Between the river and the Pampa: a contextual approach to the rock art of the Nasca Valley (Grande River System, Department of Ica, Peru)



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



This dissertation applies the contextual approach, as outlined by Patrick Carmichael, to the rock art of the Nasca Valley (Grande River System, Department of Ica, Peru). This approach uses different sources of information so as to construct a basic, indigenous framework within which to view and interpret the subject matter of an art object for which there is no written information due to its age. In this dissertation, I used information about the local environment and archaeology, as well as the art historical methods of formal and iconographic analyses. Comparative information was provided through ethnographic analogy to Andean myths and practices. Data for this study was gathered in a rock art survey that was carried out during the spring of 2000. This survey covered the lower part of the Nasca valley, downriver from the site of Cahuachi and southwest from the Nasca Pampa, site of the greatest concentration of geoglyphs in the south coast. Information about the location, orientation, and the relationship to archaeological and natural features, gathered in the survey, are examined in order to provide informed hypotheses about Nasca Valley rock art's function and use. The study reveals that rock art sites may have marked points of transition in the natural and cultural landscape. A concern for water is also suggested by the location and orientation of the rock art, and petroglyphs that display evidence of liquid pouring may also relate to local water sources. Using a study of form and iconography, rock art motifs in the Grande River System are separated into types and groups according to similarities to datable, portable art and to geoglyphs, providing a tentative time frame for their making. In the Nasca Valley, one period of petroglyph making activity is contemporary to Paracas Cavernas and another dates to the Early Intermediate Period (Nasca). On the upper valleys such as Palpa, Aja, and Santa Cruz, petroglyph-making activity seems to be largely associated to Paracas Necropolis and there does not seem to be Nasca rock art at those locations. With this contextual information at hand, I provide a re-evaluation of the Nasca Mythical Killer Whale motif, which is depicted in two Nasca Valley rock art sites. I propose using a new name for this motif: The Aquatic Composite Being. The location and iconography of this motif's petroglyphs provide additional information that contributes to our understanding of the meaning of this motif in Nasca art.