A critical analysis of the rock art on boulder CNG-020, Cerro Negro, Chicama, La Libertad, Perú

Maarten van Hoek  rockart@home.nl

Introduction to the paper

When my wife and I visited the Chicama Valley in northern Peru, shortly after generously having received his 2006-book personally from Daniel Castillo Benites, we were unable to locate the Cerro Negro site. Locals told us that it was located “somewhere behind that mountain range”, pointing to Cerro de la Botella. Unfortunately time was limited at that time and we did not attempt to trace the site without knowing were it was. Later I wrote to Daniel about the problem and he was so kind to confirm the correct location of Cerro Negro on a Google Earth map. Indeed, when my wife and I visited Chicama again, several years later, the site proved to be positioned indeed much further east from the Chicama Valley than we anticipated earlier. Therefore, without the sympathetic help of Daniel Castillo Benites we would not have found Cerro Negro.


Introduction to the video

A paper about a highly graphical subject such as rock art cannot do without illustrations. In almost every publication these illustrations are provided at certain points throughout the text. This time however, I have decided to offer all graphics in a video called: El caso de la Roca CNG-020, Cerro Negro, Chicama, La Libertad, Perú; Un Análisis Crítico. This not-public video is only accessible via the web site of Rupestreweb. Please do not forward this link to irresponsible people in order to protect the site from looting and vandalism.

The text in the video is Spanish, so the video presentation is useful to Spanish-speaking people as well. An advantage is that one can include moving pictures and put emphases on certain aspects. A ‘negative’ consequence may be that one has to use the video next to the paper (put the video on ‘pause’ when necessary). This video contains all (numbered) illustrations referred to in the text and additional un-numbered graphics and film fragments. Although indeed all Figures appear in the Video (referred to in the paper below as Video Figure X), I also decided to include a number of the illustrations throughout the text below (referred to in the paper as Figure X). This combined illustrated-paper/video presentation is an experiment for me and therefore I appreciate receiving your constructive comments regarding this kind of production.

Cerro Negro

Cerro Negro is a small rock art site in the Chicama drainage in the north of Peru. It is located at the southern edge of an extensive, flat and slightly sloping area, called Playa Cuculí. Although Antonio Núñez Jiménez (1986: 321) and other authors describe especially one petroglyph panel that is directly overlooking the Chicama Valley (La Piedra de la Compartición: see Video Figure 18), they all seem to have been unaware of the rich gamut of rock art sites at ‘hidden’ Playa Cuculí (of which Cerro Negro is the major locale). Even though it is unknown to me who actually first discovered the Playa Cuculí - Cerro Negro petroglyphs, they only seemingly have been reported rather recently. Notably, according to the Peruvian archaeologist Daniel Seuart Castillo Benites (2006: 11) this site - and several others in the Alto Chicama area - was registered for the first time by the INC on the 21st of April 1993, as record 306-93 INC-LL (Insituto Nacional de Cultura - La Libertad). After this first official registration, Castillo Benites was the first scholar to write some reports on the rock art of this area, which is often referred to as Pampas de Jagüey or Pampa de Jaguay (1993, 1994).

Apparently also Rainer Hostnig was not aware of this 1993-registration as, ten years later, he did not include Cerro Negro into the La Libertad section of his Arte Rupestre del Perú: Inventario Nacional (2003). However, he describes the site of Playa Cuculí (2003: 207), referring to an earlier paper by Castillo Benites (1994: 28), simultaneously stating that several stones from Playa Cuculí had been moved to the University Museum at Trujillo and affirming that some stones are now in possession of private persons. From his description it is not clear if this account also concerns stones from Cerro Negro. Yet, in his Inventario Nacional Hostnig includes four photographs of petroglyph boulders that are definitely located at Cerro Negro. These photos had been supplied to him by Castillo Benites, but unfortunately all four photos have incorrect captions. Three Cerro Negro boulders have incorrectly (but unknowingly) been labelled by Hostnig as Piedra de la Compartición (Hostnig 2003: 212, 215), which is the name of a rock art site only 2.7 km NW of Cerro Negro (see Video Figure 18); and one boulder as Cerro El Vagón, Alto de la Guitarra (Hostnig 2003: 215), which actually are the names of two different rock art sites located respectively 51 and 57 km south of Cerro Negro (for the exact locations of El Vagón and Alto de la Guitarra see Google Earth Map).

Then, in November 2004, Daniel Castillo Benites presented a paper about Cerro Negro on the Primer Simposio Nacional de Arte Rupestre held at the city of Cusco, Peru. In this paper, called “Petroglifos en Cerro Negro, Playa Cuculí, Valle Chicama - Perú”, Castillo Benites stated that information about Cerro Negro had not been previously published (Castillo Benites in: Hostnig 2004: 24; Castillo Benites 2007: 24). Only two years later Castillo Benites published a small but useful book about the rock art of the Chicama Drainage, lavishly illustrated with black and white drawings, in which he repeated his claim (Castillo Benites 2006: 11). However, his statement that no information about rock art at Cerro Negro existed before 1993 was premature.

