Archaeological parks

Archaeological parks

In Bolivia the following archaeological parks have different kinds of rock art and are open to visitors:

Calacala, Dept. of Oruro: This site is situated near the village of Calacala, 25 km southeast of the city of Oruro. The guardian of the archaeological park must accompany tourists to open the gate of the fence protecting the rock art site. In a small cave and a rock shelter are paintings in red, white and black, as well as a few engravings. The principal motifs are domesticated camelids (llamas) apart from some felines and a few stylized human figures. SIARB constructed a visitors’ platform in front of the site allowing tourists to view the art without climbing the rock walls. An archaeological survey by Pilar Lima and three other archaeologists in the valley of Calacala revealed a continuous occupation since Preceramic times, including a notable presence of people during the Inca period.

Intinkala and Orkojawira, Copacabana: In front of the village cemetery, two fenced-in areas contain sculptured rocks, possibly dating from Inca times. The larger precinct is called Intinkala (traditional Aymara name for “sun stone”). Another monument popularly known as “Horca del Inca” (Inka gallows), but definitely a place for astronomical observations, is located on Kesanani (Seroqa) mountain, 600 meters south of Copacabana.

Peñas, Dept. of La Paz: Quillqantiji rock art site is located near Peñas village at Wirak`oni hill. It can be visited in a guided tour (ask for the guide María in the parish). Two converging shelters and a concave rock formation were decorated with paintings in different colours (white, red, orange and yellow) in several time periods. Paintings at the site have been divided into three panels: panel 1, the right shelter; panel 2, the left shelter; and panel 3, the small concave formation in the background on the left. We will highlight just a few of the numerous painting groups:

Panel 1 presents most of the paintings. On the right, seven rectangular structures represent a corral. In its interior are camelids, and in one structure curved and interconnected lines. The overall design has been painted in white. The corral on the right with 8 llamas and two circles, the rectangular design on the upper right, as well as 18 camelid figures are red. Two abstract figures are bichrome, painted in red and white colour. Outside the corrals seven rows of lined-up camelids can be seen, one human figure and two abstract representations. The corrals have been represented as seen from above, the only human figure in front view and the camelids in profile. In the two upper left corrals camelids appear upside down, according to a special perspective chosen by the artists. According to the stylistic traits of the paintings we have ascribed this group to the Late Intermediate period (before the arrival of the Incas).

A white mask-like design appears in the centre of panel 1, a human face with appendices above the head and on its sides, superimposed on a red camelid figure. This and other “masks”, as well as representations of serpents (some of them with two or three heads) belong to the Formative period revealing stylistic traits of the style of monumental stonework in the Lake Titicaca region, known as Yaya-Mama tradition in Bolivia and as Pajano in Peru, which frequently bear representations of serpents, human figures, heads or “masks”.

The exceptional importance of Qillqantiji rock art site lies in the representation of camelids in corrals, serpents and masks. It is the first case of Formative rock paintings recorded in the Lake Titicaca region.

Inkamachay and Pumamachay, Dept. of Chuquisaca: A shelter and small cave in the  Serranía de Chataquila. The visitor will have a 32 km drive on Sucre – Ravelo road as far as Chaunaca. From this point you have to walk on a path for about 7 km (2  hours). In 1958 Incamachay was declared a National Monument. More than forty years later, in  2002, the Municipality of Sucre constructed a wall around the rock shelter and a small house for a guardian to control visits to the site. In May 2004, a new phase of the project of an archaeological park began when the Municipality signed an agreement with SIARB to take steps to preserve the rock art of Incamachay and develop the site for tourism. In consequence, SIARB held a training course for the guardian and tourism guides, prepared a new register and photographic recording of the rock art and undertook initial conservation measures.   

