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Dances with Zigzags in Toro Muerto, Peru: Geometric Petroglyphs as (Possible) Embodiments of Songs

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 April 2024

Andrzej Rozwadowski
Faculty of Archaeology Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań ul. Uniwersytetu Poznańskiego 7 61-614 Poznań Poland & Rock Art Research Institute School of Geography, Archaeology and Environmental Studies University of the Witwatersrand South Africa Email:
Janusz Z. Wołoszyn
Faculty of Archaeology University of Warsaw ul. Krakowskie Przedmieście 26/28 00-927 Warsaw Poland Email:
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Southern Peru is home to one of the richest sites with rock art in South America—Toro Muerto. A unique aspect of the iconography of the petroglyphs of the site is the figures of dancing humans, the so-called danzantes, which are additionally frequently associated with geometric motifs, mostly variants of zigzag lines. Drawing upon intriguing data recorded during Reichel-Dolmatoff's research in Colombia related to the meaning of analogous motifs in Tukano art, as well as broader exploration of the sonic sphere in South American cultures and the thesis that Amazonian animism was a more archaic ontology over a broader area of South America, this paper suggests that the geometric patterns at Toro Muerto, with which the figures of danzantes are juxtaposed, may have been representations of songs. An extension of this hypothesis is the suggestion that some of the more complex compositions consisting of danzantes and linear geometric motifs were graphic metaphors of transfer to the other world.

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Abstract or otherwise geometric motifs have always been among the most puzzling aspects of rock-art iconography. They have been created in virtually every corner of the world and in every period, from the Palaeolithic in Europe (Clottes Reference Clottes2008) through other periods (Namono Reference Namono2011; Orton Reference Orton2013) to recent times, for example in Australia (Spencer & Gillen Reference Spencer and Gillen1899). Images possessing their direct referent in the real world admittedly may ultimately also feature a great complexity of semantic associations, but at least on the first interpretative level it can be said that they are a representation of that object (to refer, for example, to the image of the eland in South African rock art, whose real-life referent is the antelope, which, however, in San culture accumulates a very complex symbolism—Lewis-Williams Reference Lewis-Williams1981; Reference Lewis-Williams and Helskog2001). With geometric motifs, their form itself does not directly ‘hint at’ such referents. Hence the significant diversity in their interpretations, some of which oscillate around the assumption that the geometrics are schematic representations of real objects (things or elements of the landscape), and others, by far the greater number, assuming that they connote exclusively abstract content, more complex and ambiguous.

Many specific interpretative proposals of this category of rock-art imagery have appeared over the years, and it would be impossible to list them all here. Suggestions include mythical ideas, a system of counting (Layton Reference Layton1985, 451), a kind of alphabet, expression of male-female ‘grammar’ (Leroi-Gourhan Reference Leroi-Gourhan1968), vision-induced percepts (Lewis-Williams & Dowson Reference Lewis-Williams and Dowson1988), signs of individual or group identity (Morris Reference Morris1988, 115) or phenomena with more sophisticated symbolic connotations, such as the spiral as a representation of a vortex leading to another world (Whitley Reference Whitley and Turpin1994, 17–19). Each time, interpretation of such motifs is conditioned by the art's specific context, sometimes suggested by the ethnography, sometimes being the result of applying both informed and formal methods (Taçon & Chippindale Reference Chippindale and Taçon1998). Ethnographic knowledge can also ultimately revise the assumption that we are dealing with phenomena that have no equivalent in material culture. A very good example comes from South Africa, where Hollmann (Reference Hollmann2014; Reference Hollmann2017) demonstrated that at least some of the geometric/non-representational images at the Gestoptefontein-Driekuil Complex in North West Province depict decorative designs applied to the body, clothing, or bags.

The wealth of ethnographic knowledge can thus contribute significantly to clarifying the essence of the given rock-art motifs, and can constitute a kind of reservoir of possible worlds, i.e. such meanings of rock art that have occurred in human culture through history and that may be considered in interpretation proposals. With this study, we wish to expand this set of possible interpretations of abstract motifs in rock art, showing a hitherto little-recognized possibility of reading their meaning and function, namely demonstrating that they may also have been verbal-sonic representations. The sonic aspect of rock art has indeed been frequently commented on recently, but almost solely in relation to the acoustic properties of rocks, caves, or the landscape in general (Díaz-Andreu & Mattioli Reference David and McNiven2018—rich literature there), or the act itself of making petroglyphs (Rifkin Reference Rifkin2009). An exception to this is the study of San rock paintings in the Western Cape in South Africa, in which Parkington and Paterson (Reference Parkington and Paterson2017) argue that undulations and zigzags associated with elephants may depict sounds produced by these animals. Interesting conclusions have also recently been reached by Boyd and Busby (Reference Boyd and Busby2022), according to whom dots or lines emerging from or entering into the open mouths of anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figures in Lower Pecos River rock paintings denote speech and breath. Significantly, Boyd and Busby (Reference Boyd and Busby2022, 29–30) make references to different examples of Mesoamerican iconography (Maya, Mixtec and Nahua codices) where such dots or lines (also spiral-shaped) possibly depict songs in visual form. These interesting examples refer to motifs which are directly associated with the mouths of humans or animals, and may be regarded as visualizations of audible phenomena. We propose something different. In our study we show that some geometric images could have been representations or embodiments of songs themselves, in their own right, independent of any depictions of mouths or bodies. We base this study on the case of the petroglyphs at Toro Muerto in Peru, while the source of our interpretative proposal is ethnographic knowledge, more precisely an ethnographic analogy from Amazonia, specifically the art of the Tukano (Tucano) people. We begin by defining the structure of the iconography of rock art and then try to read this structure from the perspective of Reichel-Dolmatoff's research on Tukano iconography. At the same time, we pay attention to new research on Amazonian ontologies that demonstrates the particular importance of the sonic sphere in Amazonian being-in-the-world (Brabec de Mori 2013; Descola Reference Descola2013; Hugh-Jones Reference Hugh-Jones2017; Townsley Reference Townsley1993; Viveiros de Castro 1998; Reference Viveiros de Castro2007; Reference Viveiros de Castro2012).

Toro Muerto

Toro Muerto is one of the largest complexes of rock art in South America. The site is a desert gorge flanked to the east and west by hills and descending into the fertile Majes River Valley (see Figure 1), about 100 km (160 km by road) from the city of Arequipa. Its central area, covering around 10 sq. km, is strewn with thousands of volcanic boulders, with about 2600 boulders bearing surviving petroglyphs. The boulders include relatively small stones, ‘decorated’ with single motifs, and boulders weighing many tons, bearing dozens of diverse images on their surfaces. Interestingly, there are also cemeteries in close vicinity to this main concentration of petroglyphs, which may provide some insights, as we will show next, into the meaning of the petroglyphs.

