The Motocachy Pampa Disaster, Peru

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Figure 011a

Motocachy Pampa

The UNESCO’s World Heritage List now registers almost a thousand properties. Only two percent of the World Heritage List comprises rock art sites. Regrettably 44 of those properties are in danger, which proves that being on the World Heritage List is not a guarantee that nothing will endanger the site. I will focus the discussion mainly on rock art sites in the deserts of western Peru.

by Maarten van Hoek –

The Motocachy Pampa Disaster: A Tale of Neglect of Rock Art

Maarten van Hoek



Nowadays many organisations and individuals are deeply committed preserving their cultural heritage for future generations. Museums have been built to display valuable items and specific areas are officially protected. For instance, the UNESCO’s World Heritage List now registers almost a thousand properties. Regrettably it seems that rock art – a very important part of the global cultural heritage – is often considered not to be that important. For instance, only two percent of the World Heritage List comprises rock art sites (not counting rock art sites that happen to be included in National Parks etc). Regrettably 44 of those properties are in danger, which proves that being on the World Heritage List is not a guarantee that nothing will endanger the site. Fortunately all rock art sites on the UNESCO list are registered as ‘not endangered’. Yet, many rock art sites worldwide are in constant and increasing danger of being severely damaged or even destroyed. Therefore rock art protection is more than essential nowadays. This paper discusses a specific type of preserving rock art. Because the situation in the Andes of South America is best known to me at the moment, I will focus the discussion mainly on rock art sites in the deserts of western Peru. However, the outcome of this paper applies to any (Latin American) country with rock art (for instance Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile (where the Dakar Rally already caused damage to ancient geoglyphs), Colombia, Venezuela and Mexico). An example in Chile (see Fig. 4) shows that vandalism is not only a recent problem but that it often started quite long ago (in this Chilean case at A.D. 1836). Sadly the damage continues and increases, because any damage too often triggers further damage.


Peru is said to be one of the 15 countries richest in rock art. Having visited Peru many times I can only confirm that the amount of rock art in this country is enormous and that it is moreover enormously important. Besides the numerous archaeological remains in the Andes, rock art is a most valuable part of the legacy of the ancient Andeans who once inhabited this rugged and beautiful area. This graphical legacy is most precious. In fact, one cannot ever put a price on the rich gamut of rock art in this mountainous and desert area; not even on one single rock art panel.

However, during each visit to Peru my wife Elles and I were shocked to see the ongoing damaging and destruction of rock art and rock art sites. In this respect it is a disadvantage that Peru is a very large and rugged country and that rock art is often found in remote places. In most cases there is no supervision at all and, moreover, it is (generally and globally) a Sisyphus job to teach the local people to respect their cultural legacy. We have seen local people rubbing petroglyph panels with sand in order ‘to make them better visible’, and even when we explained that this was a most unwanted practice, they still continued to do so. Although some formal effort is done to instruct tourists to rock art sites not to touch the rock art and not to interfere in any way with the rock art site (or any archaeological site for that matter), the education of the local communities often seems to be ignored.

Also unfortunate is the fact that in many Peruvian web sites, rock art sites are often promoted as tourist attractions (see also: Atractivos Turísticos and Turismo Arqueológico [notice the chalked/painted in images]), probably in the hope that the area will receive more (foreign?) tourists. In one case I even found a photo on the internet of a petroglyph boulder ‘made attractive’ by a lady who was sitting on top of it; like on a new car in a showroom. However, I fear that adequate measurements to protect the rock art and to educate both the local population and the tourists will be no part of such tourist campaigns.

Although I cannot prove that local people are more destructive than tourists, I nevertheless claim that the biggest damage and destruction of rock art in Peru is often caused by local people and authorities. Therefore, one of the major goals of any official rock art organisation should be the education of people and a strict vigilance towards the future activities of local, regional, and national authorities.

Yet there is another form of neglect, which, in combination with the problems described above, is also part of the general disaster. Notably, too often it proves that academic scientists ignore rock art during their researches. Systematic surveys recording every bit of rock art of a certain site/area are rare in Andean archaeology, although there are a number of exceptions that offer a complete record of all rock art panels of a site (Van Hoek 2011a) or even a larger area. Admirable examples of surveys of larger areas are the excellent Lower Nasca River Rock Art Inventory (central Peru) by Ana Nieves (2007) and the most extensive Inventory of the Rock Art of the Codpa Valley in northern Chile (CIHDE 2012). However, too many times archaeological surveys and reports prove to have excluded rock art manifestations from their recordings, while in my opinion it is the responsibility of every archaeologist to carefully and meticulously record and report rock art as well. Of course this statement needs to be verified. In this respect the neglect during the Beringa Project is most illustrative.