In his web site Arqueologia de Perú Castillo Benites states the following (ignore the typo; there is no 1940 publication by Disselhoff): Pampas de Jaguey dentro de la literatura arqueológica solamente se detallaba la existencia de un solo petroglifo, el de "La Compartición " o más conocido como La firma del Diablo, así lo llamaban tambien: Disselholf 1940, Krickeberg 1949, Ishida 1955, quien lo mencionan como una piedra de contenido chavinesco. Indeed, as early as 1949 Walter Krickeberg mentioned the existence of rock art in this area when he included Chicama in a short list of rock art sites in Peru (Linares Málaga (1978: 379): Pampas de Jaguey over the Chicama Valley, near the capital of the Department of Libertad. However, Castillo Benites rightly affirms that these references to Chicama rock art only concern the better known petroglyph panel of La Compartición (see Video Figure 18), and thus not Cerro Negro.

However, the late Eloy Linares Málaga, a renowned rock art researcher from Arequipa in the south of Peru, illustrates a petroglyph boulder (1999: 91; Esq. 31) that definitely is from Cerro Negro and, more importantly, his drawing has the following caption including a date: Petroglifos deAlto Chicama(E. Linares Málaga -1965), which proves that the site must have been known long before Castillo Benites investigated the area. I do not know if Linares Málaga has visited the area himself or that he made his sketch after having seen - at home - a photograph of the stone, but it is known that Linares Málaga described and/or illustrated many rock art panels found throughout Peru without ever having seen them in situ, as Disselhoff remarks: “Mayoría de estos sitios nunca ha visto personalmente” - “Den weitaus Grössten Teil von ihnen hat er nie selbst gesehen” (Disselhoff 1971a; 1971b: 35). Nevertheless, it is certain that the rock art site of Cerro Negro was identified before 1965.

It is this very Cerro Negro boulder, illustrated by Linares Málaga (see Figure 5), that is the subject of my current paper. I carefully examined this very boulder in 2012 and labelled it CNG-020 (Cerro Negro - Boulder 20), as in his 2006 publication Castillo Benites did not assign numbers to the individual stones at Cerro Negro, or any other rock art site in Chicama.


Location of Cerro Negro

Cerro Negro is located in the extreme NE part of the Province of Ascope, District of Chicama, 53 km due north of the capital Trujillo (for location maps see the introduction of the Video and especially Video Figures 1 to 4)) of the Department of La Libertad, northern Peru. There are, of course, many more places in the Andes that are called Cerro Negro (literally meaning ‘Black Hill’). However, the subject of this paper, the rock art site on the inconspicuous hillock of Cerro Negro, is only an extremely small part of Playa Cuculí. This ‘playa’ (it is not a beach) in turn is part of the drainage of the Río Chicama.

The Chicama Valley is rich in rock art sites. No less than 21 sites have been recorded (Castillo Benites 2006: Fig. 14) in a 72 km stretch along the Río Chicama from Roma (in the west) to Zapotal, a rock art site overlooking the Río Huancay in the east (however, Castillo Benites does not include Zapotal in his 2006 book). Figure 1 shows all rock art sites known to me to have been recorded in the Chicama drainage (situation in February 2014). The green square in Figure 1 indicates the location of Cerro Negro and Playa Cuculí; yellow squares concern rock painting sites; blue squares denote other petroglyph sites. Together with Chuquillanqui (with probably 111 decorated boulders or more), Cerro Negro is one of the only two sites in the Chicama drainage with more than 50 petroglyph boulders.

Figure 1. Rock art in the Chicama drainage, northern Peru. Map © by Maarten van Hoek
(based on Google Earth Relief Maps).
Framed area: Video Figure 2.

The petroglyph site of Cerro Negro (Site 1 in Video Figure 2; green sqaures: estimated positions) is found about 2 km east of the Chicama Valley, at the very southern limit of Playa Cuculí. In the neighbourhood are several other petroglyphs sites (which often - together with Cerro Negro - are collectively referred to as Pampas de Jagüey). Site 2: Playa Cuculí A and B; Site 3: Aldea Aglutinada; Site 4: Cafetal; Site 5: Shimba; Site 6: La Firma del Diablo (see Video Figure 18); Site 7: Colón; Site 8: La Huaca. Sites 5 and 7 are located on the opposite (western and northern) bank of the river Chicama, while Site 8 is actually located in the valley of Río Seco de Santa Ana. More information about those sites, together with illustrations, is found in the publications by Castillo Benites.

Playa Cuculí is a gently northwest sloping plain that is located between the two westward pointing mountain ridges of Cerro Salavin. The northern ridge of Cerro Salavin is also called Cerro las Cabras, but its west end is better known locally as Cerro (de) la Botella because of a conspicuous (natural) bottle-shaped area on its extreme western slope that immediately overlooks the Chicama Valley. Playa Cuculí is a rather flat, gravely area, cut by several shallow gullies, which measures approximately 800 m (N-S) by 2000 m (E-W). The site is invisible from the main road in the Chicama valley, but glimpses of the Chicama Valley are visible from certain points at and near Cerro Negro (see Video).