Figure 1. Toro Muerto. Red points indicate boulders with danzantes, yellow points mark boulders on which danzantes are not engraved, and green point indicates the location of the TM 1219 boulder. (Map: J.Z. Wołoszyn.)

Despite the significance of this complex for the region's archaeology, Toro Muerto has been investigated rather irregularly and superficially in the past decades, while interpretations regarding the dating, function and significance of the site and the images found there have received little consensus (Linares Reference Linares1974; Núñez Reference Núñez1986; van Hoek Reference van Hoek2003). This provided the impulse for us to undertake new research, which since 2015 we have been conducting through Polish–Peruvian collaboration. The works included a detailed geodetic and iconographic documentation of the entire site, as well as the first excavations at some of the boulders (Wołoszyn et al. Reference Wołoszyn, Gonzales and Rozwadowski2019; Reference Wołoszyn, Gonzales and Rozwadowski2020).

However, Toro Muerto is intriguing due not only to its size and the number of ‘decorated’ boulders, but also because of the uniqueness of its petroglyphs. In the most general of terms, they are geometric and zoo- and anthropomorphic motifs, but there is something special in this traditional classification. It concerns an almost overwhelming repetition of images of dancing human figures (known as danzantes), unique in the region, and an extraordinary accumulation of geometric patterns, most often in the form of vertical zigzag, straight and sinuous lines varying in width, sometimes with accompanying dots or circles. Significantly, the danzantes are very often juxtaposed with the geometric designs, often individually but also with their more complex arrangements. This aspect of the iconography of Toro Muerto's rock art can hardly be considered incidental; perhaps it even constitutes the key to understanding the meaning and function of some of the petroglyphs in Toro Muerto.

The essence of this predominant association of anthropomorphic figures and geometric patterns, however, has not yet been determined. Drawing on analogies from other Peruvian sites and the US Southwest, it has been suggested, for example, that the zigzags associated with the dancing figures may symbolize snakes or lightning, and—considering the place's desert nature—could be related to torrential rains, fertility or water cults (Guffroy Reference Guffroy1999). Zigzags as independent motifs, on the other hand, have been identified with representations of valleys, rivers, irrigation canals, roads or trade routes (Linares Reference Linares1990; Reference Linares1999), and the associated dots or circles with apachetas (stone cairns) placed along the traffic trails (van Hoek Reference van Hoek2003). In this regard, it was pointed out that in the vicinity of Toro Muerto, at least from colonial times until the first half of the twentieth century, there was an important trade route for caravans (first of llamas, later of mules) used to exchange goods between the mountain area and the Pacific coast. In the context of our proposal, which is presented below, it is worth noting that Antonio Núñez (Reference Núñez1986, 338, 361, 368), Cuban ambassador to Peru and one of the most important early researchers of Toro Muerto, suggested that some of the geometric motifs he observed at this site (zigzags, straight lines, points) represent ‘musical or dance signs’ (signos musicales o danzarios), or ‘sound communication’. At the same time, he described the straight and zigzag lines marked under the eyes of some danzantes as ‘weeping rain’. However, none of these hypotheses—which, moreover, usually took the form of peripheral observations or intuitions—have ever been further developed, and none convincingly explained the specifics of this iconographic configuration.

Method: ethnography and time depth

To lend greater methodological precision to our proposal, we must first refer to the age of the Toro Muerto petroglyphs. Although the site may have been used by various local and supraregional groups up to historical times, which is evidenced by the archaeological material (primarily pottery fragments) present at the site and at nearby pre-Columbian cemeteries of various periods, the repeatability of the juxtaposition we are interested in, its monothematic character and stylistic coherence, favours the conclusion that at least these particular petroglyphs were created within a relatively brief period by representatives of a single cultural tradition. Rock art at Toro Muerto is also rich in depictions of animals, such as birds, snakes, Andean camelids and felines, which belong to the same petroglyphic context as danzantes and geometric designs, and—most importantly—a significant portion of these motifs, sometimes identical in form, appear in miniature version of a few centimetre depictions on several artifacts made of organic material. We are referring to the engraved canes, first published by Haeberli (Reference Haeberli2001, figs 8–10) (Fig. 2). According to this author, these artifacts came from unknown burial contexts looted by grave robbers at the La Chimba cemetery located in the neighbouring Sihuas Valley. One of them was radiocarbon-dated to 2102±45 bp (R 26167/2; 183–50 bc, 68.3% hpd; 364–315 bc and 206 bcad 1, 95.4% hpd), demarcating the most probable ‘moment’ of creation of the danzantes in Toro Muerto (Haeberli Reference Haeberli2001, 91). Taking into account also other iconographic analogies—present on pyro-engraved gourd fragment and the fabrics of the culture, which Haeberli defined in his article as Siguas 1—the potential temporal brackets for the creation of these motifs should be linked to the end of the Early Horizon (900–100 bc) and beginning of the Early Intermediate Period (100 bcad 600).

Figure 2. The top register of one of the engraved canes published by Haeberli (2001, fig. 8a) showing three danzantes, a sequence of undulating lines, dots and double/triple bar symbols. Private collection. 9.4 cm high. (Drawing: J.Z. Wołoszyn.)

The petroglyphs of interest therefore most probably date from not more than around 2000 years ago, for which—for obvious reasons—there is no ethnographic-historical context. As Taçon and Chippindale (Reference Chippindale and Taçon1998) point out, the priority in interpreting such art should be formal analysis, i.e. concerning the images themselves, their mutual relationships, their place in the landscape, and other relations in regard to any available archaeological context, or the very act of their creation (Jones & Díaz-Guardamino Reference Jones, Díaz-Guardamino, David and McNiven2018). Formal analysis is the stage of analysis that is genuinely able to demonstrate specific regularities in the iconography, but as Lewis-Williams (Reference Lewis-Williams1972; Reference Lewis-Williams1974) showed long ago, and supported by subsequent studies both in South Africa (Lewis-Williams & Challis Reference Lewis-Williams and Challis2011; Lewis-Williams & Loubser Reference Lewis-Williams and Loubser1986; Lewis-Williams et al. Reference Lewis-Williams, Pearce, Witelson and Challis2021) and elsewhere (Francis & Loendorf Reference Francis and Loendorf2002; Rozwadowski Reference Rozwadowski2017a; Schaafsma Reference Schaafsma1985), it is difficult on this basis alone to move on to semantic issues. The latter must be inspired by something, and ethnography or ethnohistorical knowledge in general often prove helpful.

