Newly Discovered Monoliths From the Highlands of Puno, Peru

By: Sergio J. Chavez and Karen L. Mohr Chavez

Originally Published in 1970

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The archaeologist must deal with many kinds of evidence from the past, including such obstinate creatures as mute monoliths, those single blocks of stone, usually relatively large, which have been shaped into various forms such as slabs, stelae, or statues, and were often carved with diverse kinds of motifs. These silent stones were present during the very events we attempt to ‘reconstruct, and were created by the very people whose culture we hope to discover.

The main purpose of this article is to report fourteen monoliths, thirteen being published now for the first time. All but the last two de­scribed here were found during an archaeologi­cal reconnaissance in the altiplano (high, treeless plain) in the Department of Puno in November, 1968, by Sergio Chavez. Most of the monoliths described belong to the Pucara culture, dating to the first century B. C. They provide us with many bits of information, giving us clues about their functions and the cultures of which they were a part. Our article describes this information and includes data on provenience, form, tech­nique, material, carved elements and their com­position, stylistic comparisons, and possible cul­ture and date.

The fact that the monoliths are of stone, a less plastic and more permanent material than, for example, ceramics, requiring more time and work to produce, leads us to believe their func­tion was an important one, in many cases re­flecting a portion of the society’s ideological or belief system. It may be that the carved mono­liths represented a synthesis of their religious beliefs, expressed visually in stone; that, just as one may describe culture as a symbol system, these monoliths were symbols given live mean­ings which were internalized and shared by mem­bers of the society, further maintaining, visually identifying, and organizing their beliefs. Even today these monoliths have supernatural mean­ing for the natives, still serving as visual symbols of a part of their belief system, being maintained alongside their Christian beliefs.

We hope to make clear that each newly discovered monolith, whenever presented, is archaeologically valuable; it should provide us with new elements, new combinations of ele­ments, or variations of known ones, and, hence, with additional evidence with which to under­stand man’s past. (During the exploration in Puno, Sergio was accompanied by his friend Teobaldo Yabar, with whom were shared the tribulations of the trip, and by our workman Julian Percca.)

First Monolith from Cancha-cancha Asiruni

The site of Cancha-cancha Asiruni, located on the ranch (hacienda) of Mr. Sebastian Man­rique, is situated near the Tintiri River and the Tintiri Hacienda, on the left side of the high­way going from Azangaro to Munani, in the Province of Azangaro, Department of Puno. Dr. John H. Rowe mentions the site of Tintiri in an article entitled “Urban Settlements in Ancient Peru,” published in Nawpa Pacha, No. 1, 1963, page 7, where he says Dr. Manuel Chavez Ballon knew about this Pucara site. During the exploration undertaken by Sergio Chavez to locate the site, it was found that Tintiri, specifically the Tintiri Hacienda, with its large, impressive Catholic church and a few houses nearby, did not contain the archaeologi­cal remains sought for. Rather, it was discovered that the large Pucara site where three carved monoliths were found along with typical Pucara ceramics, is called Cancha-cancha Asiruni, not Tintiri, and is located on the opposite side of the river from Tintiri. The site consists of a mound of irregular outline situated on a plain called Pampa Pucara. Structures are evident from stone foundations and from the reuse of such stones elsewhere in modern drystone walls.

According to the people who work for the Manrique Hacienda, this monolith had once been standing; later, by order of the owner of the hacienda, it was taken down so as not to attract attention. People there call the monolith “rumi machaqway,” in the Quechua language, or “stone serpent,” according to one informant. The word “Asiruni,” part of the site name, means “with snake” in the Aymara language, as noted by Dr. Alfred Kidder II in his work called Some Early Sites in the Northern Lake Titicaca Basin, published in 1943 by the Pea­body Museum of American Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard, where he describes a site by the same name located in the Pampa de Ilave much farther south in Puno.

The form of this monolith is a pillar-like block or stela, thickening slightly from top to bottom. It has a step or squared notch carved out of one of the upper corners; its cross sec­tion is roughly rectangular. The carved relief is limited to only one face and continues onto the top surface, protruding 3.5 cm. in relief. The basal portion is crudely hewn and is wider, like a pedestal to support the stela, being im­planted in the ground about 27% of its total height. The material is a light red sandstone.

The carved elements include an undulat­ing snake-like animal; in this article we shall refer to all such creatures as “serpents” for the sake of simplicity and for lack of positive iden­tification as a snake or other animal. The serpent here is in relief, with its head facing upward, as is a doughnut-like circular ring below the ani­mal’s tail; while details on the animal’s body are incised. The stela was broken in two parts, and portions have been flaked off and weathered.

When comparing this stela with other mon­oliths from the Puno region, one finds, interest­ingly, close similarity to the slab from Asiruni, the site with a similar name on the Pampa de Have which Kidder described and illustrated in his 1943 work mentioned above. The similarity lies not in form, but in decoration, consisting also of an undulating “serpent” in relief with in­cised details duplicating our stela, and of a relief ring located above the head of the serpent here rather than at its tail. Other comparisons to mon­oliths from Pucara and other sites nearby, housed today in the museum in Pucara, indicate that the Asiruni stela belongs to the Pucara culture and style, dated to about the first century B.C. by radiocarbon measurements derived from Pucara culture refuse obtained by Kidder. In Pucara­style monoliths the raised circular ring is fre­quently associated with animals, particularly undulating “serpents,” and the form of stela with a notched upper corner is also common.