The Beringa Project

The Beringa Project, directed by Tiffiny Tung, Associate Professor of Anthropology of the Department of Anthropology, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, USA, involved the scientific excavation of Beringa, an archaeological site in the valley of the Río Majes, which is located in the Department of Arequipa, southern Peru. Excavations of a small room (Unit 2 in Sector A) in the Pre-Columbian settlement of Beringa produced, among several other items, three ‘placas pintadas’ (painted Votive Stones) and a ‘camelid’ petroglyph on the internal surface of a foundation stone. According to Dr. Tung, the leading archaeologist of the team that was excavating the site, no petroglyphs were found in other structures, but ‘they were observed on large boulders surrounding the site’ (2007: 258). I was most interested to learn more about those petroglyphs and wrote to Dr. Tung in 2012.

Unfortunately Dr. Tung was not able to help me by providing any additional information about the style and content of the rock art at Beringa. She wrote to me that she did not have any photos of the petroglyphs at Beringa; not even of the ‘camelid’ petroglyph, because that was not her primary area of research (Tung, July 2012: pers. comm.). To me this sounds very strange because in her paper she writes that ‘numerous photos were taken throughout the process of surface collection and excavation’ (Tung 2007: 269). Why then exclude such an important discovery from being recorded/photographed? She moreover writes: ‘Using a theodolite, the mapping team documented all visible architectural features, trash berms, tomb openings, looters’ pits, petroglyphs, surface collection units, excavation units, and the edge of the site as demarcated by a steep escarpment along its western edge’ (Tung 2007: 269; my emphases in bold print). I now seriously wonder why no photographs of the Beringa petroglyphs are available. Consequently I asked Augusto Cardona Rosas, director of CIARQ, Arequipa, who visited the Beringa Project, and Bruce Owen (Beringa Project Ceramicist) if they had taken any photographs of the petroglyphs. Via email they answered me that they as well did not have any photographs of the petroglyphs at Beringa (Augusto Cardona Rosas and Bruce Owen 2012: pers. comm.).

To me it sounds very strange that an authorised, scientific, archaeological survey would not ([photo]graphically) record all items related to the investigations; thus including all rock art manifestations (why only illustrating and describing ‘placas pintadas’ [Tung 2007b: Fig 9] and not the petroglyphs?). The presence of rock art discovered during such an important excavation may be of crucial importance (sensu stricto and sensu lato) in understanding the whole archaeology of the area.

The inadequate procedure at Beringa indeed proves that rock art is often neglected in archaeology. But it also proves that, unfortunately, professional and academic researchers do not always photographically record everything relevant. I therefore recommend that every official, scientific archaeological survey/excavation records also rock art in every possible way (photographically, textually and cartographically). Besides the fact that it is only scientifically correct to record everything relevant during an excavation, this plea also has a specific reason. Notably, every sincere archaeologist will be aware of the vulnerability and volatility of prehistoric remains. Often remains only are ephemeral; even when it concerns remains of solid stone. In addition, most rock art is not guarded against destruction. One of the means to ‘rescue’ rock art is to be certain that a complete photographic record has been made. It demonstrates that making such photographic records is critically necessary, not only in Peru but elsewhere in the world.


Destruction of Rock Art

Although most rock art in the Andes still is unscathed, especially anthropic destruction is increasing rapidly. Importantly, all damage to a rock art panel, no matter how ‘minor’, is completely unacceptable and should be avoided and prevented at all cost. Unfortunately, there are numerous instances of anthropic damage to rock art sites in the Andes, ranging from small scale theft and vandalism to large scale and even authorised destruction. This is often carried out without having the intention to destroy rock art; it ‘simply’ is collateral damage). In the following paragraphs I will review a few instances of rock art destruction in Peru to show how diverse it can be.

In 2004 I found two large boulders at Alto de la Guitarra in the north of Peru to have been heavily vandalised (Fig. 5) with paint. This paint was brought to this remote site on purpose after a long and arduous walk of some three hours (single way!). This is not the work of tourists (who are unaware of the situation and usually do not carry paint) and I also exclude enthusiastic rock art researchers who are deeply concerned about protecting rock art. Most likely this instance of despicable vandalism has been carried out by local people. The same goes for a large petroglyph panel at ‘nearby’ Queneto. Every genuine rock art researcher will be shocked to see the sheer numbers of people climbing (and thus damaging) the rock art panels of Yonán, an important (unsupervised but markedly signposted) rock art site in the north of Peru (several panels at this impressive site were already vandalised in 2004). Most rock art at the site of Cerro San Simón has already disappeared. The instances of vandalism, destruction and robbery at the biggest petroglyph field of Peru, Toro Muerto in the south of Peru, are numerous, despite many publications on the internet.