Using ethnographic knowledge and analogies in explication of rock art has a long and complicated history (Baracchini & Monney Reference Baracchini, Monney, David and McNiven2018). Strongest criticism has always been evoked by reaching for analogies from regions clearly not connected geographically or chronologically with the research material, which at a certain point in history even brought about a kind of methodological impasse. However, more recent conceptualizations of this issue show that, even if researchers do not explicitly employ ethnographic methods, ethnographic or early historical data still often and significantly influence research progress (Blundell et al. Reference Blundell, Chippindale and Smith2010; Keyser et al. Reference Keyser, Poetschat and Taylor2006; Smith et al. Reference Smith, Helskog and Morris2012). In certain cases, it has also turned out that a path towards understanding the rock art of a specific site or region may be to find in it a certain key motif, the unique feature (or its configuration) of which, when correlated with ethnohistorical sources, can offer new insights into the art in question.

The potential of such a strategy has been proven in South Africa (Lewis-Williams Reference Lewis-Williams1980; Reference Lewis-Williams1981; Reference Lewis-Williams, Biesele, Gordon and Lee1987; Reference Lewis-Williams2019), the Great Basin (Whitley Reference Whitley1987; Reference Whitley1992; Reference Whitley2000), or in relation to the Pecos River paintings in Texas (Boyd Reference Boyd1996; Reference Boyd, Chippindale and Taçon1998; Reference Boyd2003; Reference Boyd2016; Hampson Reference Hampson2015), to name but a few of the better-known examples. Ethnographic sources can sometimes contain direct information about rock art (as it happened in, say, South Africa or the Great Basin), while in other cases the art studied may lack such direct insight, as is the case in Texas, where interpretation was based on correlation of the historical cultural context—linked to peyote hunt ritualism—with prehistoric iconography. This last example is particularly interesting, since it shows that using ethnohistory may prove effective even when there is a considerable temporal distance between the art in question and the ethnohistorical sources used. In the case of the Pecos River rock art, this goes back as far as 4000 years.

We propose a similar interpretative strategy for analysing the petroglyphs of Toro Muerto. In terms of iconography, we want to draw attention to the paradigmatic nature of juxtaposing danzantes with geometric motifs, although this—as we have mentioned—does not concern the association of danzantes solely with individual geometrics, but also with more complex structures, in which danzantes (or other human or anthropomorphic figures) are incorporated into more elaborate arrangements of geometric designs. One of them, fixed on the stone numbered TM 1219, is particularly outstanding, and it is the structure of this composition that inspired us to look at Toro Muerto rock art through the prism of ethnographic knowledge. Our initial iconographic clue, therefore, is the association ‘danzantes–geometrics’, the meaning of which, however, we approach not by contemplating what the zigzag itself might have meant, but by attempting to understand the more general relationship between danzantes and geometrics, to which these more complex petroglyphic scenes may be the iconographic key, and Amazonian ethnography the source for reading this key.

Danzantes and geometrics

A danzante is a schematic representation of an anthropomorphic figure (usually 20–30 cm tall, occasionally larger) most often shown in a dynamic pose with one arm raised and the other lowered, on slightly spread legs (sometimes bent at the knees), with the head presented en face or in profile, with a headdress portrayed in the form of a few parallel lines (Fig. 3). The faces of these figures sometimes have clearly marked eyes and other signs (probably facial painting or patterns on a mask, interestingly often also in the form of zigzag lines). Although some danzantes present rather static poses, their identification as dancers seems convincing.

Figure 3. Variety of danzantes in Toro Muerto. (Tracings: Polish-Peruvian research team, compiled by J.Z. Wołoszyn.)

Danzantes do not include features enabling unequivocal identification of their gender, although—comparing them to diverse representations of anthropomorphic beings in the pre-Hispanic Andean cultures, such as Nasca, Moche or Recuay, which are comparable chronologically with the Toro Muerto petroglyphs—they could represent male figures, either depicted naked, or with only their torso uncovered, or wearing a short garment on the upper part of the body and a loincloth. In these cultures’ iconography women were almost always—apart from situations when portrayed naked (during sexual acts or giving birth)—depicted in long robes, covering the knees at least or reaching the ground (Proulx Reference Proulx2006, 122–9; Scher Reference Scher, Gamboa and Lau2022; Wołoszyn Reference Wołoszyn2014; Reference Wołoszyn, Mikulska and Offner2019; Wołoszyn & Piwowar Reference Wołoszyn and Piwowar2015). However, the absence of explicit gendered features of danzantes could be significant for our reading of them through an Amazonian cosmological perspective (see further discussion), where, especially in the Tukano origin myths, the main ‘actors’ are androgynous demiurges and there is no separation between genders (Hugh-Jones Reference Hugh-Jones and Santos-Granero2009, 45–6).

The danzante figure is practically an icon of Toro Muerto rock art. Elsewhere it is to be found in the rock art of the nearby site of Pitis, and exceedingly rarely in other locations. In Toro Muerto itself, depictions of the figure presented in a more or less schematic manner occur with varying frequency almost throughout, apart from the extreme northern sector (Fig. 1). Among the 2584 boulders with petroglyphs that we have documented, clear portrayals of danzantes can be found on 530 rocks (almost 20 per cent), on which the number of their certain depictions reaches about 1500. Most boulders feature one or two such figures, but there are rocks on whose surfaces there are more than 10, and one has approximately 40. Danzantes are found on their own, in pairs, or in larger groups of from three to nine figures.

Among the geometric motifs with which the dancers are associated are vertical zigzags (Fig. 3), sinusoidal and straight (Figs 4 & 5) or—less frequently—crenellated lines (Figs 6 & 7). In the proximity of the dancing figures themselves we also sometimes see the presence of double or triple bar symbols. The most common complement to danzantes, however, are zigzags, and as van Hoek (Reference van Hoek2003, 16) concluded, ‘the zigzag and/or its meaning form the very essence of the “dancer”’ in Toro Muerto. When considering the general issue of the juxtaposition of danzantes and vertical geometric patterns, then in the site as a whole they occur on 309 boulders, i.e. almost 12 per cent. These data are of course approximate, and only serve to provide a quantitative idea of the matter. After all, we do not know how the petroglyphs’ creators conceptualized the landscape, whether for example a single boulder was for them a separate category. Neither can we be certain to what degree today's documentation reflects the original state of the site—some such representations may be on rock surfaces buried under sand, while some have possibly been destroyed. Even if statistically that 12 per cent may seem not very high, when standing at the site it is impossible to avoid the impression that the juxtaposition in question is an important aspect of these petroglyphs, and bears the hallmarks of iconographic redundancy characteristic of cult sites (Renfrew & Bahn Reference Renfrew and Bahn2016, 416).

Figure 4. TM 1309. Danzantes associated with the set of vertical and sinusoidal lines. (Photograph: A. Rozwadowski; drawing: Polish-Peruvian research team.)