One can reach the site from the valley of the Río Chicama after 2 km when following the dry river gully of the Quebrada de Ghaspa (please, first ask permission to enter any private property and beware of dogs). Despite the remote location there is evidence of areas having been looted. Especially the zone in front of Boulder CNG-009 has severely been disturbed. Several stones may have been displaced by natural or anthropic agents. Vandalism in the form of graffiti is virtually absent, although some petroglyphs (?) are almost un-patinated.

Playa Cuculí (Video Figure 3; red squares: estimated positions) is positioned between two major quebradas (dry river systems). In the north the Quebrada de Maquiavelló forms the northern limit of Playa Cuculí. This dry river system runs west and joins the Río Chicama directly south of the ‘bottle’ at Cerro la Botella (visible just below the C of Cerro). In the south the Quebrada de Ghaspa forms the southern limit. This quebrada also runs west and is located at the very southern foot of Cerro Salavin. The rock art of Cerro Negro is found on both sides of the Quebrada de Ghaspa, at a point where two tributaries (initially running north and NW from the steeper slopes of Cerro Salavin) converge and turn west. Altogether the area with petroglyph boulders indicated in Video Figure 4 roughly measures 100 m (E-W) by 200 m (N-S), yielding only 20.000 m2 (which is very small compared with the approximately 2.000.000 m2 of the petroglyph site of Toro Muerto in the south of Peru). However, areas adjacent to the hill may well have more petroglyph stones.

There are three groups of petroglyph boulders at Cerro Negro. The locations of the petroglyph boulders indicated with a green square in Video Figure 4 are rather accurately indicated (showing numbers), while the red squares (not showing the numbers) concern the estimated positions of the other petroglyph boulders. The northern group (N in Video Figure 4) is separated by the gully of the Quebrada de Ghaspa from the two other groups on the hill slopes of Cerro Negro. Group N comprises at least eight petroglyph boulders (CNG-001 to 008) that are found on the edge of the flat part north of the quebrada (Playa Cuculí) and on the steep northern slope of the quebrada (see Video). A small, portable fragment of stone with a circular petroglyph (CNG-044) was found by us a little north of the quebrada on the flat expanse of Playa Cuculí very near the low remains of a small, ancient circular structure (see Video Figure 22). This fragment may represent part of a removed (stolen?) boulder or may have been part of the circular structure; it certainly is not in situ (it was left on the site by us after having made a photograph of the fragment).

However, most petroglyph boulders (and images) are found on the NE slopes of a small hill just SE of the quebrada (M in Video Figure 4). This hill is Cerro Negro, named after the darker (but certainly not black) colour of the stones and earth that tops the hill. Group M on Cerro Negro is located directly SE of the quebrada, more or less opposite Group N. At least 18 petroglyph boulders (CNG-009 to CNG-026) have been recorded by us at this spot. A short distance further south and located on the east and SE slopes is the southernmost group (S in Video Figure 4) with at least 17 decorated boulders. Boulder CNG-020 is found in Group M at Cerro Negro at about 530 m O.D., while the flat valley floor of the Quebrada de Ghaspa at that point is at about 520 m.


The Rock Art at Cerro Negro

Up to now, the best inventory of the rock art at Cerro Negro was published by Castillo Benites in 2006. This Peruvian archaeologist, deeply committed to the recording and preservation of Andean rock art, published 45 black-and-white illustrations of rock art panels at this site, and included one drawing of a geoglyph at Cerro Negro that I have not seen (2006: Figs 75 to 120). A difficulty with the registration by Castillo Benites is that in some cases petroglyph panels that actually occur on one boulder have been illustrated separately, giving the unwanted impression that they concern two individual boulders. This is definitely the case with his Figs 23 and 27 (Cerro San Antonio) and Figs 160 and 161 (Panamá) (Castillo Benites 2006). Thus the same confusion may exist with illustrations of other sites, as well with his Cerro Negro drawings.

In 2012 my wife Elles and I recorded 44 boulders (with altogether 49 panels) with petroglyphs, including 16 boulders (20 panels) that have not been illustrated by Castillo Benites, while we did not see 17 panels illustrated by Castillo Benites (they may have been overlooked by us or they may be located elsewhere in the area). It is therefore very likely that the grand total of petroglyph boulders at Cerro Negro exceeds 61 stones (comprising at least 66 panels).

