Academic journal article Rock Art Research

The Seated Figures of the Rio Grande De Nasca Drainage: Defining a Descriptive Type in the Rock Art of the Department of Ica, Peru

Academic journal article Rock Art Research

The Seated Figures of the Rio Grande De Nasca Drainage: Defining a Descriptive Type in the Rock Art of the Department of Ica, Peru

Article excerpt


By far the largest and best known examples of Rio Grande de Nasca drainage rock art consist of geoglyphs, large-scale representational images, spirals, trapezoids and straight lines on plateaus between river valleys or on the slopes of hills. Known collectively as the Nasca Lines, these geoglyphs have captured the imagination of the general public and have been the focus of many academic publications and popular documentaries. Their purpose has been the subject of debate for decades. Lesser known, but also widespread in the river system, are concentrations of rock art of a much smaller scale, i.e. petroglyphs and pictograms. These, like the geoglyphs, are also examples of site-specific images that were most likely linked to indigenous ideas of place and landscape. In some cases, Rio Grande de Nasca drainage petroglyphs and geoglyphs are closely associated to each other by their location or their iconography. Unfortunately, however, the study of petroglyphs and pictograms in this area has been neither thorough nor systematic.

The present essay defines a descriptive type found in petroglyph sites of the Palpa and Aja valleys, in the Rio Grande de Nasca drainage.1 Although Palpa valley rock art sites have been documented through photographs and drawings in various publications (such as Núñez Jiménez 1986; Matos Ávalos 1987; Fux 2011 inter alia), a thorough and comprehensive classification of motifs in the river system is still needed in order to understand the relationship between these and other rock art sites. Any study of this river system's rock art is limited and problematic, however, since very few publications include a complete description or documentation of rock art motifs at any of the sites. The definition of descriptive types is a necessary first step towards a greater understanding of rock art sites across tire valleys of the river system. As more sites are documented and their motifs are described in future publications, the descriptive type presented here, its distribution and its iconographie associations can be revised or modified.

Theoretical background

Finding systematic ways to document and analyse motifs is crucial in the study of rock art. In discussing the classification process in rock art research, Whitley (2005) and Francis (2001) made reference to Meyer Shapiro's definition of 'style' (1953) and its influence in the study of rock art. Shapiro (1953:287) defined the concept of 'style' as 'constant form' in the art of an individual or a group. In this case, 'form' refers to the visual (artistic) elements of the work, or the use of line, shape, colour and composition. The purpose of a formal study and a definition of styles, according to Shapiro, is to date the work and establish connections between sites or cultures. This is based on the assumption that each culture or period has a limited number of styles (Shapiro 1953: 287-288).

Francis (2001) argued, however, that relying on style for the dating of rock art panels can be problematic, since scientific dating methods have sometimes con- tradicted the dates assigned for rock art motifs based on their style (either individual styles were proven to have lasted too long for their application as a dating tool, or completely different styles that were assumed to indicate distinct phases were later proven to be roughly contemporaneous). As a way to bypass these problems, Francis (2001: 234-238) proposed an approach for the classification of rock art based on the definition of descriptive types as an alternative to the use of style for the dating of rock art. These descriptive types would be determined for specific regions based on a consistent pattern of attributes, which could include manufacturing techniques, figure types, poses and dress as well as the characteristics of the archaeological sites. This is a very basic descriptive approach which has as its sole purpose to organise and define motif types within a larger body of work, but not to date these motifs. …

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