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The geoglyphs of the north Chilean

desert: an archaeological and artistic



perspective
Luis Briones-M. *
A lIew T{'view old", geoglyph! a/the AtflCflmn Dmm in Northern Chile has nllowed the all/hor
to define n vombulary offimns and show how these "/aUto pnrtiCltlnr groups of people crossing
the desert from tbe mountains to the un in the prehispflnic period. Geometric, Z(Jomorphic and
flmhropomorphic symbols mark TOI/ US, destinations and wage by pllTHcu/nr Ilnml1 caravans. The
trtlvellers were key players in society and were winningprominenu in their region .from AD 800.
Krywords: Chile, geoglyphs, rock art, desert, lama, prchispanic, archai c, Inca
Introduction
This paper presenrs a summary of work carried out by {he aut hor and his colleagues over
the past 30 years. A register of sites with gcoglyphs, together widl their associated culrural
and environmental contexts, consli nHes the most complere database known for northern
Chile, offering new possibili des for interpretation of the geoglyphs. The already classic
bi bliographic references of Mbeno Plageman, summarised in his work 'Los Pimados de
Chile' presenred at rhe XJVt h Congress of Americanists, and of Boll aert and Q'Brien in the
nineteenth cenrury on the geoglyphs of the northern desert , were our precursors, and served
as stimuli for other investigamrs in the second half of the twentieth century to follow in
their footsteps - for example, Niemeyer, Nufiez, Monstny, Binmann; and, most recenrly,
Clarkson, Briones, Chacama, Espinosa, Cerda and others.
The first systematic study of geoglyphs in Tarapad. was carried our by Lautaro Nufiez
(Nufiez 1976), who presented an interpretation related m the traffic of caravans in the
late period in the Chilean desert. Later, start ing in 1978, and as a consequence of the
deterioration of various sites around the Panamerican highway, a programme of appraisal
and conservation was initiated in rhe valleys of LIma, Azapa, Chiza, Ti liviche, Cerro Rosira,
Cerro Uni ta and Cerros Pimados in the region of Tarapad.; and of Qui ll agua, Tranque
Sloman and Chug-Chug in the region of Antofagasta. This process enabled us TO discover
new archaeological sites, carry OUt thei r exhaustive recording and documentation, and
incorporate new background information on the geographical context and the landscape in
which they occur. Together wi th previous observations (Boallaen 1860; Nufiez 1976; Cerda
et al. 1985; Mostny & Niemeyer 1983), this informati on has been gathered together ro
AHodau. lJfpllrfmllrlllo dr Amropotogin. Fncutflld Cimdll$ tk AdmillisfmriQlI J Ecol/omin .
Ullillnlidnd dr Tamparo, Arica. Chil, (Emnil' tbriollrs@Ufn. r1)

Rraiwd: I Marr" 2001: Arrrptrd: /0 Of/obrr 2004; RnJisrd: 11 April 2005
ANTIQUITY 80 (2006): 9-24
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oftht' north C/Jii('(l1/ dt'$t'rl
form a new comprehensive database. Based on this corpus, I offer a firs[ analysis of regional
groups and some prel iminary interpretations (Figure I).
Definition
The term 'gcoglyphs' was coined by Mosmy & Niemeyer in 1983 ro define the large figures
laid OUt on the hillsides and pampas of the desert, di stributed over an area extending from
the lower course of the Llura valley in the north, to the ri ver Loa in the south. Geoglyphs
occur in similar geographic locations in southern Peru where, in rhe desert SHip next m
rhe Pacific, there are specmcular examples, sllldied by Reiche (1980), Reinhard ( 1983),
Clarkson (1992, 1998) and others. Taking both groups together, their di stribution in the
sub-area of the WeStern Vall eys (southern Peru, northern Chile) covers an area of 1000km
in length and 150km in width. The geoglyphs are found alone, or in groups of what we call
'panels'. some of which may contain more than 50 figures.
The geoglyphs were made by taking full advamage of the geological and geographical
characteristi cs of the deserl. The majority were made by 'scraping' the oxidised layer of
the surface, producing a light design that contrasts with the darker material all around.