The site has a mix of boulders with only one petroglyph (one image or one groove) and panels that are literally crowded with images and grooves. The images include abstract symbols (like spirals, crosses, circles and other, often ‘randomly’ arranged groove patterns) and figurative art, including images of zoomorphs (like fish, monkeys, birds and snakes) and anthropomorphs and some isolated anthropomorphic masks or heads. There may be a few images of plants as well, but at least one of these ‘plant-like’ petroglyphs may depict something completely different and unique. I will discuss this petroglyph further on. Instances of superimposition occur, but are rare. Most petroglyphs are deeply patinated, but a few images clearly show less patination. A few petroglyphs are either recent (vandalism?) or may have been re-pecked at a later, even recent period.


Renderings of Boulder CNG-020

The first publication of a graphic of the petroglyphs on Boulder CNG-020 that I know of, appears in a work by Linares Málaga (1999: 91; Esq. 31). This drawing by Linares Málaga (Figure 5) is dated 1965. However, his rendering (only a very rough, very inaccurate sketch that is possibly based on a rather vague photograph), is of very little scientific value. It is only interesting for comparative purposes and because its caption reveals the early date of 1965.

Figure 5. The petroglyphs on Boulder CNG-020, Cerro Negro, northern Peru.
Drawing by Eloy Linares Málaga (1965).

Figure 6. The petroglyphs on Boulder CNG-020, Cerro Negro, northern Peru.
Drawing by Daniel Castillo Benites (2006) (north arrow and slope-arrow added by me).

Figure 7. The petroglyphs on Boulder CNG-020, Cerro Negro, northern Peru.
Drawing © by Maarten van Hoek (2014).

The second publication of the petroglyphs on Boulder CNG-020 (Figure 6) concerns the drawing by Castillo Benites (2006: Fig 110). Although his book is certainly useful, the illustrations by Castillo Benites are often too small (especially of the larger panels) and thus often inaccurate, incomplete (at least six of his black-and-white renderings of panels at Cerro Negro are incomplete) and sometimes even incorrect, especially regarding specific but important details (at least six of his drawings of panels at Cerro Negro are incorrect, while one drawing [2006: Fig. 114] should be mirrored). Castillo Benites only has drawn the images; not the stone edges (except for his Fig. 80, which I have not seen), cracks and other natural features of the stone. Another disadvantage is that Castillo Benites used the colour black to indicate both pecked and incised parts, superficial and deep parts, light pecking and coarse pecking, certain and doubtful features and, finally, deeply patinated and later features (including recent markings). Often however, such differences are essential to recognise idiosyncrasies and to access their possible explanations and chronology. Figure 7 (above) offers my interpretation of the petroglyphs on Boulder CNG-020.


Boulder CNG-035

There is one question that immediately springs to mind when scanning the discrepancies in the three illustrations of Boulder CNG-020. Are such differing details important? Yes, they are! I can present several instances where inaccurate or incorrect drawings of Andean rock art images have lead to completely false interpretations. Any sincere rock art scientist will admit that it is impossible to present a consistent and constructive interpretation upon inaccurate illustrations. Such differences are too important to ignore, especially as they often lead to incorrect interpretations. To illustrate the difference between a drawing by Castillo Benites and the reality, I will briefly describe another boulder, CNG-035, which is located in Group S below the top of Cerro Negro at its SE side (see Video Figure 4). Similar problems occur at Boulder CNG-020.

Castillo Benites (2006: Fig: 100) illustrates three petroglyphs on Boulder CNG-035 (marked A, B and C in Figure 8A) that all are in the correct position. However, petroglyph A clearly differs in several details (Figure 8B). Apart from some minor discrepancies the upper side-groove proves to have five short grooves (instead of four), while the lower groove has four (instead of five), one of which ends in a short curl. Petroglyph B does not have four internal dots but three, while the right end is closed and features a short groove that may depict the mouth of some zoomorph, although the whole may well represent an isolated leg (severed? unfinished?) as has been suggested by Castillo Benites. Most conflicting however is petroglyph C that has been interpreted by Castillo Benites as an apparent ‘head’ (cabeza). However, petroglyph C most likely depicts a biomorph with a head (with eyes, nose and mouth and two short, horn-like appendages) and a limbless body enclosing four small dots, a circle and one or two short grooves.


Figure 8A. The petroglyphs on Boulder CNG-035, Cerro Negro, northern Peru.
Drawing by Daniel Castillo Benites (2006).

Figure 8B. The petroglyphs on Boulder CNG-035, Cerro Negro, northern Peru.
Photograph © by Maarten van Hoek (2014).

Boulder CNG-020

Boulder CNG-020 (Video Figure 9A and 9B), like most of the boulders at Cerro Negro, is a purple-red-brown stone. It has a large, rather smooth and flat surface (Figure 9). It measures approximately 130 cm in length, 90 cm in width and only 5 to 30 cm in thickness (this slightly sloping stone probably is partially buried). The slab is lying on a NNE slope and its decorated panel faces north and upwards. Some very fine cracks and veins run across the stone. Like most other stones at Cerro Negro, Boulder CNG-020 has sharp edges and flat fractures indicating that no significant water erosion ever occurred at this spot. I regard the stone to be in situ.

