]).



In view of the enormous amount of petroglyphs in the MRAS Sphere (literally thousands examples have so far been recorded), the “Venus Cross” is exceptionally rare in the MRAS, as (including the one at the “new” site, discussed in this study) only (a minimum of) 30 examples have been recorded so far. Its distribution across the MRAS Sphere is also remarkable. The “Venus-Cross” symbol is clearly overrepresented in the Vítor Drainage, as no less than 25 of the 30 examples have been recorded in the Vítor Drainage (Sihuas and Vítor-Chili), while more than one-half is found in the Vítor Valley. The reason for this overrepresentation is unknown to me, but perhaps it has something to do with Vítor-Chili being a contact zone between the MRAS Sphere and the area further east (the Yarabamba rock art area, where a different style and content of rock art is found).

Importantly, the MRAS – with its 30 representations of the “Venus-Cross” – also constitutes an anomaly within the coastal rock art region of the Desert Andes. This anomaly not only concerns statistics, but also distances. The nearest site featuring a petroglyph of the “Venus-Cross” is found (as far as I know) no less than 311 km to the SE. It concerns the extensive site of Miculla in the far south of Peru, where at least one simple example has been recorded (Gordillo Begazo 1996: 79), as well as a more complex (vertically arranged) Triplet example (on Boulder MIM-015).

Further south several examples – all in Chile – have  been recorded – for instance – at Chapisca (where a complex example; a [vertically arranged] Triplet and a rare outlined T-shape have been recorded by me), Cerro Chuño (where I also recorded another [vertically arranged] Triplet), Conanoxa (Van Hoek 2016: Fig. 77), and much further south at Chiuchiu, Illapel, Cuz Cuz and Combarballá.

To the NW of the MRAS Sphere examples have been recorded at Huancor (no less than 485 km to the NW; enigmatically skipping the Páracas-Nasca rock art region), while more examples have been recorded further to the NW, for instance at Checta, San Antonio, Cerro Negro, Chuquillanqui, Los Boliches and Mayascon; all in Peru. I am not aware of petroglyphs depicting the Triplet “Venus-Cross” in the central and northern coastal areas of Peru.

It proves that the “Venus-Cross” is found at many rock art sites in the Desert Andes that are however rather irregularly distributed over a north-south distance of roughly 3000 km (as the crow flies; not following the Pacific Coast line), yet (for unknown reasons) frequently skipping large rock art regions. The biggest enigma is whether the “Venus-Cross” diffused all along the Pacific Coast, or that it developed independently at each site (or independently originated at some sites and diffused to neighbouring sites). Whatever happened, it is certain that the Vítor Drainage in southern Peru has a remarkable – still inexplicable – concentration of “Venus-Cross” petroglyphs. Despite all uncertainties, it is still possible that the “Venus-Cross” independently emerged in the Vítor Valley and diffused eastwards from there across only the MRAS Sphere. Finally, the “Venus-Cross” petroglyphs recorded in the MRAS are not specifically associated with (one or more) specific rock art images or elements, so that offers no clues.



Not having visited the drainages west of the Majes Valley myself, I am aware that this paper could never have been written without the help of other people. I am grateful to Mario Antonio Casas Berdejo, photographer from Arequipa, Peru (regarding Caravelí petroglyphs), and especially Rainer Hostnig, rock art researcher from Cusco, Peru (regarding Chillihuay petroglyphs). They all generously made available to me their (personal) photographs of Caravelí and Chillihuay rock art and they kindly granted me permission to use and publish their graphic material. However, I would like to emphasise again that only I am responsible for all my illustrations, information, observations, conclusions and theories presented in this paper. Especially my drawings may be inaccurate, incomplete or (partially) incorrect and always represent my interpretation of the images. Last, but certainly not least I am grateful to my wife Elles for her assistance when surveying the rock art sites of the Vítor Valley (an many other sites in the Desert Andes), as well for her ongoing support at home.



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