New “Snake” Petroglyphs – Vítor Valley, Peru

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This short paper discusses two new finds of specific biomorphic petroglyphs in the Vítor Valley of Southern Peru and its distribution within the Majes Rock Art Style (MRAS). It proves that this type of biomorphic image is overrepresented in the Vítor Drainage.

By Maarten van Hoek



New “Snake” Petroglyphs

Vítor Valley, Peru



Maarten van Hoek



The Central Vítor Valley (part of the Quilca-Vítor-Chili-Sihuas Drainage) in the Department of Arequipa in southern Peru is extremely rich in rock art sites (Van Hoek 2022a). This drainage forms the eastern boundary of the so-called Majes Rock Art Style (MRAS), which is characteristic for the rock art imagery in a large area from the Río Caravelí in the far west and – about 200 km further east – the Río Vítor (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Distribution map of rock art sites with petroglyphs of “Dented Snakes” in the MRAS Sphere. Map © by Maarten van Hoek, based on the map © by OpenStreetMap – Contributors.

Click on any illustration to see an enlargement.

In the northern part of the valley there is one site – La Caldera – that is remarkable for having a relatively large number of distinctive zoomorphic petroglyphs, discussed by me earlier (Van Hoek 2022b). Although I am not sure about the species that has been depicted, I am inclined to describe them – also in this study – as “Dented Snakes” (although some examples may also depict centipedes). Most of such “Dented Snakes” are found further upstream at La Caldera in the Vítor Valley.


The ”Dented Snake”

Paradoxically, petroglyphs of reptiles are both rare and abundant in the MRAS. Rare are images of lizards  and of frogs, while petroglyphs of snakes or snake-like images are most prolific and characteristic for the area. Importantly, petroglyphs of snake-like creatures are perhaps the most distinguishing feature of the rock art imagery at La Caldera (Site 2 in Figure 1). There are numerous different types, comprising straight lines, zigzag lines, undulating lines, (nested) U-shapes and (elongated) S-shapes. An image may have one single line as a body or – in most cases – it consists of two or even three (parallel) lines. Images of snakes may be monocephalic, but there are many bicephalic petroglyphs of snakes or snake-like creatures, especially at La Caldera. In fact, petroglyphs of bicephalic snake-like creatures only predominate in this area.

Most emblematic are the many petroglyphs of snake-like creatures that have one or two (sometimes interrupted) rows of short, lines or triangular appendages. Most appended triangles are outlined. Those outlined triangles are empty, but sometimes they are bisected by a small line. Occasionally a triangle is fully pecked and in a few cases a number of triangles seem to have been reduced to short, single lines.

Also the shape of the snake-head – almost invariably outlined – varies. There are many U-shaped heads, as well as -shaped heads, while in one case a circular, fully pecked (or obliterated?) head has a fin-shaped, backwards projecting appendage at each side. In another case the (-shaped) head of a snake seems to have been deliberately obliterated by a prehistoric manufacturer.


Beyond the Central Vítor Valley

Importantly, petroglyphs of the “Dented Snake” also link La Caldera with the rock art site of Mollebaya Chico (Site 3 in Figure 1; only 6 km ENE of La Caldera) where also several, often most impressive examples with U-shaped heads are found (Van Hoek 2013: Fig. 59). In the same area is Mollebaya Grande (Site 4 in Figure 1), a site further downstream the river Chili, where there is an outcrop panel with a profusion of petroglyphs (Van Hoek 2024: Fig. 4A), including at least three petroglyphs of dented, bicephalic snake-like creatures, again showing the characteristic U-shaped heads.

At Quilcapampa (Site 5 in Figure 1; 40 km NW of La Caldera) are two examples (Van Hoek 2021: 69), while further west at least eight examples are known to me to have been recorded. One example was recorded by me on Boulder AP2-053C at Alto de Pitis in the Central Majes Valley (Site 6 in Figure 1; 75 km WNW of La Caldera), while another very large and elaborate bicephalic snake-like creature has been recorded at the remote rock art site of Quebrada Pampa Blanca (Site 7 in Figure 1), NNW of Toro Muerto in the Central Majes Valley. Six others (not all dented) are found at Chillihuay (Site 8 in Figure 1), 150 km WNW of La Caldera. At least four snakes at Chillihuay have “arms” just behind their U-shaped heads.


The “New Vítor Dented Snakes”

The Central Vítor Valley houses many rock art sites and a great number have been described by me earlier (Van Hoek 2022a). Yet, every now and then new information about allegedly new sites or further information regarding known sites becomes available. Some of those new finds occur on  rock panels – located at a site still unknown to me – but “somewhere” near Huachipa or La Pampilla (Site 1 in Figure 1). Two panels – most likely at the same site (although that is not certain) – each have one most complex petroglyph of a biomorph that I call a “Dented Snake” in this study, although – again – it may also depict a centipede (Van Hoek 2022b).

Panel A: The petroglyph on this panel (Figure 2A) is estimated by me to be around 50 cm in height. It is a curvilinear, coiled “Dented Snake” with numerous short lines emerging from its outlined body. The head is poorly manufactured and the tail seems to be linked with a natural hole in the rock. There are more petroglyphs on this panel.

Panel B: The petroglyph on this panel (Figure 2B) is a more rectilinear, “folded” “Dented Snake”, again with numerous short lines emerging from its outlined body. The body is decorated with a long line of dots. Its head is better manufactured and features – besides two dots representing the eyes – the typical U-shaped form, which is characteristic for several “Dented Snakes” in the area. Again, the tail seems to be linked with a (smaller and shallower) natural hole in the rock. There are more petroglyphs on this panel, possibly including a third “Dented Snake”.

It seems as if both examples have intentionally been positioned in such a way (especially example “A”), suggesting that the creatures just crawled out of the rock (the veil between two worlds). If that is true, will always be unknown. However, there are instances of rock art images – especially in the SW of the USA – where snakes, hands (Utah), and even people (California) seem to emerge from a natural features in the rock, so the idea is not far-fetched.

Figure 2. A and B: Petroglyphs of “Dented Snakes” recorded somewhere near Huachipa or La Pampilla in the Central Vítor Valley of southern Peru. Drawings © by Maarten van Hoek, based on two photos (A and B) uploaded by Sra. Mary Alejandra Paco Calapuja (Vítor, Perú).



It is interesting to see that the image of the “Dented Snake” (whether the biomorph is an actual snake or not) is – like the “Venus-Cross” symbol (Van Hoek 2024) – clearly overrepresented in the Vítor Drainage, especially at La Caldera and Mollebaya Chico. The two “new” finds at Huachipa / La Pampilla in the Central Vítor Valley presented in this study seem to confirm – together with the “Venus-Cross” – a special status of the rock art symbolism within the larger MRAS Sphere.



Van Hoek, M. 2013. The Carcancha and the Apu. Rock Art of the “Death valley” of the Andes. Oisterwijk, Holland. Book available as PDF only at ResearchGate.

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

Van Hoek, M. 2022a. Vítor Valley Rock Art Sites: Tacar. In: TRACCE – Online Rock Art Bulletin, Italy.  Also available as PDF at ResearchGate.

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

Van Hoek, M. 2024. A New “Venus” Cross Petroglyph in the Vítor Valley, Peru. In: TRACCE – Online Rock Art Bulletin, Italy.

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