This is defined as an 'extractive' technique. We find examples of this technique in (he
groups at Cerros Pintados I, Cerro Mono, Cerro Sombrero, Santa Rosita, in the gullies
of Tarapad, Altos Ariquilda, Mapocho and others, or on the pampas of Bajada lquique,
Cerro Unita, ete. The other lechnique, found less frequently, involves bringing together
surface material (smnes) like a mosaic, and is known as rhe 'addi tive' technique, in which
the dark figures contrast with the lighter background of the desert Roor. A third technique.
which combines the two others. is known as the 'mixed' technique, and makes it possible m
produce a harmonious contrast in the geoglyphs through both extraction and addition of
material. The resulr is a figure of more complex design such as at Cerros Pimados, AltoS de
Tamentica, Guaracondo, Cerro Rosita and elsewhere. One example of an atypical or even
unique technique is seen in the geoglyph of Alto Sur at [he mouth of the Camarones gully: il
is a 'sun' figure in a double 'mixed' technique - that is 10 say, it not only uses extraction and
addition of surface material, but also red (liquid) paint. The red pigment has been anal ysed.
and was found 10 be iron oxide mixed with seaw:uer (Briones 1984).
The geoglyphs of nOHhern Chi le have had a vari ety of interpretations related to their
function, with an emphasis on the activities of groups of prehislOric caravans. From the
fi rst explorations of the Aracama desert, humans were forced to adopt careful sol utions for
survival. Through the incorporation of the llama as a transport system, they were able to
increase their knowledge of the regional geography and its various ext reme environmems like
the 'puna', cordilleras, gullies, pampas and salt Rats, and to reach points that were both remote
and difficult. The accumulated knowledge included fundamentals such as the location of
water resources and their quali ty. No less important was knowledge of the dist ribution of
fodder in sufficient quantity to maintain the caravan system. Thus the people of the region
eventually pur together a complex lIetlVork ofplllhs to serve the speciali sed groups that crossed
the different geographical regions of the desert.
In the face of this chall enging reality, people frequen dy turned naturally to religion, and
laid down messages, memories and rites related to it, IOgether wi[h other cultural contexts:
10
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PERU
TOCOPILLA
L. Briollt1
TARAPACA
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11 REGION
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Kit)':
City/port
T ~
~ GeogIyph site
" S"II pan
, Pr&hiJP8nie
....... ,
Fill'" I, GmgmpJ.ir p"m s;'owing distribution IIf main ~ l y p h ronrnttmtilms ill "onl,"" O""r; 'TOIlS IIfTamparJ a"J
AmofogllSlIl,
11
oflhr lIorth Chi/rnn dt'frr/
Figurr 2. Groglyph pmltt QfChiZll -S,m/. (ommU1I( of HU<I"'.
the stopping place or pl1sJaUlI1, a simple srrUC{lJre of stones arranged as a barricade to form a
temporary camp; or rim archi tectural st ructure which is better adapted as a habitadon, and
which in rhe Lite Period was known as a chflsqllilJUflsi, the house of the 'chasquis', alludi ng to
rhe Inca couriers; the lJ/arkflS or mounds of stones that stand out on the horizon, indicating
rhe direclion of the path; corral st ructures for an i mals; isolated human burials; empll11ltilkldos
(dOl s made of stones laid side by side) very dose to paths; and, in accordance with the vi ew
of N uflez, the importance and signifi cance of the apl1cberl1 (a rirual accumulation of stones
along paths) as the maximum expression of what is understood as rhe cultural characterist ic
linked to the caravan (Nuflez 1976).
The most recent studi es of geoglyphs (Clarkson & Briones 200 I) have generall y moved
forward along these lines, and have managed to recover some componenrs that are rypical of
intense and persistent ca ravan aclivi ti es, such as fragments of cerami cs, of minerals or
precious stones li nked to rites, such as rurquoise, malachi te, ete. (rel eva nt to the exchange of
goods), remains of llama fa eces around the sallle pat h, deposits of garbage or shells around
campsites. The prehistoric rout es have been reacriv:u ed and reused on a variety of occasions,
even up to quite recent times by roads for vehicles that go to different villages . Fi gure 2
shows a modern road passing geoglyphs at Chiza-Suca (Huara).