Figure 5. TM 1808. Danzantes juxtaposed with vertical and zigzag lines. (Photograph: A. Rozwadowski.)

Figure 6. TM 1255. At this boulder a danzante figure is associated with crenellated designs and straight and wavy lines with dots. (Photograph: A. Rozwadowski.)

Figure 7. TM 1650. At this rock a danzante is part of a complex composition which includes straight, zigzag (also filled with dots) lines, and a crenellated pattern in the centre. (Photograph: A. Rozwadowski.)

The boulder TM 1219

As we have mentioned, in many cases the danzantes are associated in Toro Muerto not only with single geometric designs, but also with their more complex arrangements, consisting of zigzags, sinuous, crenellated and simple vertical lines (Figs 4–7). Among these complex compositions, boulder TM 1219 attracts particular attention. Its iconography—however subjective the judgement—gives the impression of exceptional coherence.

TM 1219 is a massive boulder, with an elaborate arrangement of petroglyphs filling almost the entire surface of its approximately 5 m long face looking southwest (Fig. 8). The uniform colour of the petroglyphs and technique used for making them suggest that the composition was planned, and probably executed within a single creative act (cf. Dobrez Reference Dobrez2016, 150). Petroglyphs are also present on the upper horizontal face of this stone (see Figure 8), but their style and subject matter differ from the images on the vertical face of the boulder, so it is likely that they were not created at the same time (which, of course, does not exclude the possibility that they were somehow related to the ‘main scene’). In general terms, the scene could be described as a juxtaposition of vertical zigzag, lineal and sinusoidal patterns, in the centre of which (not the precisely measured centre, but the impression of being in the centre) is a large danzante figure of almost identical size to the wavy lines accompanying it to either side. On the right side of the ‘scene’ are also depictions of five much smaller danzantes, two birds and five quadrupeds. In terms of utilization of the rock surface, this is a unique composition—no other boulder gives the impression of such a coherent arrangement dominated by linear geometric motifs, of which the danzante, equal in size to it, is an integral part. Hence the suspicion that this stone may have been of special significance in the Toro Muerto rock art.

Figure 8. Boulder TM 1219. (Photograph: A. Rozwadowski; tracing: Polish–Peruvian research team.)

The art of the Tukano: cosmos and songs

The art of the Tukano people of Colombia rainforest gained prominence in archaeology thanks to its being used for constructing a neuropsychological model aiming to explain the origin of abstract imagery in European Palaeolithic cave art (Lewis-Williams & Dowson Reference Lewis-Williams and Dowson1988). Although the hallucinogenic aspect is undoubtedly an important attribute of Tukano art, in our study we draw attention to one of its other facets.

Reichel-Dolmatoff (Reference Reichel-Dolmatoff and Furst1972; Reference Reichel-Dolmatoff1975; Reference Reichel-Dolmatoff1978; Reference Reichel-Dolmatoff1987) demonstrated that the content and origin of the motifs in the art of the Tukano was rooted in visionary experiences evoked by the ritual consumption of the psychoactive drink yajé/yagé (also known as ayahuasca, most often made from Banisteriopsis caapi jungle vine), which formed the basis and guarantee of insight into a world unseeable but known to exist. An important part of his research comprised interviews with local informants, an integral part of which was their graphic recording; the men interviewed drew colourful visions on sheets of paper, which they then explained to the anthropologist.

According to the Tukano these drawings were ‘yajé images’, meaning that they showed patterns they had seen while in a state of narcotic intoxication induced by consuming entheogens. Concentric circles, dots, wavy lines, zigzags and crenellation motifs dominated among them. Structurally, these patterns were presented in bands and sequentially, for example a series of wavy lines followed by a band of zigzags, and then for example a band of dots, followed by crenellations, all of which could be interspersed with bands of circles. A substantial proportion of them had the sequences of bands arranged horizontally, although there were also cases of vertical arrangements (Reichel-Dolmatoff Reference Reichel-Dolmatoff1978, pls V, VIII, X, XXXII, XLII, XLIII) or juxtapositions combining vertical and horizontal bands (Reichel-Dolmatoff Reference Reichel-Dolmatoff1978, pls XVIII, XXI, XXIII, XXIX, XXXVI, XLI). Since the drawings’ descriptions do not suggest that the patterns’ orientation was of special significance for their authors, we wish to draw attention primarily to their banded structure (Fig. 9).

Figure 9. Redrawing of examples of Tukano drawings (originally in blue, yellow and red), which refer to songs as well as mythological ideas. Both topics have often been represented in banded structures. (A, originally presented horizontally) double crenellated motif (in blue and yellow) is the Snake-Canoe, the central double zigzag pattern (red) also represents a snake, and concentric circles stand for suns. All the images were heard as a song; (B) this drawing was explained as a vision of flowers, songs, and fertilizing power of the Sun-Father; (C, originally presented horizontally) zigzag patterns (in red, blue and yellow) represent Snake-Canoe containing the essence of fertility (rings). (A, B, C: fragments of pls IV, XXIV and XXXI respectively in Reichel-Dolmatoff Reference Reichel-Dolmatoff1978. Drawing: A. Rozwadowski.)

The meaning of the scenes drawn by the Tukano referred to the myth of the beginning, to stories of creation of the world and specific entities, when the primordial spirit-gods (like Snake-Canoe) gave people instructions concerning the organization of earthly life. These were topics the Tukano regularly returned to during rituals, which implied dances and songs sung to the accompaniment of musical instruments. A ritual for them meant transferring to the time of the beginning. Although the Tukano's explanations suggested that the patterns they saw and reproduced were polysemic, some featured a more consistent and limited scope of connotations. One such motif was the double crenellation, of particular interest to us since it also constitutes an important component of the scene on boulder TM 1219 (Figs 8, 9A)—if looking at this scene as a kind of narrative, one can even get the impression that this motif ‘starts’ or ‘ends’ the entire composition. The Tukano explained that this figure is representing a Snake-Canoe, a mythical serpent-teacher, but importantly—when juxtaposed with other lines—it was also explained as a representation of cosmic spheres the shaman reached during his visionary journey. It was therefore a motif encompassing a much greater meaning integrating both transfer to the time of creation and the structure of the universe.

Although Reichel-Dolmatoff's research indicated that the images drawn by the Tukano were inspired by hallucinogenic visions, he demonstrated that they also referred to observable phenomena—for example, the spiral motif, symbolizing incest, originated in the imprint left in the sand by the tip of the ritual trumpet made from rolled bark, and the back-to-back double C motif, symbolizing all eligible marriage partners, was inspired by two reed fish traps put back to back as seen from above (Reichel-Dolmatoff Reference Reichel-Dolmatoff1978, 31). The motifs of Tukano art were therefore, to a certain degree, conventionalized, meaning that the forms they drew during the research were already to some extent attributed to forms known from earlier life experiences. Therefore, one cannot exclude that the usage of at least a portion of these images was regulated by predetermined structural-semantic conventions.

