Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Horseman of Alto de Pitis - Part II

Continuing with the previous post on the pre-Columbian rock art in Alto de Pitis, which number in the thousands of petroglyphs and those particularly found on boulder AP3-044--loosely called "the Horseman."
     As far as rock art goes, Peru is one of the 15 countries in the world that are the richest in rock art; however, in Peru the disadvantage of it being a very large and rugged country and that rock art is often found in remote places, hard to find and not easy to research , curtails much of the type of research done elsewhere on ancient rock art. It is also a fact that most archaeologists and anthropologists ignore rock art during their researches. In fact, systematic surveys recording every bit of rock art of a certain site or area are rare in Andean archaeology, although there are a few exceptions that offer some knowledge—such as the extensive inventory of the Rock Art of the Codpa Valley in Northern Chile and the Lower Nasca River Rock Art Inventory in Central Peru. On the other hand, little has so far been done of the two major rock art centers at Toro Muerto and Alto de Pitis.
Sample of the Rock Art in Alto de Pitis
    In 2009 rock art researcher Jean Guffroy published a colorful photo book about the petroglyphs of coastal Peru, which included a section of the ‘Mesana’ petroglyph site, which is actually covering only an extremely small part of the ‘old’ Sarcas and Pitis sites. Also Guffroy never encountered "the Horseman." Also in 2009 Paúl Jofrey Álvarez Zeballos published an interesting and more comprehensive survey about Alto de Pitis on the internet. His study area covered the much larger area north of the Sarcas section, but curiously he excluded from his survey the sections of Sarcas and Quebrada de Pitis (2009: Mapa 1).
    It is this survey by Álvarez Zeballos that to a certain extent revealed the great importance of the rock art on the east side of the Majes valley, also because he is the first to fully describe the superb petroglyph site of La Laja, located only 10-mileds north of Alto de Pitis. Álvarez Zeballos also was the first who claimed that the whole area, from Torán in the south to Cantas in the north, actually forms one large petroglyph field (2009: Introducción). Although he seems to have explored the section in which "the Horseman" is located, it would appear that he did not see this all-important stone; at least there is no mention in his survey of this specific boulder, or of the Horseman petroglyph. But then, that should not be surprising since there are at least 3000 such boulders in this area, all looking much alike. And across the valley is Toro Muerto with another 5000 boulders with petroglyphs. It should be understood that not all these boulders have been seen by those few who have investigated and written about them.
Maarten van Hoek, along with his wife, Elles, between 2002 and 2012 visited the Majes Valley many times and especially at Alto de Pitis where they recorded numerous interesting and often alien-looking petroglyphs (Van Hoek 2013: 75 - 136). In total they surveyed 369 petroglyph boulders (584 panels) at Alto de Pitis and, together with the extra rocks/panels illustrated/described by Núñez Jiménez (1986) and Álvarez Zeballos (2009) but not seen by Van Hoek (unfortunately several boulders/panels have been destroyed), the total of known petroglyph boulders at Alto de Pitis is at least 381 (596 panels). As many rocks have escaped being noticed by both Hoek and Zeballos, the overall number of petroglyph boulders at Alto de Pitis will definitely exceed 400 (resulting in more than 600 panels) and thus Alto de Pitis is now one of the very few rock art sites in Peru with more than 500 decorated panels.
    Especially Alto de Pitis is most comprehensively described and discussed by Hoek in another publication because of the many unique skeleton-anthropomorphs petroglyphs (‘Carcanchas’) at this site, labelled the ‘Petrified Cemetery of the Death Valley of the Andes.’ Those ‘Carcanchas’ - the Living Dead’ - are connected with a Sacred Mountain, the volcano Apu Coropuna, 52 miles to the NNW, that is visible only from Alto de Pitis (Van Hoek 2013).
    It is Boulder AP3-183, however, that draws our attention. It is located exactly 60 miles west of the city center of Arequipa (bearing 279°), two miles to the SE of the village of Corire (bearing 143°) and 1 mile due north of the tarred main road from Arequipa. The boulder is found on an undulating terrace at an altitude of 1700 feet O.D. and 1542 feet east of the valley escarpment. The large boulder is in a rather secluded location with views only to the north. From the boulder no vegetation is visible. Although Boulder AP3-183 has ‘only’ two decorated panels, especially Panel A is important for its depiction of a little Horseman.