Topographical location
The geoglyphs arc mosdy locat ed in the topography in a way that reRects the behaviour-
pallerns of the prehispanic societi es rhat setded the territory. These behaviour-patterns
are intirn:ttely bound to what scholars have call ed the perception of lhe environment or
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L. Brionts
'ethno-perception' (Alvarez 1991), the appreciation of space that constit uted an Andean
view of (he world. Al l of the si res with geoglyphs are linked to prehispanic roads and, for the
most part, wi th stoppi ng places or pmkanm, some of them with corrals and some even with
funerary monuments, linked by caravan traffic. In general, the geoglyphs are
located on hill slopes, valley slopes, gullies, the coastal cordi Jl era, ' isolated hills'. mountai n
ranges, shores of salt flats and on intermediate pampas between vall eys or gullies, these
larrer being on horizonral surfaces. The highest concentrati ons of geoglyphs are around
the Pampa del Tamarugal in the region of Tarapacl and the River Loa in the region of
Amofagasta. Other sites with geoglyphs are diStributed in decreasing order of frequency
as foll ows: Commune of Pozo Almonte, Huara, Maria Elena. Pica and Arica and the rest,
between the Communes of Camarones, Camifia, Iquique, Pune and the Loa.
Forms of geoglyph
The larest research has idemified more than 5000 geoglyphs, among whi ch geometric for ms
are hugely dominant, and then figurative forms, either amhropomorphic or zoomorphi c. in
broadly equal measure.
G(omnric geog/yphs range from simple conventional motifs to rhe most complex designs.
Many resemble designs on textil es and ceramics. such as circles, concemric circles. circles
wi th dors, rectangles, crosses, arrows, simple parallcllines, complex parallel li nes,
spi rals, simple and complex stepped rhombuses. They are found isolated or forming groups
with or withoUl apparem order. There are some noteworthy linear figures laid our on level,
horizontal surfaces, some of them more than a hundred metres long, and also concenrrations
of circl es, always around paths. Examples can be seen in Alto Ariquilda north, Alto Tarapad
north, Infiernillo, Los Tambos, etc. (Figure 3).
An imporranr geometric form is the supped rhombus, with its simple and complex varianrs,
which is visible from a great distance, especially when it is located on the upper part of a
hill side. This figure is made up of squares or rectangles laid out insi de a regular rhombus;
the result is a rhomboida1 staircase with its differem sections denoting 'head', 'body, 'arms'
and 'base' . There are simple and symmetrical ones, wi th three squates per side; whi le the
complex ones have an increasi ng number of squares from 4 to 15 per side, creating a greater
extension of the fi gure in its horizontal axis than in its vert ical. The complexity can also
be seen in the 'head' and ' base', where they display a revealing variable: their sides are
concave, resembling bodies of human fi gures whi ch characterise the Cerro Pintados style.
They can be seen ar Pica, Cerros Pintados, Yungay Bajo, Cerro Camello, AltO Huanillos,
Al to Caramucho, Guatacondo, Mani, Cerro Posada, Le6n and and elsewhere.
The stepped rhombus is also found in other expressions of prehispanic Andean an , not
only in arch itecture (as an ornamental motif with an imponant symboli c meaning and
content as at Chavi n, Tiwanaku, and among the great Andean urban centres) ,
but also in the early textile designs of AltO Ramirez in Arica, or the basketwork and textiles of
the complex in northern Chile. It appears with lower frequency in peuoglyph
sites such as Huancarane, Tarapad and Tamentica. Because of its complex design, significant
frequency and sparial coverage, the stepped rhombus motif has been the subject of special
analysis. Nui'tez stressed its importance and interpreted it, toget her with others, as [he mOSt
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Gtoglypbs oid" lIonb CbilM" d ~ s m
Figllrr J. Gromrtrir grogfyph, Altll Ari'l"iU" Nllnh, ({"mllllllt IIf Hwlftl.
important symbol of the canlvan people. Brioncs & Chacama (1995) emphasised its presence
in the Tarapad desert as an emblematic and ideological icon that marks the penet rati on
ofTiwanaku inro the desert . during rhe Middle Horizon. This so-called Andean cross links
the Boli vian altiplano with at le:lSI two routes of ineegration with the Tarapad. desert. via
Tarapad. and Pica, conllecting with the longitudinal fooe hill rouee.