Figure 9. Boulder CNG-020, Cerro Negro, northern Peru. Notice the difference in patination.
Photograph © by Maarten van Hoek (2014).

The Petroglyphs on Boulder CNG-020

Although much better than the rough sketch by Eloy Linares Málaga, the illustration by Castillo Benites (Figure 6) still shows a large number of inaccuracies, while one large image of an anthropomorphic figure and some other markings are missing. Moreover, the relative positions and the shapes of the petroglyphs are inaccurate. It seems to me that Castillo Benites made his sketch from an oblique photograph, or in the field while observing the petroglyphs.

The following descriptions of the twelve major images on Boulder CNG-020 are based on my drawing of the stone (which is based on my - obliquely taken - photograph) that - regarding minor details - may be incomplete/inaccurate as well, also because it sometimes was impossible to distinguish between anthropic pecking and natural features.

There are twelve major petroglyphs (Elements) on Boulder CNG-020 (Figure 11) and a number of small amorphous markings (some of which may even natural). Each major Element has been assigned a letter (A to L; each indicated by a different colour to (subjectively) separate an Element from its neighbour). Each Element will be described separately. All petroglyphs (except for most of Element B and a detail in Element J) have been pecked out in outline. Indeed, all major images and minor amorphous markings have been pecked (or hacked), although some fine lines (like some digits) may have been scratched or incised.

Figure 11. The twelve Elements on Boulder CNG-020, Cerro Negro, northern Peru.
Drawing © by Maarten van Hoek (2014).

Element A
comprises two parallel lines, curved like an arm, which end in a configuration of lines that seem to represent a ‘fist’ (with apparently six ‘fingers’, though). It is no exception in Andean rock art to find images of zoomorphs or anthropomorphs with three or four and even with six or seven digits. Also, petroglyphs of severed (?) limbs (arms and legs) have also been reported, for instance at Cerro Negro (Figure 8-B; Castillo Benites 2006: Figs 77 and 78) and on Boulder PAL-137 at Palamenco, a rock art site 152 km further SE. This practice of depicting severed body parts may be related to the gruesome iconography of Cerro Sechín, a Formative Period temple complex in Casma, 216 km SSE.

Element B is the only petroglyph that has largely been fully pecked. Only the rectangular head is outlined and features a short nose, two dots for eyes and a groove for a mouth. The fully frontally depicted anthropomorph is in a typical position with both arms raised. It is possible that once both hands were visible as very faint traces of (incised?) digits are visible. This is also the only petroglyph on Boulder CNG-020 that has been superimposed upon earlier grooves (of Element K) and - tellingly - Element B definitely is less deeply patinated. It most likely is a later addition. A similar figure appears on Boulder CNG-014, but this figure clearly has a small tumi on the rectangular head (see Video Figure 20). The figure on CNG-014 may therefore be of Moche or Chimú origin (and thus the anthropomorph on Boulder CNG-020 may be of Moche or Chimú manufacture as well). A small tumi-shaped petroglyph appears on Boulder CNG-010 (not illustrated by Castillo Benites 2006: Fig. 114). It also is less deeply patinated.

Element C is a unique image (Video Figure 12). This fully frontally depicted biomorph may represent a conflation between an anthropomorph and a (flying?) zoomorph; a bird, a bat. It may even represent a ray-man. It seems to have an anthropomorphic, rectangular head (with two eyes and a mouth) and two ‘human-looking’ legs. The body comprises a large triangle enclosing two parallel grooves. This petroglyph is also less deeply patinated and may be of the same date as its neighbour, Element B.

Element D is an elongated groove pattern with several curls. It seems to connect Elements E and F (but this may be a coincidence and not premeditated). This kind of irregular and non-figurative groove pattern is rather common at Cerro Negro and at other sites in the Chicama Drainage in general. In some cases however this type of groove pattern seems to include/represent ‘hidden’ biomorphic features (like Element G).

Element E is a most interesting feature (Video Figure 13). It is the petroglyph of a ‘feathered snake’ seen in bird’s-eye-view (from above). Unfortunately its unique character is not fully appreciated in the sketch by Castillo Benites (while the snake is completely unrecognisable in the sketch by Linares Málaga). The trapezoidal head has two typical curls as appendages. It also features two eyes that seem to have ‘tears’ and a small mouth. The body is typically zigzagging and has six short extremities (the ‘feathers’), five of which have a short groove as if those ‘feathers’ actually indicate legs (compare this with Element J).

‘Feathered’ snakes very occasionally occur at other sites in northern Peru, for instance on Boulder CMe-080 at Cerro Mulato (Van Hoek 2012a: 65), on Boulder SRB-078 at Santa Rita (Carl Patterson 2009: pers. comm.), and - in the south of Peru - also at Toro Muerto and at Miculla. Importantly, these examples (all outlined, except for the Miculla snake) do not have internal decoration and the ‘feathers’ are just simple short grooves. Also in Chile petroglyphs of ‘feathered’ snakes have been recorded by me, for instance at Azapa near Arica, at Tamentica (Huatacondo) and at Chiuchiu (Río Loa). Near Pisagua in northern Chile a geoglyph might represent a ‘feathered’ snake.