Panel “A” of Boulder AP3-183, “the Horseman.” Top: the green dot is in the location of "the Horseman," and Bottom: The closeup alters the light source and pinkens the image seen
    The north facing Panel B has an interesting collection of petroglyphs, all of the so-called ‘Chuquibamba Rock Art Style’ that is so characteristic for this area (although ‘Majes Rock Art Style’ would have been more appropriate). The images include depictions of ‘felines’, birds’, a ‘snake’, abstract motifs and other figures, as well as two ‘dancer’ figures that are so distinguishing for the rock art of this part of the valley. Interestingly, Alto de Pitis is one of the only three rock art sites in the Andes where this type of ‘dancer’ figure has been reported (Van Hoek 2013: 58 - 61 and 103). A large part of Panel B has flaked off, leaving a distinct white area (located between Panels B and A) that clearly stands out against the brownish colour of the rest of the boulder. It is certain that as a result of this flaking (parts of) other petroglyphs have disappeared. The much flaked east and SE facing panels of the boulder have no (visible) petroglyphs.
    The west facing, almost vertical Panel A is roughly triangular in shape and measures roughly102 inches from its apex to the ground floor. The maximum width of the boulder is about 65 inches, measured horizontally across the image of the Horseman. The Horseman itself is situated approximately 22.5 inches above ground level and about 21.6 inches from the left edge of the panel.
Panel A features many other petroglyphs of doubtless various epochs. Above the Post-Columbian Horseman is a group of outlined, dotted zoomorphs, so characteristic for the bulk of Pre-Columbian rock art imagery of the Majes valley, which is often referred to as the Chuquibamba Style (although the term ‘Majes Rock Art Style’ seems more appropriate). To the right is a large group of mainly match-stick zoomorphs (probably camelids of a later date), some of which seem to show ‘riders,’ although there could be an alterative interpretation. Just below the Horseman is a group of small zoomorphs, some of which might have been intended to depict horses. We cannot really get into these images because they lack the graphical content of a rider.
    The Horseman petroglyph is rather small. From the tail-end to the nose of the horse the image measures about 6-inches, and the overall height is about 7-inches from the hind leg to the spear point. Yet the image has some fine details that are most revealing. The full laterally depicted image shows the abraded, recessed image of a horse and a rider. The animal does not look like a camelid at all and definitely is a horse showing two legs, two short triangular ears and a typical thick horse-tail. Only the upper body of the rider is shown which is sitting directly on the back of the horse; no human legs have been indicated below the horse’s belly. However, the otherwise rather rough and relatively deeply recessed interior of the body of the horse shows very faint features, which possibly once may have depicted the human legs and other features at one time. The front of the horse shows a small projection.
    The Horseman as well is similarly abraded, recessed. The body and the circular head of the Horseman show no detail, but again very faint traces of once existing details are still visible. The hand holding the tack (reins) shows three, possibly four, splayed fingers that have been incised. The hand holding the spear also may have had (incised) fingers, but these seem to have been weathered off.
Obviously, the Horseman holds two things in his hands—the spear and the tack or reins. The spear is about 4.5 inches in length and comprises a single straight line pointing forward and ending in a distinct, outlined spearhead; the whole object being rather superficially but clearly incised. But hovering above and parallel to the ‘spear’ is a second but fainter, incised line, which might have been an earlier attempt to sketch the spear—or perhaps the entire panel at one time before weathering depicted a story and as part of that story, the rider used two spears to down an animal or his kill. The other hand of the rider, with splayed fingers, unquestionably ‘holds’ a tack: two thin lines that run from the hand across the recessed interior of the horse (considered a rare feature) and that finally are fixed to the mouth of the animal.
(See the next post, “The Horseman of Alto de Pitis – Part III,” to see how the pre-Columbian petroglyph of a horseman has been rejected and merely labeled post-Columbian rock art)

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