The rqual-sided cross motif prcsentS a spatial distribution that is vcry similar to that of the
slepped rhombus but occurs lcss frequemly. In various sites they arc found in associaeion.
Circles. with or without a ceneral dot, arc generally located on rhe horizonml plains. eerraces
and pampas, at an average height of 1500rn above sea levd - they are found in rhe upper
gullies of Honda, GlI aracondo, Chi pana. Tarapad. Aroma, Infiernillo and others. This
geomet ric patt ern is distribueed sporadically on the mai n north-south path, connecting a
series of water holes, springs, oases and rivers tha1 die oUl in the pampa of El Tamarugal.
We consider anot her important diagnostic feature to be the nrrow figure, whi ch is found
in association wit h Olher signs as al Ariquilda, Tarapad. Quillagua, Cerros Pintados. urro
Mono, Soronal. Yungay Bajo, etc. It s low formal variation AlI cnlalcs from rhe simpl, nrrow,
made with the exuaclive technique, to a more complex version, made wi th the mi xed
technique, ehe arrow wit" 11 Jt'ctiollt'd S"llji and a triangular point. as found at Cerros
Pimados or at Cerro Mono. These ideographic signs are closely linked to open or Aat spaces,
characreristic of the desert landscape.
Zoomorp";c jigUrt'l incl ude camelids in pairs or in lines. figures of felines. birds of
lakes, sea or land, such as flamingos. seagulls, eagles, rhe:ls. serpents. toads, li7 .. ards. foxes,
dogs. monkeys and fishes, especiall y open-sea species like dolphins or sharks. The piClures
L. Bn onrs
Pig"rr 4. G ~ o g l y p l l /"UI,f lit I", amJfm uf f.ol PimlldOJ. {{}mIlUmt {}f p{}ZO A/moll/t.
demonstrate a famil iarity wi th a vari ed local fauna. linked to facmrs of util ity and signi fi cance.
They can also be interpreted as terriwial markers of human groups from rhe hi ghlands or
lowlands, occupying or travelling through the desen. An imporl ant component for any
interpretation of the geoglyphs is the came/id jigliu (ll ama). often represented in large
numbers in a caravan. There can be from 3-4 up to 80 animals in lines, as can be seen in rhe
gullies of Los Pinrados, Ariquil da. Guatacondo, Cuevitas. Tarapad. Cerros Pinrados. Cerro
Mono, Saronal, Al tO Barranco, Alto Huanill os, etc. In a spectacula r example. a veritable
garl and of llamas advances towards the west, ski rt ing the smooth roll ing hi lls of Ihe dry
gull y known as ' Los Pintados' (Fi gure 4). In the gull y of Ti livichc, a concentration of about
50 animal s is seen heading westward, that is, m the coast, which is 40km away.
Another signifi cant zoomorphic geoglyph is the lizilrd figu re. which may be very large-
up to 50m long. These arc located on rhe slopes of the mountai n ranges, nm only in the
coastal environment bm also in the fOOlhill s, facing the caravan paths rhat lead up ro a pass
or ravi ne, as can be seen at the sites of Cerro Lagano, Yungay Bajo. Cerro Mono, gullies
of Mapocho and Tarapad . Cerro Negro, Cerro Longacho, Ariquil da. Cerro Colorado, ere.
Li1.ards, toads or scrpclHS feature in the Andean worl d-view as di vini ti es which, in rhe
cOlHext of the carava ns, are li nked to riruals around water, and concern (he fe rtili ty of rhe
land in rhe eyes of Ihe f.mning community. The lizards and amphibi:ans, with recognisable
proportions of rhe body and limbs, are alw:ays represented in a 'plan' view from above.
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Groglyphs ofthr lIorth Chi/rIm dtsm
Figurr 5, ofthr UU/a Villi"" commuII' of An'ra.