A snake petroglyph, almost similar to Element E, but without the distinct ‘feathers’ (or legs) has been reported by Castillo Benites at Cerro Negro (2006: Fig. 96). This snake seems to have two (perhaps more - I have not seen this panel) very short grooves at the sides of the zigzagging body that may represent the ‘feathers’. What is important is that this snake, like Element E on Boulder CNG-20, has internal decoration. In his figure 96 Castillo Benites illustrates an internal zigzag, running parallel to the sides of the outlined body.

Snake imagery with internal (zigzag) decoration is not exceptional in Andean rock art. On Boulder HBL-064 at Huaca Blanca a short ‘feathered’ snake has a simple internal line bordered by small dots. A similarly short, possible ‘feathered’ snake with a single internal line has been reported on Boulder CMf-145 at nearby Cerro Mulato. Internal lines and other types of infill-decoration have also been recorded by me for instance in several snake petroglyphs at Toro Muerto in the deep south of Peru, but those are not ‘feathered’ snakes. Also at Tamentica in northern Chile an outlined (not ‘feathered’) snake petroglyph has an internal zigzag line.

Element E has an internal zigzag as well, but, most importantly however, this time this internal zigzag features rows of short grooves emanating from both sides of the single-groove internal zigzag. This internal groove with rows of short appended grooves inside a ‘feathered’ snake petroglyph represents a unique feature in the petroglyph art of the Desert Andes, as far as I am aware of.

However, I do not regard this ‘feathered’ internal zigzag to be simply internal decoration. I tentatively would like to suggest that Element E expresses the pan-Andean duality of life and death. Notably, the snake has been depicted in a zigzagging, curling and thus active position, which expresses the concept of life, while the internal feature may be regarded as the skeleton of the snake, thus symbolising death. Of course I have not a single shred of evidence for my suggestion, but there is an in-situ parallel that seems to confirm my hypothesis. Interestingly this parallel is found at Cerro Negro as well, only a few meters from Boulder CNG-020.

On nearby Boulder CNG-023 (not illustrated by Castillo Benites 2006) is a centrally located small set of grooves that may represent a (fragmented) biomorph. More striking however is a long single groove, bend at 45 degrees, which has 13 short grooves emanating from one side of the long groove and 14 from the other side; all placed at a small angle, like a fish bone. As at least two petroglyphs at Cerro Negro may depict fish, this specific configuration may indeed depict a fish-bone (of an eel perhaps?), but because of the much elongated and the abruptly bent character and the small, fully pecked triangular head, I rather would like to claim that this petroglyph depicts the skeleton of a snake. In comparison, on a petroglyph boulder in the Chancay Drainage east of Chiclayo, northern Peru, is a definite depiction of a fish-skeleton, which is much shorter, straight and has an outlined head with facial features, exactly the way a devoured fish would look like; the head not consumed.

Element F comprises the very faint traces of an anthropomorph of which Castillo Benites only illustrates the two parallel grooves (representing the legs). The figure seems to have a round head and features a possible saluting position. This may well be the oldest remaining image on this boulder (although it cannot be ruled out that other old(er) petroglyphs have been re-pecked or even have disappeared). My drawing of Element F in Figure 11 may be inaccurate as it was difficult to distinguish the exact lay-out, which may be better visible in the photograph (Video Figure 14).

Element G is a groove pattern with two sets of appended parallel grooves. However, the upper part seems to represent the head of a zoomorph; possibly a bird. Therefore, the whole configuration may well represent a bird, although the tail-like element may indicate that a bird-monkey conflation has been depicted.

Element H probably is the most recent addition; it may even be an act of vandalism, imitating ancient practices. The roughly executed figure does not show patination. It seems to be an anthropomorphic figure with a round head with ‘hair’ or a headgear. Between Elements A and B is a small group of amorphous markings with the same lack of patination.

Element I is a triangular device with an internal straight groove (Video Figure 15). It may well represent a vulva-symbol and may be compared with several examples in Andean rock art (Van Hoek 2012b: Figs 37 to 57).  However, the sides are not exactly straight and give the impression of a stepped figure. The triangle is not joined to Element J as is suggested by the drawing by Castillo Benites, but its position just below the two lower extremities of Element J seems to have been premeditated. It may therefore still be (symbolically) associated with Element J.