With this in mind, let us stress that the crenellation motif has significant territorial scope. It can be found in rock art from western North America to Mesoamerica (Hedges Reference Hedges and Turpin1994; Loendorf & Loendorf Reference Loendorf and Loendorf1995). Wright and Russell (Reference Wright and Russell2011) suggested that in this vast territory it may have symbolized the tiered cosmos and the cosmic axis binding it, and could therefore be linked to the belief that during a ritual there is a transgression of individual cosmic spheres. In proposing such interpretation, they referred to research by Carolyn Boyd (Reference Boyd1996), who was probably the first to suggest competently such interpretation of this motif through the lens of the iconographic traditions of Central American cultures (later exploring this theme further: Boyd Reference Boyd2003; Reference Boyd2016). Such interpretation of crenellations—often also referred to as pipette designs (Whitley Reference Whitley and Turpin1994)—is therefore consistent with the meaning ascribed to this motif by the Tukano. Crucially, this idea was developed further by the Tukano with the help of other motifs juxtaposed with the double crenellation, because of which compositions intriguingly similar to that on boulder TM 1219 emerged.

This complementing of the key motif with additional geometric designs was an important aspect of construing the content and context. Among the polysemic interpretations of these patterns, Reichel-Dolmatoff (Reference Reichel-Dolmatoff1978) noted such explanations as ‘thoughts of persons after taking yajé’, ‘mankind’, ‘life-giving fertilising energy’, or ‘multiplying power’. However, one explanation often repeated proved particularly intriguing. Namely, the Tukano saw in them the representations of songs (Reichel-Dolmatoff Reference Reichel-Dolmatoff1978, 56, 68, 74, 76, 78, 84, 92, 96, 98, 106, 116, 118, 128, 130) which were an integral part of the ritual, having also agentive power, and constituting a medium for transfer to the mythical time of the beginning. These abstract patterns therefore illustrated a graphically elusive sphere of culture: singing and songs. Bearing in mind the universality of this motif in the iconography of pre-Columbian America, we cannot exclude the fact that in this case, too, the construction of this motif may have been a matter of convention, and the representation of an idea known more broadly and earlier—that is, not a one-off interpretation proposed by Reichel-Dolmatoff's informants.

TM 1219: cosmological narrative?

The observations outlined above have intriguing potential for attempting to understand the logic of the juxtaposition ‘humans–geometrics’ at Toro Muerto. The scene on boulder TM 1219 indeed presents surprising similarities to the Tukano drawings, in terms not only of individual motifs but also their arrangement. Remarkably, this similarity applies not to a single drawing made by Tukano during Reichel-Dolmatoff's research, but to the entire set of drawings created during this study. We therefore base our attempt towards a semantic interpretation of this composition through the lens of Amazonian art on the reoccurrence of motifs and the repetition of meanings the Tukano attributed to these images.

Considering the range of meanings of the different motifs, and the way in which meanings are constructed, it seems possible to hypothesize that the scene in question encodes cosmological content with the entire set of activities and phenomena related to access to this content, i.e. access to the cosmos. The logical conjecture to follow this is that the central danzante surrounded by wavy lines is actually ‘surrounded’ by songs, which—embodying energy and power simultaneously—were the source of transfer to another world (some Tukano drawings also show humans who are separated by folded lines or surrounded by curlicues, which were explained as representations of songs—respectively plates XIII and XL in Reichel-Dolmatoff Reference Reichel-Dolmatoff1978). The size of this human, equal to that of the accompanying geometrics, could consequently be seen as an expression of its union with this other world, to which a person was transferred by the songs.

As a whole, the TM 1219 scene could therefore have been a visualization of a visionary journey, a transfer to another world—to the time of creation, or an ‘illustration’ of the myth of the beginning. It does not necessarily depict a specific mythical event, but an evocation or reminder of that moment or time, via graphic metaphors of contact with that world and of being in it. The hypothesis that we are dealing here with the visualization of the myth of beginning could be seen by some as westernized, especially if we recall Viveiros de Castro (Reference Viveiros de Castro2007), who argues that origin myths are more a feature of the Western mythological perception of the world; that in indigenous Amazonian ontologies the focus is on the idea of transformation and transfiguration rather than on creation ex nihilo. However, Hugh-Jones (Reference Hugh-Jones and Santos-Granero2009), who addresses Viveiros de Castro's position, shows that there are exceptions to this, and that Tukano mythology is one such exception. Some Tukano myths are indeed about creation from nothing, about gods who bring the world and its contents to life through their thoughts (Hugh-Jones Reference Hugh-Jones and Santos-Granero2009, 36). Viveiros de Castro's perspectivism, however, does not seem entirely contradictory in this regard, because the scene could also be seen, to use his words, as a graphic channel to ‘a state of being where bodies and names, souls and affects, the I and the Other interpenetrate, submerged in the same pre-subjective and pre-objective milieu’ (Viveiros de Castro 1998, 483).

This contact with the other world or the primordial time was temporal, since on each occasion it was achieved during a ritual (perhaps supported by hallucinogens sharpening the senses, including hearing). Given the uniqueness of this composition, it could have held a kind of instructional or memorizing function at Toro Muerto—after all, there is sufficient space in front of it for a large group to assemble (Fig. 10). Ethnographic observations from other parts of the world confirm at the same time that individual panels may indeed have held special significance within a single complex of petroglyphs (Ross & Davidson Reference Ross and Davidson2006). Bearing in mind the possible sonic dimension of this scene, it could have been a kind of multisensory guide to discovering and exploring this other world, in which looking and seeing could have been integrated with other feelings and actions, such as listening or performing specific songs or dances. If the double crenellation opening or closing this composition really did symbolize the cosmos, or its spheres—as in the Tukano art and the other traditions cited—then it would be an important or even crucial component of the entire scene. After all, the cosmos constituted the space that the shaman explored in his visionary journey, while the wavy and zigzag lines could have been visualizations both of the songs taking him to that parallel reality as well as the sensation of being in that other world.

Figure 10. Boulder TM 1219 in wider landscape perspective. (Photograph: A. Rozwadowski.)

