Monday, May 9, 2016

The Horseman of Alto de Pitis – Part I

A while back a reader of our blog asked the question if we had any knowledge of what he called “the horseman of Alto de Pitis.” After much study, we are posting this article to our blog for the interest of our other readers. 
Toro Muerto (“Dead Bull”) is a collection of ancient petroglyphs in the Peruvian coastal desert, found in the Castilla province in the region of Arequipa in Peru. The site contains some 3000 volcanic rocks with petroglyphs dating back to the Wari culture, i.e., about 500 A.D., and were gone hundreds of years before the Inca
    Alto de Pitis is an important, relatively unknown archaeological complex on the east bank of the Río Majes in Peru, this river valley is the downstream continuation of the well-known Colca Canyon in southern Peru. Most rock art scholars only know of the otherwise very impressive site of Toro Muerto, which is situated on the west bank of the River Majes, and undoubtedly many will have visited Toro Muerto. What few researchers know is that when driving from the city of Arequipa to the Majes Valley, one crosses the even more amazing rock art site of Alto de Pitis, directly opposite Toro Muerto.
    For those unfamiliar with Toro Muerto, it is a wild desert area (with some 5000 petroglyph boulders) comprising the largest rock art concentration of the whole Andes—yet, Alto de Pitis, covering almost the same number of square miles as Toro Muerto, has relatively much more to offer, even though Alto de Pitis has significantly less (boulders bearing) petroglyphs than Toro Muerto. The rock art site of Alto de Pitis measures 2100-feet in maximum width (E-W) and 15,000-feet in length (N-S). Its boulders are widely distributed on an undulating terrace with an altitude of 1443-feet O.D. at the extreme southern tip and 1755-feet O.D. in the north. 
    On this terrace there is no vegetation at all, not even in the dry river bed of the Quebrada de Pitis that cuts through the boulder field. Only a few birds, insects, reptiles and a few rare bats are sometimes spotted in this extremely dry desert. The whole area is characterized by grey sands, strewn with small, often smooth pebbles and rough rock fragments, cobbles and scattered boulders of volcanic origin. The petroglyph boulders vary in size from around 20-inches in width by 12-inches in height up to enormous boulders almost ten times as big. Boulder AP3-183, is the one about which we have a surprising interest—it is a huge boulder with a unique petroglyph inscribed on it.
According to the eminent historian, who was awarded a Ph.D in History, Geography and Social Sciences, Dr. Linares Málaga (left), who first reported the pre-Columbian rock art at Toro Muerto to the scientific world in 1951, he was told about Alto de Pitis by Jose Medina that same year; however, Walter Krickeberg mentioned a number of petroglyphs sites in Peru in 1949, and his list included as well a site called ‘Pitas (Pitis), Cerro Colorado in Majes, Vitór road, Aplao in the Department of Arequipa.
    It is interesting to know that Hiram Bingham, the discovere of Machu Picchu visited Alto de Pitis in 1911
Hiram Bingham, who discovered the rock art in Caraveli Valley during the Coropuna expedition (1911) actually visited Alto de Pitis the year before according to National Geographic Society Photo #602411 or 785801, shown above standing beside Boulder AP3-044 with the horseman
Maarten van Hoek standing beside the same petroglyph boulder nearly 100 years after Hiram Bingham
     As Bingham wrote: “At eight o'clock in the morning, as we were wondering how long it would be before we could get down to the bottom of the valley and have some breakfast, we discovered, at a place called Pitas (or Cerro Colorado), a huge volcanic boulder covered with rude pictographs. Further search in the vicinity revealed about one hundred of these boulders, each with its quota of crude drawings. I did not notice any ruins of houses near the rocks. Neither of the Tejada brothers, who had been past here many times, nor any of the natives of this region appeared to have any idea of the origin or meaning of this singular collection of pictographic rocks. The drawings represented jaguars, birds, men, and dachshund-like dogs. They deserved careful study. Yet not even the interest and excitement of investigating the ‘rocas jeroglificos,’ as they are called here, could make us forget that we had had no food or sleep for a good many hours. So after taking a few pictures we hastened on and crossed the Majes River on a very shaky temporary bridge. It was built to last only during the dry season. To construct a bridge which would withstand floods is not feasible at present. We spent the day at Coriri, a pleasant little village where it was almost impossible to sleep, on account of the myriads of gnats” (Bingham 1912, 1922: 16-7)
The name Alto de Pitis (“Heights of Pitis) was first used in a scientific publication by Eloy Linares Málaga, but over the early years before the internet and consistent reporting, and because of the vast size and number of petroglyphic boulders and writing, different investigators used different terms to describe different boulders and areas. Eventually, thanks in part of Maarten van Hoek, we now have a more consistent name usage of the two areas, i.e., Toro Muerto and Alto de Pitis.
    The most extensive publication of the rock art at Alto de Pitis appears in the ‘inventory’ by Antonio Núñez Jiménez (1986). However, in his well-known but—especially regarding the graphic part—most controversial work (Van Hoek 2011b), Núñez Jiménez describes and illustrates only two very small parts of the much larger Alto de Pitis complex, but unfortunately he assigned different names to the two sections he surveyed. The southernmost section was called Sarcas by him (1986: 311), while the adjacent, northerly section, only separated by the modern road, was called Pitis (1986: 323). A problem though is that the records of those ‘two’ sites by Núñez Jiménez are incomplete and sometimes even completely incorrect (Van Hoek 2011b: 104-109). Even more difficulties arose when Málaga photographed different rock petroglyphs at both Toro Muerto and Alto de Pitis and mislabeled the two sites. However, this post is not a scientific work, but merely an article to show the existence and meaning of one particular boulder and its petroglyph, we will not try to straighten out the mistakes made by these early investigators of the two areas that in all reality, are only four miles apart and can easily be visited during one trip.
The point of all this information is to show that the information listed here, though a very small part of all the investigation that has been done in this area, is both extensive and meaningful. And, most importantly, so isolated that the idea of a modern defacer might have altered or made their own petroglyph is both next to impossible and easily discounted.
    According to Maarten van Hoek, the record of this petroglyph, called the Horseman, was first published in 2012, when a short description and a photograph appeared in one of his earlier publications (Van Hoek 2012: 88; Fig. 198). Also in a subsequent publication the Horseman has briefly been described (Van Hoek 2013: 92). I could not find any earlier reference to the Horseman in published works that are available. Also the Inventory Map of the Department of Arequipa regarding Post-Columbian rock art manifestations by Linares Málaga (1992: 225) does not record the Horseman petroglyph.” 
    In the years that followed after the recordings by Linares Málaga, several researchers visited, surveyed or described the site, for example Eberhard Schön in 1957, Hans Disselhoff (1968), Hans Horkheimer in 1968, Antonio Núñez Jiménez (1968), Jean Guffroy (2009) and Paúl Jofrey Álvarez Zeballos (2009). However, most published work only concerns minor investigation and unsystematic recording.
    Thus, we can look with an accurate eye toward the understanding of what is labeled as Boulder AP3-183, and referred to loosely as “the Horseman of Alto de Pitis.”
(See the next post, “The Horseman of Alto de Pitis – Part II,” to see how the pre-Columbian petroglyph of a horseman has become labeled post-Columbian rock art by the "experts")

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