Element J is one of the most enigmatic images that I have seen at Cerro Negro and, as far as I am aware, it is also a unique petroglyph in Andean rock art (Video Figure 15). It clearly is a zoomorph, possibly a monkey, which seems to have depicted fully frontally. The zoomorph has two eyes but only three extremities. Two extremities point to the left, while the third extremity points in the opposite direction and seems to hold four linear objects. These four objects are all arranged parallel to each other. One of the objects ends in a fully pecked ‘spear-head’ or ‘arrow-head’. This latter feature brings me to suggest that the zoomorph holds a bunch of arrows or spears (that possibly are related to the throwing-spear; the atl-atl). Depictions of zoomorphs carrying weapons in Andean rock art are extremely rare. I know of only one petroglyph (located in the south of Peru) of a zoomorph (a fox?) that seems to be using a bow and arrow. Depictions of zoomorphs using musical instruments (mainly flutes and trumpets) are less rare (Van Hoek 2005).

Element K is a pattern of grooves, part of which might represent a zoomorph. This pattern is joined to Element J and may even be part of Element J. Part of this pattern is also superimposed by Element B.

Element L is a small petroglyph of an anthropomorphic figure with a round head with two dots for eyes and a mouth (Video Figure 16). It has two arms in the raised position. The legs are either very short or have not been drawn. To the right is a zigzag groove that may be part of Element L.


Chicama Chronology - Conclusions

The Chicama drainage, especially the very large coastal plain west of Roma (see Figure 1), has been inhabited by many cultures since the Pre-Ceramic Period, which roughly started around 9000 B.C. and was followed by the Formative Period characterised by the introduction of pottery (around 2000 B.C.). One of the best known Late Pre-Ceramic Period structures in this area is Huaca Prieta, which is now located only 3 km NW of the current mouth of the Río Chicama. After that the area became the heartland of the Cupisnique cultures that are well known for their impressive temple complexes and their characteristic pottery. Although Cupisnique textiles are largely unknown, there certainly existed a very early weaving tradition in the Cupisnique heartland as is demonstrated by the ancient and fragile textiles from Huaca Prieta.

The Cupisnique culture was followed by the Salinar which - later - transformed into the well known Moche civilisation. A most important Moche temple complex, Huaca de Brujo, is located at the coast, only 1 km north of Huaca Prieta. Impressive Moche friezes, much like the famous adobe friezes from the Huaca de la Luna near Trujillo, have been excavated at Huaca de Brujo. Later still, the kingdom of Chimú, often called Chimór, ruled the area until it was conquered by the Incas and, much later by the Spanish conquistadores.

Apparently, the rock art of Cerro Negro has - rather prematurely - been assigned to (only?) the Salinar culture by Burgos Oliveros. His report includes a photograph of Boulder CNG-009 at Cero Negro (2006: Foto 1) and refers to the rock art at Cerro Negro as Petroglifos Salinar. The label ‘Salinar culture’ was formulated for the first time in 1944 by Rafael Larco Hoyle after the small hamlet of Salinar, which is located in the Chicama Valley, only 5 km SW of Cerro Negro. The Salinar culture is generally considered to represent the evolutionary stage between the earlier Cupisnique cultures and the later Moche culture. Yet, to me it is certain that not all images at Cerro Negro are of Salinar origin. Also archaeologist Castillo Benites (2007) is more cautious and tentatively dates the rock art of Cerro Negro to the Formative Period and Early Horizon (Cupisnique and Salinar) and the Early Intermediate Period (Moche), which covers a period of almost 3000 years (roughly from 2000 B.C. to A.D. 800).


Although no characteristic Formative Period petroglyphs have been reported at Cerro Negro, these definitely exist in the Chicama Drainage. This type of Formative Period imagery has been labelled ‘the MSC-Style’ by me in order to avoid an unwanted ‘Chavín’ classification for images that are better ascribed to the Cupisnique tradition (Van Hoek 2011). Only 17 km due north of Cerro Negro is the rock art site of Santa Ana, where Castillo Benites reported two typical MSC-Style (Cupisnique) rock paintings (Castillo Benites 2008: Figs 2 and 3; Van Hoek 2011: 74, Fig. 64; 103-104, Fig. 101), while 29 km to the east is the petroglyph site of Chuquillanqui with at least one image of a MSC-Style head (Castillo Benites 2006: Fig. 232; Van Hoek 2011: 104, Fig. 102).


However, on Boulder CNG-012 at Cerro Negro (Video Figure 17A; not illustrated by Castillo Benites 2006) is a design that shows a certain degree of modular width (involving the use of parallel lines), which is one of the characteristics of the MSC-Style. It probably is the stylised head of a snake, superimposed by later petroglyphs (Video Figure 17B). Moreover, on Boulder CNG-004 is an (unfinished?) motif involving modular with that could belong to the MSC-Style.

Also indicative of the MSC-Style are the many S-shaped spirals at Cerro Negro (and at several other sites in the area; Van Hoek 2007; 2011). A motif that may be related to the S-shaped spiral is the ‘figure-of-8’ design that occurs on the solitary petroglyph site of La Firma del Diablo (Video Figure 18), located only 2.7 km NNW of Cerro Negro. The images on this petroglyph panel, also known as La Piedra de la Compartición, are generally assigned to the Formative Period (Castillo Benites 2006: 49 - 50), but I refute the often claimed ‘Chavín’ classification for the images on this panel. The ‘figure-of-8’ element occurs only at a few petroglyph sites: Cerro San Simón in Jequetepeque, Alto de la Guitarra in Virú and Menocucho in Moche, although the ‘figure-of-8’ element from Menocucho is seriously questioned by Castillo Benites (2006: pers. com.). Also in architectural art and ceramics of the Andean Formative Period the ‘figure-of-8’ element occurs.