We noticed that Peru is really improving its infrastructure. Many roads are being tarred and bridges are built. This often comes at a price. Petroglyph boulders from Cerro Garraspiña in the north of Peru were destroyed in 2007 and the stones were used to build a bridge across the nearby river Chancay. Frequently roads have been constructed indiscriminately, often bordering very closely rock art sites (for instance at Cerro Mulato), or even cutting right through petroglyph fields. This happened for instance at Huaca Blanca and Pocos in the north of Peru, at Muralla in central Peru and at San Antonio, La Barranca, Sotillo, Alto de Pitis, Cerro Pano (Van Hoek 2011a) and Miculla, all in the south of Peru. Unfortunately those roads also facilitate the stealing of petroglyph boulders. But also less accessible sites suffer from robbery. In 2004 I noticed attempts of robbing petroglyphs from a boulder at Checta (pause this You Tube video at 3.10 minutes); a site easily accessible from Lima but involving a steep climb from the road, much visited and therefore heavily vandalised in general. Also at Toro Muerto in the south of Peru several petroglyph boulders have been (partially) robbed or damaged in order to steal petroglyphs. Being close to a road also increases the risk of being vandalised. The petroglyph panels of Sotillo on the Panamericana Sur Highway vandalised with paint and scratches and the boulder at Pay Pay on the road to Cajamarca in northern Peru used for posters are sad examples.

Another threat is the construction of new buildings on top of rock art sites. When I recorded petroglyphs at Muralla in the Pisco Valley in 2004 (Van Hoek 2005: Fig. 1) there were no buildings at or near this small site. The Google Earth satellite photo of 2009 clearly shows that a building had been constructed right on top of the site (13°35’32.69″S and 75°33’16.92″W). In 2004 several buildings already existed on top and very near the site of Pakra, a petroglyph site only 450 m NNE of Muralla, but the difference between the 2002 and 2009 photos in Google Earth is most disturbing.

One effect of publication on the Internet (including the numerous Panoramia photos accessible via Google Earth) is that people know of rock art sites and are going to visit them. This issue raises the well-known problem: reveal the location of an archaeological site or not? As a scientist I prefer to include the location; it is part of the investigation. The argument that one can always ask the author the location is meagre. In the past 35 years I was only very sporadically asked to provide information about the location of a rock art site and in many cases it is not even possible to ask the (late) author a question. Another problem is that there is already so much detailed information about rock art locations available on the internet (for instance Huancor in central Peru and a newly discovered site in Brazil are found on web sites along with Google Earth maps) or in scientific publications (often available as PDF [see Imagen 7] on the internet) that it is much wiser to educate people than to (seemingly) withhold information.

Indeed, vandalism is also triggered by publications on the Internet (although this certainly not will have been the intention of the people who have put the information on the WWW). For instance, at Cerro Saltur a wonderful and unique petroglyph of a large bird has shamefully been painted on by locals from the nearby village. This petroglyph was reported on the internet in 2008 by Elmer Fernández Gastelo who very likely never would have thought that within a year or two pupils from a local school would destroy this magnificent image (Figure 1; showing a detail of the vandalism). Even the respectful text of his web page: “Petroglifo “El Cóndor” ubicado en el cerro Saltur a unos 200 m de altura, la imagen representa a uno de los principales dioses de una de las principales altas culturas peruanas“, did not stop the vandals (although those vandals may have heard about the petroglyph locally, not via the internet). The boulder is difficult to reach. It is not located at 200 m O.D., but at about 305 m and it took me about an hour to reach the site via a narrow and steep, rocky path from the village of Saltur (at 72 m). The vandals therefore must have taken paint up to the site with the deliberate intention to vandalise it.

Figure 01a

Figure 1. The severely vandalised petroglyph panel at Saltur, Lambayeque, northern Peru. Photograph (digitally enhanced) © by Maarten van Hoek. Click on any photograph to enlarge.

Visiting a rock art site can be completely harmless, but too often unwanted situations occur, like those cyclists who camped next to petroglyph boulders at Quebrada de los Boliches in the north of Peru. Those individuals definitely were not aware of the negative effect of fire and smoke on rock art panels and rock art sites. Another most unwanted effect of rock art sites becoming known to the public is that visitors (and rock art researchers?) are ‘enhancing’ petroglyphs by scratching or by adding paint, chalk or some other substance onto the design to make them ‘better visible’. See for instance photos by archaeologist Paúl Jofrey Álvarez Zeballos who probably chalked in several petroglyphs at Alto de Pitis (2009: Figs 8 and 11); a disrespectful action for any archaeologist. Many shocking examples were also noticed by us at Quebrada de San Juan in Virú, northern Peru, where several petroglyphs had been ‘highlighted’ by some vandal (moreover incorrectly and incompletely) with an unknown black substance. This happened only very recently, probably in 2011 or 2012 (Figure 2).