In the case of Amazonian cultures, the non-visual aspect of being in the world is indeed exceptionally important (Brabec de Mori 2013; Sullivan Reference Sullivan1990, 431–40). Sound itself is a medium opening the way to the cosmos (Hugh-Jones Reference Hugh-Jones2017, 42), and song the shamanic path leading to it (Townsley Reference Townsley1993). Some shamans were called masters of songs who were able to see sounds (Sullivan Reference Sullivan1990, 436–7). Petroglyphs depicting dancing humans should therefore be a logical complement to the kind of ‘detached-from-time’ narrative encoded in this scene, as confirmation that the ritual, of which dance and song are immanent components, transfers one to that realm. The relation between myth, ritual and song/dance may of course be complex, but as various studies on forager societies have shown (Lewis-Williams & Loubser Reference Lewis-Williams and Loubser1986; Townsley Reference Townsley1993; Sekaquaptew & Washburn Reference Sekaquaptew and Washburn2004), when combined they constitute a coherent whole, the core of which is cosmological knowledge expressed through metaphors that permeate each of the cultural spheres.

It is also worth noting that the feet of the central danzante on boulder TM 1219 are not fully human (they have three toes), indicating that in this case we may be dealing with the representation of a ‘mythological’ or, following Viveiros de Castro's (1998, 471) concept of cosmological transformism, a human/non-human subject with human and non-human attributes. Furthermore, the ‘equivalence’ in size with the surrounding patterns probably indicates its essential importance. In Amazonian cosmogonies there is frequent mention of ‘first beings’ from the time of the beginning, and they are ascribed crucial creational significance. In the myths of the Tukano these are the Sun-Father and Yajé-Woman, the latter described as a human–plant transmutation giving people the first yajé (Reichel-Dolmatoff Reference Reichel-Dolmatoff1978, 1–6). Intriguingly, the long ‘staffs’ held by this danzante resemble the rhizomes or lianas of Banisteriopsis caapi (yajé) (Reichel-Dolmatoff Reference Reichel-Dolmatoff1978, fig. 3), palm stems (Hill Reference Hill2011, 11–13) or wild canes Gynerium sagittatum (Reyes-García & Fernández-Llamazares 2019, 463) from which, among other things, flutes were made.

Such key figures in Amazonian cosmogonies are said to be the sources and embodiments of sounds and songs (Wright Reference Wright2015). An interesting analogy in this context stems from a drawing made by Luiz Lana (of the Desana people) depicting the mythical dancer Yuruparí, holding in his right hand a stick as long as he is tall (Umusĩ Pãrõkumu & Tõrãmũ Kẽhíri Reference Umusĩ, Lana, Kẽhíri and Lana1995, 235, fig. 33). Short lines radiate from his figure, constituting an illustration of sounds coming from his body, which simultaneously is the original source of sound (Fig. 11). Barcelos Neto drew attention to a similar simultaneous identification of the body with sound in the iconography of the Amazonian Wauja people (Brazil), writing that with certain images (e.g. a fish), that which is seen is simultaneously heard, while this hearing refers to songs: ‘the same body that is filled with fish is full of songs’ (Barcelos Neto Reference Neto2016, 125). The manifestation of Yuruparí as both sound container and sound-producing being has indeed been noted by many researchers. Hugh-Jones (Reference Hugh-Jones2017, 42), for example, reports that from holes in the Yuruparí body came all the music of Upper Rio Negro. It is therefore possible that at Toro Muerto as well the short lines seeming to emanate from the dancing figures (see Fig. 3) could have symbolized sound, while the dancer may have been not so much the music's performer as its source and embodiment.

Figure 11. Image of Yuruparí shown as a dancer with curlicues of sound emerging from his body. (Drawing: Desana artist Luiz Lana. Redrawn by A. Rozwadowski after Umusĩ Pãrõkumu & Tõrãmũ Kẽhíri 1995, fig. 33.)

Discussion and conclusions

The interpretation we propose is of course hypothetical, but the conclusions it leads to constitute a logically coherent counter-proposal to previous interpretations of some of the Toro Muerto petroglyphs. We suggest that zigzag lines could be representations of songs, which seems particularly intriguing given the repeated juxtaposition of these patterns with the figures of dancers at Toro Muerto, not only in the more complex compositions (Figs 48) but also in the less complex as well. Secondly, our interpretation suggests that the banded structures of geometric patterns could be representations of the cosmos—its spheres and events connected to its creation and its exploration, which could have come about during ritual ceremonies of which dance and song were the quintessence. The associations of danzantes with banded structures of patterns might embody visualization of being in this parallel world, emphasizing its authenticity and invariability. Petroglyphs encoding knowledge of this world could have been a type of canonical message as defined by Rappaport (Reference Rappaport1999).

In addition, if one looks at this situation from the perspective of Amazonian ontology, it may have been not so much about visualization of this other world as about being in it. After all, as Hill (Reference Hill2011, 5) writes when commenting on the ritualism of the Wakuénai, ‘shamanic singing is not a performance about moving or traveling around the cosmos; rather it is a set of journeys away to death and back to life …’. The Amazonian trope may therefore lead one to suspect that the meaning of the Toro Muerto petroglyphs could have been fluid, that it did not have to be about the precise representation of something concrete, but about evoking a certain state simultaneously constituting a transference to the other world. The petroglyphs may have recalled or embodied the dance, song and cosmos in which the dancer immersed him or herself. Therefore, the explanatory potential of the Amazonian analogy is contained in the number of aspects of Toro Muerto iconography that become meaningful in its light, as well as indicating additional spheres of culture that could have been relevant for the entire context of the functioning of this art—that is, the ritual implying dance and song, and the verbal and sonic spheres.

The features of the petroglyphs we indicated above speak in favour of a ritual context, coinciding with Ross & Davidson's (Reference Ross and Davidson2006) conclusions regarding almost universally reoccurring features of rock art created in ritual contexts, namely: conventionalization and stylization of the petroglyphs, their accessibility to potential viewers and the possibility of direct interaction with them, and also the concentration of particular motifs in specific locations. At Toro Muerto, one can distinguish distinct sectors with a higher or lower percentage of specific motifs, and smaller, compact sectors characterized by almost monothematic iconography. The danzantes–zigzags juxtaposition, for example, is represented in particular abundance in the central-western sector of the site. In this relatively small area, home to 125 boulders with petroglyphs, as many as 65 contain images of danzantes. The total of 313 such figures in this sector accounts for almost one quarter of all danzantes at Toro Muerto.

The next conclusion arising from the analysis concerns the issue with which we began. If we accept that the zigzag patterns were representations of songs, then we are actually dealing with representation of the sonic sphere of culture. Apart from the sonic contexts of rock art hitherto suggested, such as landscape, the act of making petroglyphs, or depictions of breath, it seems possible therefore that sound could also have been contained in the iconography, while a petroglyph may have been its embodiment. Viewing specific images and sensory interaction with them could therefore have evoked more complex reactions than just visual (cf. Jones & Díaz-Guardamino Reference Jones, Díaz-Guardamino, David and McNiven2018). Perhaps the petroglyphs were also ‘heard’, evoking sonic associations and memories. They could also have had identity value, since songs were often recognized as the property of specific tribes, smaller groups within them, or even individuals.