Although possibly many of the petroglyphs at Playa Cuculí and adjacent rock art sites will have been manufactured by the Salinar culture, it is almost impossible to separate earlier and later images. The only possible indication that Early Intermediate Period (or later) images may occur at Cerro Negro is the presence of the tumi. A tumi is a half-moon-shaped ritual knife that is very characteristic for a number of Andean cultures from the Early Intermediate and Middle Horizon Periods. It occurs in Andean rock art, though very rarely, from northern Peru to the NW of Argentina. In northern Peru especially the Moche culture and the subsequent Sicán and Chimú cultures used the tumi.

At Cerro Negro the image of the tumi occurs ‘only’ four times. However, relatively speaking ‘four times’ is a lot, as in general (and most surprisingly) the tumi is only very rarely represented in Andean rock art. In two instances at Cerro Negro an inverted tumi occurs above the head of an anthropomorphic figure (on Boulders CNG-015 and CNG-014; see Video Figure 20). An isolated tumi occurs on Boulder CNG-009 (one less patinated example with a handle and superimposed upon an earlier petroglyph), while another example - also with a handle - occurs on Boulder CNG-010, although this latter tumi has not been illustrated by Castillo Benites (2006: Fig. 114). Larger, crescent-shaped motifs (without a handle) at Cerro Negro occur on Boulder CNG-001 and on Panel CNG-006A. These motifs may be related to the tumi (a symbol possibly derived from the image of the crescent moon), or else to the crescent moon itself. All those tumi petroglyphs may be of Moche origin, but an earlier (Salinar) or later (Chimú) origin cannot be ruled out.

There is another petroglyph that may be compared with images elsewhere, notably Element B on Boulder CNG-020. This anthropomorphic image is superimposed upon earlier petroglyph lines and is less patinated. It seems to be a later addition. The typical position of the frontally depicted anthropomorph with both arms raised, as well as the rectangular head may be compared with an anthropomorph that has been painted on the wall of a rock shelter at (Quebrada del) Higuerón further west (Video Figure 19). But also at the petroglyph site of Yonán in Jequetepeque such square-headed anthropomorphic figures occur. Although there is no absolute dating available for all those images, they may be of an Early Intermediate Period date. This seems to be confirmed by the petroglyph of a similar anthropomorph on Boulder CNG-014 at Cerro Negro as well. This figure has also a fully pecked body, raised arms and an outlined rectangular head with facial features (Video Figure 20). Even the digits are very faintly scratched and thus the figure is almost identical to Element B on CNG-020. There is only one striking difference: the anthropomorph on Boulder CNG-009 has a small tumi on the head. This seems to provide firm evidence that Element B is of the same date.

It is clear that also the assemblage of images on Boulder CNG-020 has not been manufactured at the same time and/or by the same hand. Yet, establishing the chronology and sequence of the petroglyphs is extremely difficult as no absolute dating is available. Only differences in patination, subject matter and superimposition may give some clues as to the chronology. Keeping in mind that images may have been re-pecked and altered at later times, I tentatively suggest that Element K (1 - light brown - in Figure 21) may belong to the earliest phase of rock art production regarding Boulder CNG-020, while the main bulk was produced (intermittently?) during the Salinar phase (2 - orange - in Figure 21). Much later, during a third phase 3 a few Moche or Chimú images were added (3 - red - in Figure 21), while still much later some hacked markings (4 - black - in Figure 21) were added (recently?).

Figure 21. The four possible phases of petroglyph production on Boulder CNG-020,
Cerro Negro, northern Peru. Drawing © by Maarten van Hoek (2014).


First of all I would like to express my gratitude towards Daniel Seuart Castillo Benites, archaeologist from Trujillo, Peru, who has generously helped me with information about Chicama rock art and especially Cerro Negro and who also helped me pinpointing the exact location. I am also grateful to Carol Patterson for sharing her personal photographs of the Santa Rita petroglyph site with me. Of course I am, as ever, grateful to my wife Elles for support in the field and at home.

Cerro Negro can only be reached by crossing private land. Please make sure that you have permission to enter any private property. We thank all the Chicama-locals who have helped us with information and those who gave us permission to cross or visit their properties. Therefore I am also indebted to Franco who kindly guided us to Cerro Negro in 2012.



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Cómo citar este artículo:

van Hoek, Maarten. A critical analysis of the rock
art on boulder CNG-020, Cerro Negro, Chicama, La Libertad, Perú
En Rupestreweb, http://www.rupestreweb.info/cerronegro.html




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