Figure 02a

Figure 2. Vandalised petroglyph panel at Quebrada de San Juan, La Libertad, northern Peru. Photograph (digitally enhanced) © by Maarten van Hoek.

All sorts of ‘works’ in the field often lead to destruction of archaeological sites. Today such damage can best be seen with the Historical Imagery in Google Earth. In this way it is possible to see the irreversible damage at the Santa Rosa archaeological site (also known as the Quiscay petroglyph site) in the Majes Valley of southern Peru (compare the Google Earth photos of 2004 to 2012 at 15°59’53.41″S and 72°27’48.08″W). I reported this fact in 2012 to APAR, the official Peruvian Rock Art Association, but I never received a response and they did not publish this damage in their web site. At the same time APAR did however publish reports about the destruction of the Geoglifo del Ocho, a geoglyph site further south in the Majes Valley; the damage and threat to Gayalopo, a petroglyph site in the Department of Arequipa; and about an unwanted removal of petroglyph stones at Ite, Tacna.

Also quarrying is a severe threat to rock art sites, globally. Unfortunately, quarrying stone often is a large scale project. Mining of ‘sillar’ is taking place inside the impressive gorge of Quebrada de Culebrillas near Arequipa, southern Peru, where fortunately, the immediate threat has ended as the quarrying very near this exceptional rock art site (Figure 3), seems to have been stopped probably because of the efforts of Augusto Cardona Rosas who tried to end this quarrying in 2006.

Figure 03a

Figure 3. Quarrying site just west of the Quebrada de Culebrillas site, Arequipa, southern Peru. Photograph (digitally enhanced) © by Maarten van Hoek.

Two other rock art sites under threat are the neighbouring Mollebaya Chico and Uchumayo, both very near a quarrying site. Moreover, in the very near future Mollebaya Chico (and Culebrillas as well) will be even better accessible because of the newly constructed highway from Arequipa to La Joya (the first part – Arequipa to Mollebaya – was finished in 2012). I fear that tourist agencies in Arequipa city will include both Culebrillas and Mollebaya Chico as tourist attractions (as a kind of ‘nearby Toro Muerto’), which will possibly add to the risk of the site being vandalised. In October 2012 an article in La República – Región Sur – already narrated the destruction of rock art at Mollebaya Chico. Although the crack in the boulder that shows in the photograph published in La República most likely is natural (when I inspected this boulder I noticed that the colour of the patina inside the fracture is similar to the undamaged surface), there did indeed occur several instances of destruction at Mollebaya Chico. Nevertheless, I strongly advocate the termination of all quarrying activities in the Mollebaya Chico zone, because it seems that small scale quarrying also reached the petroglyph field.

Notably, one boulder at Mollebaya Chico (Figure 4) proved to have been completely transformed into a few blocks of ‘sillar’; the shaped white stones with which many buildings in Arequipa City – La Ciudad Blanca – and others in the area have been constructed. This small scale quarrying definitely happened after 2011, and in 2012 I could not tell anymore whether this destroyed boulder originally was one of the many petroglyph boulders that I surveyed at this site in 2011. A nearby boulder (Figure 5) has been severely damaged; possibly in an idiotic attempt to steal petroglyphs.

Figure 04a

Figure 4. Destroyed boulder at Mollebaya Chico, Arequipa, southern Peru. Photograph (digitally enhanced) © by Maarten van Hoek; 2012.

Figure 05a

Figure 5. Damaged petroglyph boulder at Mollebaya Chico, Arequipa, southern Peru. Photograph (digitally enhanced) © by Maarten van Hoek; 2012.

In other cases (severe) damage is caused by the use of heavy machinery. This is quite evident at the petroglyph boulder field at Huaca Blanca in the north of Peru where several large boulders have been disturbed, overturned and damaged by heavy machinery. Some boulders may even have been destroyed/removed by the construction of the new road through the village. Not far from Huaca Blanca is the exceptional petroglyph site of Desaguadero (Van Hoek 2012: 255-258). Sadly, in January 2014 Mr. Francisco Diaz Núñez, a dedicated rock art investigator from Pátapo in Lambayeque, emailed me several photographs showing the destruction of at least one of the petroglyph boulders (DES-002; possibly another petroglyph boulder – DES-003, discovered by me in 2009 – has also been removed) and the whole site it was located in. It was a shock to see how heavy machinery disgracefully and disrespectfully bulldozed the entire site. The only ‘fortunate’ thing is that, thanks to Francisco Diaz Núñez and Ignacio Alva Meneses, videos, photographs and a drawing (Van Hoek 2012: 258) of petroglyph boulder DES-002 have been made before the unexpected and unwanted destruction. The issue of using heavy machinery at archaeological sites brings me to discuss the Motocachy Pampa Disaster.