What obviously remains a question is whether the Amazonian cultural context (recorded only in the twentieth century) should be perceived as the direct source of this kind of iconography in southern Peru (dated almost 2000 years earlier). The assumption that we are dealing with the transfer of a complete cultural package from across the Andes, implying an analogous cosmological idea and the associated iconography, which was somehow transferred and adapted in the region of the Majes Valley, seems excessively hypothetical. However, the perception of Andean cultures as totally separated from the Amazonian world is being questioned more and more frequently (Wilkinson Reference Wilkinson2018, and it seems that the ‘Andes–Amazonia divide’ that has taken shape in archaeological and anthropological discourse is more an academic construct than a description of a situation actually existing through history (Pearce et al. Reference Pearce, Beresford-Jones and Heggarty2020). In regard to the relations between these areas, researchers point out—among other things—that not only are there evident imports (e.g. remains of plants and animals originating from the Amazon rainforest and found on the coast: Wilkinson Reference Wilkinson2018), but also certain significant similarities in terms of cosmological ideas and themes, probably reaching back to distant times (Hornborg Reference Hornborg, Pearce, Beresford-Jones and Heggarty2020, 61; Quilter Reference Quilter1990). This is linked to the view that the animism associated today with Amazonia could have been a more archaic ontology over a broader area of South America, while different ontologies characterizing Andean cultures (termed analogisms: Descola Reference Descola2013) may be but a relatively recent ‘innovation’. As Hornborg (Reference Hornborg, Pearce, Beresford-Jones and Heggarty2020, 61) writes, until the colonial conquest, Amazonia was a dense network of settled and hierarchical polities, comparable to those of the Andean region. It was an area inhabited by complex societies settled in different parts of the tropical lowlands, among and between which trade flourished (including green-stone amulets, shell beads and snuff trays, for example). According to Descola's (Reference Descola2013) conception, the ‘analogist’ ontologies of the Andes were a response to the countless differences in stratified pre-modern societies. As Hornborg (Reference Hornborg, Pearce, Beresford-Jones and Heggarty2020, 62) continues, Amazonian animism and Andean analogism should therefore not be seen as timeless and inseparable, but as different responses to local divergences that arose after the conquest of societies that once belonged to the same continuum.

Therefore, considering how important the sonic sphere, including songs, is in the cultures of both Amazonia and the Andes, it is possible that the phenomenon of graphic depiction of songs in the form of lineal/geometric patterns might not be unique, and such a convention may also have existed in various cultures of this vast area in the past. Even if Reichel-Dolmatoff's research showed that the images drawn by the Tukano were stimulated by visionary experiences, their repetition in the drawings of various informants may suggest that they were not unique visions recorded during his ethnographic research. Of course, their hallucinogenic origins cannot be excluded, especially given the synesthetic nature of hallucination, in which the stimulation of one sense causes the automatic experience of another sense, that are finally ‘confused’ (Cytowic Reference Cytowic2002; Hugh-Jones Reference Hugh-Jones2017; Horowitz Reference Horowitz, Siegel and West1975; Klüver Reference Klüver, McNemar & and Merrill1942; La Barre Reference La Barre, Siegel and West1975; Lewis-Williams & Dowson Reference Lewis-Williams and Dowson1988, 211; Siegel & Jarvik Reference Siegel, Jarvik, Siegel and West1975). Hearing colours, feeling sounds and tasting shapes or words (Simner Reference Simner2005) are among the common synesthetic sensations. Hearing images is another form of synesthesis. Klüver (Reference Klüver, McNemar & and Merrill1942, 180), for example, informs about a subject who ‘saw’ and ‘felt’ the sounds, and Cavallaro (Reference Cavallaro2013) and Hampson (Reference Hampson2015, 124–5, 128) provide further examples on the synaesthetic phenomenon of visualizing sounds or shapes of sounds. Also, it cannot be ruled out that this kind of convention of depicting songs went beyond the region of the Tukano culture and Amazonia. Perhaps the previous failures to recognize the possibility of such reading of these geometric patterns is a result of the fact that archaeological explorations of Tukano art have focused primarily on its hallucinogenic context. This in turn confirms the scientific truism that extracting specific information from the data available depends on the questions posed.

Taking the interpretation presented here as a hypothesis, one can also ask about the type of ritualism that might come into play at Toro Muerto. If this kind of iconography really did connote the idea of contact with the realm of spirits and the cosmos, then the possible functions of rituals associated with transfer to that other reality might concern activities such as healing, impact on the state of nature (weather), or contact with ancestors. The latter may have included interaction with ‘mythological’ or other divine beings, transference to the time of the beginning, but also contact with the dead or leading the dead to that land. All these concepts—‘mythological beings,’ ‘time of beginning’ or ‘dead’—are of course Western descriptive categories. From the point of view of Amazonian perspectivism, ‘mythological beings’ and ‘dead’ could actually be seen as ontologically equal since, as Viveiros de Castro (1998, 485) puts it: ‘the living and the dead are similar in so far as they manifest the same spirit’. This last possibility, i.e. transfer to the land of the dead, seems particularly interesting since in the immediate vicinity of petroglyphs at Toro Muerto there are a few, but heavily looted, large cemeteries. One of them is located at the foot of several huge boulders with petroglyphs of animals, stylistically similar to the main corpus of the rock art of Toro Muerto. Also the surface material collected at this cemetery relates chronologically to the postulated period (see above) of creation of the images in Toro Muerto. These are fragments of pottery, textiles and pyro-engraved gourds manufactured in the highly distinctive Early Nasca style (dated to the beginnings of the Early Intermediate Period). It is noteworthy that Haeberli (Reference Haeberli2001) linked the development of the local Siguas culture precisely to the influence of Nasca culture from the southern coast of Peru in the Arequipa region. The petroglyphs we are discussing could therefore be linked in some way or another with contact with the world of the dead. It is worth recalling that the canes with images of danzantes, birds, different animals and geometric motifs, mentioned at the beginning of the article (Fig. 2), also come from a burial context. Crenellation patterns, moreover, can also be found on the headbands of those buried at Paracas Necrópolis (Frame Reference Frame and Paul1991), so the motif may be seen as related to the other world. Similar patterns are also present in the textiles associated with Siguas culture (Haeberli Reference Haeberli2001; Reference Haeberli2002). Future examination of the cemetery at Toro Muerto may shed additional light on this issue.