In general, in rock art and especiall y in geoglyphs, rhe human figure is a great challenge to
conceptualise as an image. Some anthropomorphic geoglyphrare rather schematic, others more
nalllralistic. They are found isolated and combined, in pairs, expressing various ceremonial
connecions, in rows or in ' formations'; they also represent human figures linked to va rious
specifi c activities such as hunting, fishing, traffic. religion, an organisation into a hierarchy
through associated outfits or objects such as bows, harpoons, rans, llamas, staffs, caps, head
adornments, pectorals, etc. There arc scenes of coupl es engaged in obvious sexual actS and
people with arms raised in an ani tude of adoration.
In the far north of (he territory between the vall eys of Lima and Azapa, examples of
geoglyphs made by the additive technique appear to represem human figures that reach an
average length of 50m and whi ch defi ne the LIma Sryle (Figure 5). This rype of figure has
a head with cap in profile, no neck, a full body seen from the front, apparently no arms,
st raight legs and no depicti on of feel. They appear stati c, and are so schematic rhat they arc
almost abstract figures. The idea of not incorporat ing into the design such subtl e elements
as the neck and the ankl es gives the human figure a highl y stylised appearance. AJI these
aesthetic considerations of characrcristics, from our poim of view, make the style unique
and exclusive to rhe coastal sector of Arica. fu a chronological indicator, wc can esmblish its
association with the anthropomorphic designs in decorati on on the pol ychrome pottery of
the ' Gemilar' phase of Arica, between AD 1000- 1400.
/6
L. Briol1fl
Figurr 6. urmf Pimlld"t. ""finiti"" {)f a s,,'" in "" gtog/ypbs of nord",", Cbi/". Comm/1I1t of 1'0t,O Alm{)lIIr.
By comrast, ar the other extreme of rhe Tarapad. region and on the pampa itsclr. one
finds the anthropomorphic figure of mixed technique, that defines the Cerros Pintados Styl e,
equall y interesting for its formal characteri sti cs and links (Figure 6). It has a head with a
forked crest, a body wi th concave sides, fromal , apparentl y withom arms and feet. The most
important diagnostic feature is the form of its body, known in the 'nightshirt' textiles typical
of the period of Local Devel opments (AD 800-1400). They are generally found in pairs or
in lines of up to six, which suggests [he presence of an establi shed order in [he thoroughness
of its design and creation. Their distribution is not limited only to sites dose to Cerros
Pimados, but extends to Cerro Pan de Azucar, Cerro Mono and Soronal, and south of the
ri ver Loa at the sites of Cerro Posada and Chug-Chug. They arc also found in petrogl yphs
at Santa Barbara on the road to the area of San Pedro de Ataeama and nonh-west Argenrina
(Bcrenguer 1996).
The human figure wit h C O ' I C I l V ~ ridn is reAected in the depictions of stepped rhombuses,
memioned earli er. The geoglyphs offer no dearer association, at least from a formal point
of view, than this. The distribution of lhis common feature, in both amhropomorphi c and
gcomeuic form, suggests [he identification of a human group that occupied these spaces of
the Tarapad. desert both physicall y and symbolicall y.
The majori ty of the figures appear to be static. Only the camcl ids, in a line and in profi le,
which form pan of a caravan, in some cases tend to give an impression of movement; and
rhe same is true of some scenes of people and/or animals raki ng part in a ritual dance, as
in the Vall ey of Aupa (Arica) (Fi gure 7). In general, superimpositions are exceptional . Each
fi gure is distinguished within a group of other fi gures, which suggestS that this consti tutes a
. . "
composition or text.
I t is perhaps appropriate here to confirm that the great majority of the fi gures arc perfectl y
visible from the ground and presumably were designed as such, except for in some cases
where rhe orientation is dearl y directed towards rhe space above them, as if they were poi nred
at the sky, the abode of the gods. This COli Id be an all ll sion to messages addressed to deiti es
present in the IJtl11tlllpnccbn, in accordance wirh the Andean view of the world. Al though the
region's rock art does nor display any intention to achi eve drawings in visual perspective, the
possibility does seem to exist in some cases, especially among the gcoglyphs: for example,
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GfOglyplu of rh I.' lIonh Chi/m" dl.'srrl
Fig"" 7. &ogfyph ",lIul oJ i/a"un: I'tI/lry oJ AMptl. { O l l " ' " " ' ~ oJAriftl.
the figures of ci rcles have designs that differ slightly from each other, depending on one's
location and observ;uion point.