The Motocachy Pampa Archaeological Site

Before I start my discussion about the Motocachy Pampa Disaster, I would like to emphasise again that every instance of vandalism/destruction of rock art is a disaster. It is only a matter of scale. However, my wife and I were shocked to see the scale on which much of the Motocachy Pampa area, a large area with several archaeological sites, had been destroyed, although a casual visitor to the area would hardly have noticed the destruction today. Also for that reason it is a disaster; the destruction is going on progressively and unnoticed. Almost unnoticed; hence this report.

Motocachy Pampa is an extensive and important petroglyph/archaeological site on the north bank of the Nepeña Valley of northern Peru (detail-maps available from the author). In 2009 the site was kindly brought to my attention by Prof. Donald Proulx of the Department of Anthropology, University of Massachusetts, U.S.A., who – last century – recorded more than 250 archaeological sites in Nepeña (Proulx 1973), among which were a large number of petroglyphs on Motocachy Pampa. After consulting Dr. Proulx, I labelled the two petroglyph sites that he and his team discovered Motocachy Pampa 1 (MP1; originally labelled by Proulx as PV31-155, with 17 petroglyph boulders reported by him at that time) and Motocachy Pampa 2 (MP2; originally labelled as PV31-222, with three petroglyph boulders reported by him at that time).

Moreover, in 2009 Dr. Proulx informed me that, a few years after his discoveries, another site with petroglyphs had been reported at Motocachy Pampa by his graduate student, Richard Daggett and his wife Cheryl (Daggett 1984). In fact it proved to be two different sites that were recorded for the first time by Richard and Cheryl Daggett on July 2, 1981. These sites were consequently labelled by me as Motocachy Pampa 3 (MP3; originally labelled by Daggett as PV31-360 and PV31-361, with six petroglyph boulders recorded by them) and as Motocachy Pampa 6 (MP6; originally labelled as PV31-362, with three petroglyph boulders recorded by them).

During our visits to Motocachy Pampa in 2012 my wife and I were able to record 93 petroglyph boulders at Motocachy Pampa 1 (MP1; not counting six other boulders recorded by Dr. Proulx that were untraceable during our surveys); 13 boulders at Site 2 (MP2; not counting one extra boulder recorded by Dr. Proulx that was untraceable during our surveys); 18 boulders at Site 3 (MP3; including the two boulders recorded by Cheryl and Richard Daggett); one petroglyph panel at Site 4 (MP4; discovered by us in 2012); three boulders at Site 5 (MP5; also discovered by us in 2012) and five boulders at Site 7 (MP7; also discovered by us in 2012; a site where Richard and Cheryl Daggett recorded three extra petroglyph boulders). We were unable to locate Site 6 (MP6; where Richard and Cheryl Daggett recorded three boulders in a now heavily disturbed area). Altogether my wife and I recorded 134 petroglyph boulders at Motocachy Pampa, not counting 13 boulders previously recorded by Proulx or by the Daggetts. Fortunately those rock art researchers made photographs of the petroglyph boulders and – much later – they were so kind to share those valuable pictures with me.

The Motocachy Pampa Disaster

Importantly, when Dr. Proulx recorded the Motocachy Pampa rock art sites between 1967 and 1979, those sites showed no evidence of having been disturbed, vandalized and no boulders proved to have been moved (Proulx 2012: pers. comm.). Alas, how different was the situation in 2012 (and even worse in 2013 according to Google Earth). Large areas of the extensive Pampa had been cultivated (in itself a mutilation) and, probably in order to facilitate the cultivation, heavy machinery moved obstacles – mainly boulders – from the flat sands, especially in the contact zones where the Pampa meets the hill slopes (the Pampa itself was and still is almost void of boulders or stones). Also several modern dirt-tracks now crisscross the Pampa, making almost every archaeological zone easily accessible.

Thousands of deeply patinated boulders cover many of the hill slopes that border the flat Pampa, but as a consequence are also found at the very foot of the slopes and on a small strip of the plain adjacent to the hill slope. It is in that contact zone that Dr. Proulx noticed the first petroglyph boulders and especially and unfortunately in that small strip the major concentrations of petroglyph boulders occur. This vulnerable border zone now has been bulldozed in order to remove the boulders from the flat soils in order to allow agriculture. These boulders were often ‘rücksichtslos’ (mercilessly) deposited on top of or among the other boulders only a little higher up the contact zone between plain and hill. At several places this disturbance is very extensive. In one case a bulldozer was driven to the very top of one of the hills, severely disturbing the affected area (and possibly disturbing several petroglyph boulders). At other places the negative impact has faded because time has obscured the ‘wounds’ (for instance by drifting sand). Yet, many petroglyph boulders still show severe scarring by the action of the heavy machinery (Figure 6). Moreover, in many cases one cannot be sure about the original position of the boulders anymore and thus further important archaeological information is lost forever.