The rock shelter of Incamachay is situated at an altitude of 3.510 m. It extends in south-north direction and is orientated towards the west. Its length is 47 m, with a width of 19 m and a height 5.70 m. The wall and the ceiling of the shelter are decorated with paintings in various colours and some engravings; also, on the ground floor there is a cupule (round artificial depression). There are about 150 rock art elements, most being paintings in white, red or in both colours. Sometimes the contour of a white figure was painted in red, or a red figure received a white outline. A few motifs were executed in green, blue, black or pink. Most of the motifs represent human figures, there are a few representations of animals and some geometric or abstract designs. Human figures are stylized and very simple, a dot stands for the head, two raised lines represent the arms. In one case, the figure stands on a sort of “pedestal”. A painting of a small archer with its bow and arrow falls out of this pattern and may belong to a different time period. The geometric and abstract designs consist of crosses (possibly pre-Hispanic symbols), circles and rectangular forms with interior divisions. The visual impact of these paintings is impressive.

The small Pumamachay cave is situated in the immediate surroundings of Incamachay, at a distance of only 150 m and at an altitude of 3580 m, some 70 m above Incamachay.

It extends in a SW-NE direction. The entrance is 2.50 m wide and 4.80 m high.

Maximum height in the interior is about 10 m, the length of the cave is 12.41 m and the width of its corridor only 1.50 m which does not allow large scale tourism. The decoration of the cave falls into two categories: geometric designs (spirals, circular forms  and other lines) and “biomorphs” (animal figures and one anthropomorph). Figure Nª 12 could represent a monkey; it is very similar to a bichrome motif at Incamachay. Figure Nº 17, which unfortunately was chiseled off and no longer exists in the site, has been described by  E. Salinas as a human with a headdress. While at present we do not have clues as to the age of Incamachay rock art, we are more fortunate in the case of the drawings in Pumamachay. An approximate dating is possible based on comparison with ceramic motifs. Edmundo Salinas (2000) noted a surprising similarity between a motif in Pumamachay and a black element painted on a vessel of the Huruquilla culture and believes that the rock art of the cave could have a maximum age of 1.000 years. Huruquilla ceramics are characterized by intricate decorations which consist of geometric designs (spiral compounds, circular and oval forms, triangles and crosses).

Samaipata, Dept. of Santa Cruz: An enormous sculptured rock, called El Fuerte, is situated 5 km from Samaipata. Its numerous engravings, niches, channels, etc. can be observed from a boardwalk which has been constructed round the rock. Remains of pre-Inca, Inca and Colonial buildings are also found at the site which has been declared World Heritage by UNESCO.

Paja Colorada, Dept. of Santa Cruz: Paja Colorada Cave is situated in Moro Moro municipality, Vallegrande province, department of Santa Cruz. It is considered one of the most significant rock art sites in Bolivia.  The cave may be visited in a guided tour from the village La Laja. The excursion will take about three hours.

The cave is situated at an altitude of 2165 m. It is protected by fencing so that it can only be visited accompanied by an authorized guide.

Some 130 paintings and engravings are located on 5 panels (east wall, north wall, west wall, floor and ceiling). Most of the motifs are painted (monochrome, bichrome designs, negative paintings). The artists used red and white colour, in some cases yellow, a Christian cross was painted in black in Colonial times. Analysis of pigments by Canadian experts proved that the paintings were elaborated from natural minerals such as hematite and kaolinite. Some engravings are found on the back wall. There are also five cupules (artificial round depressions) on the floor. You can still discern traces of red colour in one of them.

Archaeologists partially excavated the cave and found remains of hearths, AMS dating of charcoal yielded dates with a range of AD 250 – 900. However, the investigators believe that the sequence of rock art started much earlier. The first phase of paintings consists of the negative hand prints and other negative designs. Similar motifs in Patagonia, Argentina, were first produced more than 9.000 years ago, the practice continued until the fourth millennium BC. On the other hand, rock art in Paja Colorada cave was executed in six different phases in prehistoric times and up to the Spanish Colony. This must have been a sacred place for the indigenous population. ?

We ask the visitors to keep in mind that rock art is a very fragile cultural heritage whose survival is threatened by natural elements, but frequently much more by careless visitors. Due to the limited space in Paja Colorada cave, only three visitors and the guide may enter the site at the same time. You can enjoy the rock art observing it from a safe distance. Do not touch the cave walls.