Local histories
Having introduced the basi c vocabulary of the geoglyphs, it is now possible ro establi sh
some correlation between the for ms, their chronology and thei r distributions. For the rime
being it is very difficult ro establish a chronological sequence; however, from the evidence
of the use of the ll ama caT:lvan and the great populariry of the geoglyphs, it is probable that
geoglyph construction began in the Late Formative Period (Briones t'f nl. in press), reaching
a climax during rhe period of Regional Developmenrs (c. AD 1000-1450), weakening in
the Late Period, and then disappearing in the COil tact Period (AD 1540-1550). After that
ti me, there were only sporadic creations of hismric geoglyphs such as crosses, stat ions of the
cross and church rowers.
Regional variations in groglyph investment reveal a number of different local histories
(refer to Figure I). What stands OUI in the Arirfl region is the tOtal absence of geomet ric
geoglyphs. The zoomorphic motifs include fi gures of eagle, heron, camel id, monkey and
fel ine and arc linked IQ the anrhropomorphs through excl usive use of the additive technique.
This unusual pattern of subject and technique is reinforced by the amhropomorphic
geoglyphs that define the ' Uuta style' and probably derives from rhe Airiplano or the
Amazon. The late nature of this style is confirmed by the simil arity it displays to the
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L. B r i o 1 / ~
decorarion of ceramics and textiles in the Arica Culture (Santoro & Dauelsberg 1985;
Mufioz 1981; Mufioz & Briones 1996).
The zone of [he gullies of SlI ca, Chi za, Camarones and Tiliviche is a relatively narrow strip
bounded by [he gully of Cnmarones, crearing a natural obstacle that was difficult to cross. ...c
Here the most representative figure. unique for the region, is a geometric figure described ~
as a dol/ bb-outline square. The predomi nant feature is m be seen in [he funct ional nature . ,
of the square figure, and whi ch we interpret as a ' ri tual corral'. The double omline has a d!
filling of fi ner gravel , in accordance wi th the Inca (or immediately pre-I nca) construction
parrern, in which the wall s are made with a double course of smnes, infilled with small
stones and mud. Within the sphere of regional archaeology, the gull y of Camarones is well
known, and represents an intense human occupation of fish-gatherers and farmers from the
Archai c Period to the present, that is, over more than 12000 years. The interrelationshi p
with human groups from the highl ands was always important, even duri ng the twentieth
cenmry, when vall ey far mers reached the coastal sector, wi th their animals, in search of
natural ferti li sers derived from birds or seals.
The Tarapaca region covers an area estimated at 200 000 sq km, from the gully ofCamifia
in the norrh to the middle and lower River Loa in the south. Together with the greatest
variery of geoglyphs one finds here a large number of si tes located in valleys, pampas, oases,
woodland, salt Rats, mountains and coastal cordillera. It is here that we fi nd the greatest
nerwork of prehistoric paths that cross rhe desert to all the cardinal points. The stepped
rhombus figure, already described and defined above, in terms of itS layom, its links and
possible functions, is the best exponent of the style that we call 'Tarapaquefio', seen at the
si res of Santa Rosira, Cerros Pintados, Yungay Bajo, Cerro Mono, etc.
The Toeo region has a lower density of geoglyphs and is located close m the river Loa,
from its middle course to its mouth. The most abundant motifs are characterised by a mixed
technique creating 'spotted' figures that are defined as abstract (they are somerimes confused
with other 'spotted' figures which are the remains of recem road cons(fuction). This region
can also be considered transi tional through the presence of the stepped rhombus moti f that
is found on [he tradi tional route thar connects rhe Middle Loa and San Pedro de Aracama
with [he Pampa del Tamarugal. The sires of Chug-Chug, Cerro Posada, Tranque Sloman
and others mark transversal roads, with Quillagua as their central point of convergence
(Figure 8).
The Highland Secror (on the east side of Figure I), with alritudes above 3000m, shows a
sparse presence of geoglyphs, whi ch means rhat it is difficult to define any stylistic pattern
here. However, some sires stand out such as Zapahuira in Arica, and in the middle and upper
sector of the river Loa, with designs of geometric motifs and possible feli ne figures. But mese
are isolated sites with small concentradons offigures, unli ke {hose known in 'lowland' sectors
on the pampa and coast, in the regions of Tarapad and Antofagasta (Berenguer 1996).