Figure 06a

Figure 6. Damaged (petroglyph) boulders at Motocachy Pampa, Ancash, northern Peru. Photograph (digitally enhanced) © by Maarten van Hoek.

In order to allow water to reach the cultivated areas, trenches (often very deep) now cut through Motocachy Pampa. Because the higher part is at the east, those trenches run from SE (where the river Nepeña flows – the only source of water) and east to the west (making use of the natural slope of the Pampa). A major deep trench has been dug directly east of the hill slope where the Daggetts recorded three petroglyph rocks in 1981. My wife and I searched that zone but the debris from the trench was piled up too high along the hill slope and we could not relocate any of the petroglyph stones.

Added to this damage is an act of perplexing vandalism at one of the Motocachy Pampa sites. Not in the contact zone itself, but located a little higher up the hill slope and ‘out of reach’ of heavy machinery (but not out of reach of vandals) is an outstanding petroglyph boulder. It certainly was undamaged when Dr. Proulx photographed this boulder in 1971 (Figure 8). How sad it was to see that some unintelligent vandals severely and violently damaged this boulder (Figures 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11), possibly in a brainless attempt to reduce the size and to subsequently steal it. ‘Fortunately’, the most important part of the petroglyph panel remains more or less ‘undamaged’, but the stone and the site were relentlessly violated nevertheless. I consider this act of disrespectful vandalism, and all others mentioned in this paper, to be serious desecrations of a sacred sites once revered by the ancient Andeans.

Figure 07a - kopie

Figure 7. Damaged petroglyph boulder at Motocachy Pampa, Ancash, northern Peru. Notice that the many fragments from this boulder are lying scattered around across a wide area. Photograph (digitally enhanced) © by Maarten van Hoek.

Figure 08a

Figure 8. The same petroglyph boulder at Motocachy Pampa, Ancash, northern Peru. The red arrows indicate the left part that recently has been destroyed (compare with Figure 9). Photograph (digitally enhanced) © by Donald A. Proulx; 1971.

Figure 09a

Figure 9. The same petroglyph boulder at Motocachy Pampa, Ancash, northern Peru. Photograph (digitally enhanced) © by Maarten van Hoek; 2012.

Figure 010a

Figure 10. The top of the same petroglyph boulder at Motocachy Pampa, Ancash, northern Peru. Photograph (digitally enhanced) © by Maarten van Hoek.

Figure 011a

Figure 11. The left side of the same petroglyph boulder at Motocachy Pampa, Ancash, northern Peru. Photograph (digitally enhanced) © by Maarten van Hoek.


The Motocachy Pampa Disaster Continues

There is another negative consequence of the use of heavy machinery at Motocachy Pampa that, unfortunately, I cannot prove. However, because Donald Proulx and Richard and Cheryl Daggett wisely took photographs of the petroglyphs that they discovered and, many years later, kindly made those photographs available to me, I can now suggest (prove?) that at Motocachy Pampa petroglyph stones have been stolen as well. I also fear that this was easy to do because heavy machinery can not only dislocate and move boulders, but also transport them to unknown destinations without any effort. However, I hope that – someday – the ‘stolen’ boulders will be re-discovered unscathed (hopefully they have only been moved and/or buried at the site).

The first case concerns a boulder (marked ‘A’ in Figure 12) that is located almost adjacent another boulder (marked ‘B’ in Figure 12) in a photograph made by Donald Proulx in 1971. We were able to locate and photograph boulder ‘B’, but unfortunately, many searches by my wife and me of the zone failed in finding boulder ‘A’, which, I fear, has been stolen. The petroglyphs on boulder ‘A’ are notably very clear (and thus interesting to looters) and it moreover concerns a rather small boulder that is easy to remove. It might have been moved in situ and the decorated surface buried, but as this particular area was not that severely disturbed, I seriously doubt it.

Figure 012a

Figure 12. Petroglyph boulders at Motocachy Pampa, Ancash, northern Peru. Photograph (digitally enhanced) © by Donald A. Proulx; 1971.

In the very same zone we looked for a most important petroglyph of an MSC-Style agnatic face (Van Hoek 2011b: Fig. 118) first reported by Dr. Proulx in 1971 (Proulx 1973: Fig. 17), but the several extensive searches by my wife and me were not successful (in 2012 we found another fine MSC-Style petroglyph, though). Altogether, six petroglyphs boulders discovered by Dr. Proulx at this zone could not be relocated by us during our 2012 surveys. It is therefore a very fortunate circumstance that Dr. Proulx took photographs in 1971.