Toro Muerto is an enormous accumulation of petroglyphs. Even if a significant portion of them can be linked to a single cultural tradition, the thousands of engravings there could of course have encoded diverse meanings. Our goal is not to explain the entire rock art of the site using the hypothesis proposed here. Nor do we wish to claim that all zigzags at Toro Muerto should be interpreted as visualizations of songs, and all other geometrics as symbols of the cosmos (particularly when we bear in mind their potential polysemy). When regarding those scenes in which dancers are juxtaposed with specific geometric motifs, however, we suggest that our interpretation not only sheds new light on the Toro Muerto petroglyphs, but also opens up room for further discussion concerning ontology and social context of those petroglyphs as well as rock art elsewhere.

The ongoing debate about the materiality and ontology of rock art (Abadía & Porr Reference Abadía and Porr2021; Alberti & Bray Reference Alberti and Bray2009; Brandišauskas Reference Brandišauskas2021; Porr & Bell Reference Porr and Bell2012; Sillar Reference Sillar2009; Zawadzka Reference Zawadzka2019) shows that rock-art images, representational as well as non-representational, are a medium with the potential to convey different information, not just the visual. In many hunter-gather societies, the rock-art images were argued to embody (with the potential to transmit) different non-material phenomena. In South African San rock art, supernatural potency n/om was embodied in the eland paintings through the fact that, at least in some cases, eland blood was added to the paint used to paint the image (Lewis-Williams & Dowson Reference Lewis-Williams and Dowson1990, 14). According to San beliefs, n/om must be activated, and the songs, which also contain n/om, play an important role in its increase (Lewis-Williams Reference Lewis-Williams1981; Reference Lewis-Williams2019). We can imagine that images of eland may have been more potent when songs were sung in front of them. Similarly, among the Evenki in eastern Siberia, the agentive power musun [living energy] is associated with non-human beings, and is thought to manifest itself through sounds and materialized objects, including visual representations (Brandišauskas Reference Brandišauskas2021, 4). Evenki believe that spirits communicate with humans exactly through, among other things, rock paintings and sounds (Brandišauskas Reference Brandišauskas2021, 12). In North American rock art, a popular image is that of a bird interpreted as the mythological Thunderbird. As Hampson (Reference Hampson2015, 148) notes, in Native American ontologies thunder is the sonic embodiment of the Thunderbird, so thunder actually ‘is’ the bird—a liminal creature which combines materiality and spirituality, including the sound of thunder. Another example, closer to the subject of our paper, is the integration of rock-art images with the rock surface (Lewis-Williams & Dowson Reference Lewis-Williams and Dowson1990; Rozwadowski Reference Rozwadowski2017b; Vastokas & Vastokas Reference Vastokas and Vastokas1973) or indeed the rock itself (Lødøen Reference Lødøen, Goldhahn, Fuglestvedt and Jones2010; Sieveking 1982), in terms of the affordances (Gibson Reference Gibson1979) of a rock's ‘natural’ properties, like shape, size, hardness, but also its acoustic qualities (Díaz-Andreu & Mattioli Reference David and McNiven2018; Ouzman Reference Ouzman, Heyd and Clegg2005). As Gibson (Reference Gibson1979, 127) says (cited by Ingold Reference Ingold2000, 428), ‘each object offers what it does because of what it is’. Materialization of non-material into the form of a rock-art image could therefore be inspired by ‘natural’ properties of the object, which, however, are not ‘natural’ from the viewpoint of animistic cosmologies (Bird-David Reference Bird-David1999; Descola Reference Descola2013; Viveiros de Castro Reference Viveiros de Castro2012). In our research we did not notice any sonic qualities about the boulder on which the main composition TM 1219 is engraved. However, we cannot exclude the possibility that the affordances of its environment, including its sonic aspect, were equally as significant as the visual component, but this has yet to be demonstrated.


The paper results from the ‘Toro Muerto Archaeological Research Project’ founded by National Science Center—grant no. 2016/23/B/HS3/01882. We thank the anonymous reviewers whose comments significantly improved the final text of the article.


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Figure 0

Figure 1. Toro Muerto. Red points indicate boulders with danzantes, yellow points mark boulders on which danzantes are not engraved, and green point indicates the location of the TM 1219 boulder. (Map: J.Z. Wołoszyn.)

Figure 1

Figure 2. The top register of one of the engraved canes published by Haeberli (2001, fig. 8a) showing three danzantes, a sequence of undulating lines, dots and double/triple bar symbols. Private collection. 9.4 cm high. (Drawing: J.Z. Wołoszyn.)

Figure 2

Figure 3. Variety of danzantes in Toro Muerto. (Tracings: Polish-Peruvian research team, compiled by J.Z. Wołoszyn.)

Figure 3

Figure 4. TM 1309. Danzantes associated with the set of vertical and sinusoidal lines. (Photograph: A. Rozwadowski; drawing: Polish-Peruvian research team.)

Figure 4

Figure 5. TM 1808. Danzantes juxtaposed with vertical and zigzag lines. (Photograph: A. Rozwadowski.)

Figure 5

Figure 6. TM 1255. At this boulder a danzante figure is associated with crenellated designs and straight and wavy lines with dots. (Photograph: A. Rozwadowski.)

Figure 6

Figure 7. TM 1650. At this rock a danzante is part of a complex composition which includes straight, zigzag (also filled with dots) lines, and a crenellated pattern in the centre. (Photograph: A. Rozwadowski.)

Figure 7

Figure 8. Boulder TM 1219. (Photograph: A. Rozwadowski; tracing: Polish–Peruvian research team.)

Figure 8

Figure 9. Redrawing of examples of Tukano drawings (originally in blue, yellow and red), which refer to songs as well as mythological ideas. Both topics have often been represented in banded structures. (A, originally presented horizontally) double crenellated motif (in blue and yellow) is the Snake-Canoe, the central double zigzag pattern (red) also represents a snake, and concentric circles stand for suns. All the images were heard as a song; (B) this drawing was explained as a vision of flowers, songs, and fertilizing power of the Sun-Father; (C, originally presented horizontally) zigzag patterns (in red, blue and yellow) represent Snake-Canoe containing the essence of fertility (rings). (A, B, C: fragments of pls IV, XXIV and XXXI respectively in Reichel-Dolmatoff 1978. Drawing: A. Rozwadowski.)

Figure 9

Figure 10. Boulder TM 1219 in wider landscape perspective. (Photograph: A. Rozwadowski.)

Figure 10

Figure 11. Image of Yuruparí shown as a dancer with curlicues of sound emerging from his body. (Drawing: Desana artist Luiz Lana. Redrawn by A. Rozwadowski after Umusĩ Pãrõkumu & Tõrãmũ Kẽhíri 1995, fig. 33.)