Interpretations
The most imporrant effort applied in the second half of the twemiem cenrury to
demonstrating the very existence of the desert geoglyphs, and inrerpreting them, can be
found in the extensive work ofNufiez (1976). He related them to the routes that the ll ama
19
Gtoglyphs oflht 1I0nh Chi/m1l dtstrl
Figu,r 8. Groglyphs ofl/,r hill ofClmg-Chug. rommunr of M/rill Enla.
c.1ravans had followed in the desen , as they maintained their constanr traffi c benveen the
ahiplano, the imermediare oases and the coast. His interpretation, essentially, arrribmed [Q
the geoglyphs in the dcsen zone a function as a roure indicator, in a functional and also
liturgical sense, especiall y in the Late Period. In the zone, the 'shrines' perform
a similar practic.11 role, in addition to their nature as vot ive structures. The geoglyphs,
according to N ufi ez, consti tute essential landmarks from the days when the caravans travelled
from the highlands to the coast. He also points om that the techni que, the repetition of
themes and the geographi cal disrribmion all give the geoglyphs a cultural uni ty.
Reinhard ( 1983) was inclined [Q believe in a relationshi p between the geoglyphs and the
generali sed cuh of mountains, which played an impon ant rol e in the beliefs of the Andean
world; bur, up [Q now, he has not proved any specifi c rel at ionshi p between the cult of sacred
hills and geoglyphs as complex as those known in our area. Bes ides, hi s conj ectures are in
cont radi ction wi th the presence of geoglyphs which are not associated with either hills or
water sources, but whi ch are [inked to specifi c routes crossing the Chi lean desert. Binmann
( 1985), in her inrerprerari on, SUppOrlS the idea that these geogl yphs arc heavil y charged
with ideology, the anthropomorphic fi gures being recognised as deities of Tiwanaku, Nazca
or Cuzco. Chacama & Espinosa (1997) PUt forward an iconographic model based on local
ant ecedents in the petroglyphs and geoglyphs of Tarapad.. According [Q them, Andean
diviniti es and myths complement images present in rock an , reconstructing a symboli c
roUle from the Great L1ke to the Pacifi c coast. These icons include the big human with
walking sti cks, of which rhe example with the greatest symbol ic weight is the ' man' ofCerro
Unita (Fi gure 9).
When one incorpor:ucs Lite new sciemifi c evidence thal has emerged from the last
decade's explorations and systematisation. it becomes possible to confirm the relati onship
20
L Brio"ti
between geoglyphs. routes and the move-
ment of complementary goods. Quite
rapidly. once again in agreement with
Nunc"/., we came to believe lhal (he system
of geoglyphs under study would have to
be pushed back in time to the Middle
Period, when the caravan traffi c was ex-
tremel y intensive. Briones et al. (1999),
using ethnographic evidence, proposed a
strong rel:lIionshi p berween these reticulated
geoglyphs and 'symbolic chamu' used, for
example, in the ritual of the cross of May
in the locality of Huasquina, in the in-
teri or of l a rap ad.. They have been assigned
to a category of depicti on of agri culrural
rites linked to the exploitation of the land-
scape, natural resources and pilgrimages,
in spaces that were speciall y suited 10 the
religious scene; these were later brought up-
ro-dare by the Christian fai th as an example
of syncretism. What today represents indi-
Figurr 9. Groglyph"f Urn> Unila, t"mmuur "f Pew vidual clmcrllJ, very close to (he system
Aim""" . of private propeny that emerged from the
sixteenth century onwards, were previously collective ChllCTIlS in the system of community
or Ily'ltl (Fi gure 10).
/'igurr J O. CtOf.fyph with a 'dmmt" II/rili[ AI,,, 7;IrIIp"td North, romll/uur of I'ow AIII/Olllt.