The second case concerns a similar situation. In 1971 Dr. Proulx recorded another most interesting petroglyph on a boulder (marked ‘C’ in Figure 13) at another zone at Motocachy Pampa. Again it was located very close to another (‘less’ interesting looking) petroglyph boulder (marked ‘D’ in Figure 13) that was relocated by us in 2012, almost certainly still ‘in situ’. But there was no trace of boulder ‘C’ anymore. It is almost impossible to miss a petroglyph boulder like boulder ‘C’ when especially searching for it. I therefore fear that this boulder too has been stolen especially because of its clear and most interesting design (which is unique in Andean rock art, as far as I could check). Unfortunately, this rock was also very easily accessible from a nearby road.

Figure 013a

Figure 13. Petroglyph boulders at Motocachy Pampa, Ancash, northern Peru. Photograph (digitally enhanced) © by Donald A. Proulx; 1971.

The third case concerns the recording of three petroglyph boulders discovered and photographed by Cheryl and Richard Daggett in 1981 ‘at the top of the ridge’ of one of the Motocachy Pampa sites (Daggett 2012: pers. comm.). My wife Elles and I searched that very area in 2012 and discovered five petroglyph boulders more or less near the same spot, but not the three stones found by the Daggetts in 1981. We may have missed those three boulders, but equally they may have been disturbed, moved or stolen as we noticed a track made by heavy machinery running up the rather steep hill at this zone (and what reason would there have been to go uphill with heavy machinery?). Fortunately, Cheryl and Richard Daggett made photographs of the stones (one example is shown in Figure 14), which brings me to final next point in which the context is decisive.

Figure 014b

Figure 14. Petroglyph boulder at Motocachy Pampa, Ancash, northern Peru. Photograph (digitally enhanced) © by Richard Daggett; 1981.


The Importance of Photography

I have always advocated a positive attitude towards the protection of rock art in my publications about Andean rock art. During and after my surveys I have always shown respect for the sites that the ancient Andeans considered being sacred. One aspect of my code of ethics is: always keep a respectful distance towards rock art. However, a respectful distance does not involve an absolute concept; it is a relative concept. This brings me to discuss the famous Mona Lisa painting by Leonardo da Vinci. It is quite understandable that visitors to the Louvre in Paris are forced to observe the painting at a respectful distance as today it is displayed behind bullet-proof glass in a purpose-built enclosure. On the other hand, if some lunatic were to damage the painting, the restorer would be forced to touch the painting, but even then there is the question of a respectful distance. The restorer knows what she or he is respectfully doing and everybody will accept this respectful distance of zero metres. Therefore, it is a combined set of factors that determines the respectful distance with which also a rock art panel may be approached. First and foremost the mentality of the observer (researcher/photographer) determines the distance that is allowed and secondly the know-how of the researcher is crucial.

Thus, when Robert Bednarik, a renowned rock art researcher, investigates a rock art panel at Checta, central Peru, from a very close distance, he still shows a respectful distance because he knows what he is doing. Bednarik even touches rock art panels. For instance, during his visit to La Galgada in northern Peru in 2012, he touches with his hand a petroglyph stone, while Echevarría López (Arqueólogo, Unversidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos and Presidente, Asociación Peruana de Arte Rupestre – APAR), who invited him to Peru, is watching from very close. However, the IFRAO code of ethics (and APAR’s) demands people not to touch rock art. Yet, Bednarik will rightfully not be criticised for this; not by me and obviously not by Echevarría López.

However, my investigations in Peru have been seriously criticised by Echevarría López. In two emails he ‘demanded’ that I should stop my researches in Peru immediately. He wrote to me (2011: pers. com.): Ud. está actuando como un “old cowboy” en el Perú. Pare, desista, deténgase, renuncie, en intervenir, explorar o survey los sitios arqueológicos con quilcas o arte rupestre del Perú. He moreover accused me of damaging practices: Sus acciones y su ejemplo le causan un daño irreversible a los sitios arqueológicos peruanos, although he did not offer any factual evidence of physical ‘damage’ caused by me. The fact that I informed him that I only survey a rock art site by taking photographs was – in his opinion – no excuse. Although I have been surveying and photographing rock art in the field for more than 35 years now (in various areas of the world), I acknowledge that I have not the same degree of know-how as Bednarik. But I definitely have the same degree of respect for (Andean) rock art and for that reason I do not touch rock art panels disrespectfully. I only make photographs.

The Motocachy Pampa Disaster and all other instances of ongoing rock art destruction (not only in Peru, but the world over) prove how enormously valuable (photo)graphic records are. For instance, without the photographs made by Donald Proulx and Cheryl and Richard Daggett it would never have been possible to present a more detailed impression of the petroglyph art at Motocachy Pampa. And with my own photographic records it can be ‘reconstructed’ how the petroglyphs at Quebrada de San Juan (and at many other sites) looked like before being damaged.

Ignorance and escalating vandalism by locals and tourists and increasing destruction caused by agricultural and infrastructural ‘progress’ combined with the unstoppable natural destructive forces, like weathering and erosion, will be responsible for the loss of many rock art panels and rock art sites, in Peru and elsewhere. These negative developments make it even more beneficial and (highly) compulsory that photographic records are made and made available.

In this respect it does not matter at all who made the photographic record, as long as the recording is done carefully and respectfully. Every record or photograph of a rock art panel or rock art site should be welcomed as a most valuable contribution to the rock art conservation of a country. For me, it is therefore completely incomprehensible that I was demanded to stop my (photographic) surveys in Peru. Instead, every official organisation advocating rock art protection should be most interested to know about, learn and benefit from such photographic records.

In conclusion, there are two ways to protect rock art for the future. First, in theory every rock art site should be permanently supervised and guarded by vigilant officials. As it is impossible to realise this for all sites in the Andes, the second – more realistic – method is to meticulously record all rock art panels at every site through photography and other means. Then it should not matter whether the recording is carried out by non-academics or by professional archaeologists as long as it is done respectfully and carefully. I hope my plea will receive a positive response.



This paper could never have been written without the invaluable assistance of Prof. Donald Proulx of the Department of Anthropology of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He has been so kind as to supply me with several photos/drawings of Nepeña rock art and much additional information. As ever he sympathetically permitted me to use several of his photographs in this article. I also appreciate very much that Donald Proulx has been so kind to read and comment on this paper and to improve the English where necessary. But of course the whole content is my responsibility only. I am as well indebted to Dr. Richard E. Daggett, also of the Department of Anthropology of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, to supply me with photographs and information about the sites that he and his wife Cheryl discovered at Motocachy. Richard Daggett also kindly allowed me to use his photographs, one of which has been included in this paper. I also thank Mr. Francisco Diaz Núñez for informing me about the destruction of a rock art site in Lambayeque. Last but not least I thank my wife Elles for her valuable assistance during our 2012-Motocachy surveys.


References (Underlined references in red – also in the text above – are hyperlinks as accessible in 2014)

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

CIHDE. 2012. Petroglifos de Ofragía. Herencia Cultural del Valle de Codpa, Chile. Centro de Investigaciones del Hombre en el Desierto; Ilustre Municipalidad de Camarones. Arica, Chile.

Daggett, R. E. 1984. The Early Horizon Occupation of the Nepeña Valley, North Central Coast of Peru. Ph.D. dissertation, Department of Anthropology, University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Nieves, A. C. 2007. Between the river and the pampa: a contextual approach to the rock art of the Nasca Valley (Grande River system), Department of Ica, Peru. Ph.D. Dissertation, Department of Art, The University of Texas at Austin, U.S.A.

Proulx, D. A. 1973. Archaeological Investigations in the Nepeña Valley, Peru. Anthropology Research Reports – Research Report 13. University of Massachusetts, Amherst, USA.

Tung, T. A. 2007. The village of Beringa at the periphery of the Wari Empire: a site overview and new radiocarbon dates. Andean Past. Vol. 8; pp 253 – 286.

Van Hoek, M. 2005. Los Petroglifos de Muralla y Pakra, Valle de Pisco, Perú. Boletín de SIARB, Vol. 19; pp 28 – 37. La Paz, Bolivia.

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

Van Hoek, M. 2011b. The Chavín Controversy – Rock Art from the Andean Formative Period. Oisterwijk, The Netherlands. Privately Published using the BLURB Creative Publishing Service.

Van Hoek, M. 2012. Cerro Mulato. Rock Art of the Reque-Chancay Drainage, Peru. Oisterwijk, The Netherlands. Privately Published using the BLURB Creative Publishing Service.



  1. Thank you for this insightful and disturbing article. Your reporting is necessary and I am glad you present the issue in detail and with such specifics.

    The situation in Oregon and adjacent lands has many examples of similar losses, past and present. From vandalism to chalking to breakage; from inundation to removal. And sadly the situation here with virtually all professional and academic archaeologists is strikingly similar. Many nationally recognized Oregon archaeologists (for example, Dennis Jenkins/Paisley Caves, Jon Erlandson/Kelp Highway, Madonna Moss, coastal archaeology) avoid the mention of rock art/petroglyphs despite their extensive investment in site documentation and reporting.

    I am not a scientist, my background is in the arts. I do offer an example of my modest efforts, as part of an exhibit last year:
    The photographs are on-site and the placards are a glimpse of my extensive background research into dislocation and juxtaposition. Yet public outlets are sparse, other than the web, so public education is tenuous.

  2. David DANIEL says:

    I’m been involved in recording sessions that take FOREVER! At the same time many researchers complain ‘this site may be destroyed before we can record it’. My reply has always been PHOTOGRAPH IT! I can photograph an entire site at about 1/20 of the time it takes to do recording. I’ve heard of many cases that researchers used previously taken photographs to help them document situations where much of the rock art has been either vandalized or carted off.

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