21
of rhr norrh Chi/ran drurr
Other recent studi es (Dial. & Mondaca 1999) looked ill10 a geographical-cultural
interaction of the deserr landscape. specifi cally that ofTarapacl. and the geoglyphs linked [Q
the east. The 'marking' of pampas and slopes in the desert wit h designs and symbols, quite
apart from the speci fi c functions they may have had. involves us in the symbolic categories
of the phenomenon, and the perception of the environment and geographical landscape.
The caravan people, by thei r very nature active and dynami c beings, were also important
agents of the thought, ideology and religion of Andean society; they transformed themselves
into the princi pal activarors of the changes. introductions and modifications in the whole
sphere of material and immaterial culture.
The desert, as landscape and also as ecological environment, taught them how to survive
it and overcome it; they learned and assimil ated the exploitation of the sparse resources it
provided. This different way of seeing and feeling, in terms of what the deserr is, is reAected
in the offerings and rituals of each geoglyph, all the more so when they arc associated
with [he routes that cross the desert towards different destinations with interests that are
likewise different. It is postulated that the geoglyphs are not merel y 'signpost' references,
but also that they consti tute an emblemati c scheme of ethnic and cultural demarcation;
rhey form a component parr of the landscape, and were constructed by different erhnic
groups that symbolically occupied this territory - for example, the characteristic geoglyph
groups in the styles of L1uta and Cerros Pintados. The stepped rhombuses, according to
rhe rheory ofBriones & Chacama (1995), correspond hypothet ically to this idea of an icon
identifYing some speci fi c ethnic group coming from the alriplano, establishing a verirable
circui t inregraring goods and cul tural traditi ons benveen the inhabitanlS of the highlands
and lowlands of this parr of the continent.
Finally, a recent study explains and demonstrates how, in the rransect from Alms de Pica
[Q Alto Barranco, benveen the Andes and the Pacific to the south of Iquique, there is a
series of caravan evcnts in connection with sites that were used before being rendered sacred
through geoglyphs. The occupation, even in the Archaic Period, of 'paskl1nlls' or transitory
campsites at Cerros Pintados, Cerro Pan de Awcar, Cerro Mono, Salar de Soronal and
Aho Barranco, marks the terriwrial possession by men, women and even children, with
their trains of loaded llamas. The occupation reaches a cl imax during the Middle Late
period and the Late Period (AD 800-1500), to which we attribute the great majoriry of
the geoglyphs of the Tarapacl deserr. The absol ute dares obtained from occupati on layers
and bodies uneart hed along this route make it possible [Q associate them with paths,
sires and, hypothetically, the srylistic patterns present in the geoglyphs (Briones et al.
in press).
Conclusion
We can concl ude that the geoglyphs of northern Chile form a long tradition of rock an that
may possibly have lasted until at least as late as the start of the Chri stian era. The presence
of these expressions in the desen is linked to the emergence of agricultural sedentism and
advances in social integration that are beginning w be envisaged in the Cenrral South
Andean macro-region. The precise reasons why certain groups of travell ers who crossed the
Atacama Desert felt the need to mark it, integrate it, recreate it or make it sacred by means
22
L.
of the geoglyphs are likely to remain an enigma. But the associated socio-cultural indicarors
prompt us ro define these manifestations as the product of a long intell ectual process
motivated by the desert landscape and inserted into selected places already been chosen by
their predecessors. In this way the rising caravan activity in periods marked by profound
changes (c. AD 800-1500), achi eved the defini tive consolidation of 'engraving' the pampas
and hills. The geoglyphs, as expressions of the creadviry and thought of prehistori c Andean
humaniry. like orher expressions known in rock art, were not uninvolved in the changes and
the social and political transformations of the indigenous societi es that used and inhabited
the Chilean desert.
From the poi nt of view of the hisrory of art, the ropi c of these geoglyphs, and of Andean
rock an in general, has nor been dealt with eit her globall y or specifi cally, except for a few
superficial commenrs about function and inrerpreration. This is a subject which the aut hor
wishes to explore in more dept h in the future, making the most of the valuable work that has
been carri ed OUt in these last four decades. However, the art ist(s) achi eved the objective they
set themselves of leaving behind a testimony - at least from the viewpoint of our physical
conceptions - of truly monumental works of graphi c art, regardless of their ideologi cal
content and the roles that they played at the time of their use.
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