The function of the notch has yet to be determined, but perhaps it could have served to hold some other stone such as a lintel. If this were the case, however, one would expect to find these monoliths in pairs, but only one such case is documented for the site of Taraco. The notched upper corner is reminiscent of the form of the “Tello Obelisk” and more vaguely of the “Lanzon” or Great Image of Chavin de Huantar in the northern highlands, belonging to the Chavin culture of a much earlier date. The Tello Obelisk, however, has carved designs within the notch itself, suggesting its function was not to hold a lintel or other stone which would have covered the designs. The notch could be functional, or could represent a cultural tradition for the shape of such stelae.

This stela is the tallest monolith, so far known, to have been found in the Peruvian altiplano, most of the tall ones coming from Bolivia and belonging to the Tiahuanaco culture. One apparently strange detail in this respect is that the relief on top of the stela would have been obscured from view because of the height. However, one possible explanation could be that the stela was placed within a semi-subterranean structure so that if one were standing above the level of the sunken court, the relief on top of the stela would be observable. Semi-subterranean structures are known from Pucara, particularly the sunken court in the temple excavated by Kidder in 1939, as well as from the site of Tia­huanaco in Bolivia.

As with all of these carved monoliths, we wish to understand what the elements represent, whether they are real, imaginary, abstract, or a combination of these, and what they meant to the society of whose culture they were a part.

The arguments offered by Dr. Luis Val­carcel are persuasive that the “serpent” form represents the otter, either with outspread legs or without legs as though swimming, but there are some representations which are not con­vincing as suggesting the otter. He overlooks at least one important detail which could help in interpreting what is really represented. This de­tail consists of carved, usually incised, elements on the serpent’s body forming two parallel lines following the length of the body, frequently a row of circles within them, and parallel lines radiating from each side of this central part.

These elements on “serpents,” frequently occurring on Pucara-style monoliths, gave us the idea that they could represent the boney structure of a snake, its skeleton; at the same time we may not rule out the possibility that the head, frequently eared or having scroll append­ages, and legs when associated with this serpent form, may be those of other animals such as the otter, puma, or catfish. The radiating lines could be ribs, as Kidder too dubbed these lines “ribs,” while the circles may represent the cross sections of vertebrae. From at least two sculp­tures in the Pucara style we know these people had an interest in representing ribs on anthro­pomorphic figures, so the lines and circles on the “serpent” bodies would be consistent in what was represented. On the other hand, if these lines do not represent bone structure perhaps they could represent muscular action of the undulating snake, particularly in those lacking circles down the “spine,” like this Asiruni ex­ample.

Studies indicate that the herpetological fauna (reptiles and amphibians) of the high­lands, not including the montana, are very lim­ited; and according to Karl Schmidt and Warren Walker in an article “Snakes of the Peruvian Coastal Region,” in Vol. 24, No. 27, 1943, of the Zoological Series of the Field Museum of Natural History, there are only a single species of snake above 12,000 feet, a lizard, and some frogs and toads. Though not impossible, it seems incongruous that we find a predominance of snake representations, or at least of its body, if that is indeed what is represented, in a region where there are so few and such unimpressive snakes. It could be possible that the emphasis was derived from environments of lower alti­tudes, especially from the montana and jungle areas where snakes are more common, more complex in number of species, and where more impressive and extremely large varieties occur. Also to be noted in this regard is the regular occurrence in Pucara-style anthropomorphic sculptures of the modest breech clout and ac­companying nudeness, which would seem to be dress ill-adapted for the relatively cold altiplano climate. Again, perhaps one should look toward the jungle to explain the representation of cloth­ing more suited to a warm climate.

One observation may be added here, that the frequent occurrence of the “serpent” or long wavy body is notably lacking, to our knowledge, in Pucara ceramics. Likewise, the feline so com­monly represented in Pucara ceramics, shown in its entire body, is almost totally lacking in the Pucara-style stone sculpture, although the heads of the serpents in these monoliths may be felines since most have ears of some kind. The felines in the Pucara ceramics frequently have a circular ring suspended from their necks, the same ring motif which so often occurs in Pucara stone sculpture. Dr. Luis Valcarcel sug­gests this circular ring motif on sculpture may symbolize water, in the form of a bubble or concentric ripple produced by the aquatic otter as it disturbs the water’s surface. While this is a possible interpretation, it is by no means the only one.

Second Monolith from Cancha-cancha Asiruni

This second monolith comes from the same site described above, and was found within a previously excavated pit. One informant, a worker on the Manrique Hacienda, explained that the monolith was found during excavations made upon order of the landowner in 1964; it was covering a stone-lined hole in which were found gold rings, turquoise beads, and other materials including pottery. The hole was filled in with earth and the monolith replaced over it. For preservation Sergio Chavez buried the mono­lith in the same place where he found it. As the owner of the hacienda, Mr. Sebastian Manrique, and his brother, Artenio Manrique, were not on the site during this visit, information is based only on what others knew. In the future it is hoped that an interview with the owner can be arranged.

The monolith cannot really be termed a stela as it is now, since there is not enough basal portion for it to have been erected upright in the ground; the base may be incomplete, how­ever, as it is very irregular. The form of the lower portion is straight-sided while the upper part curves slightly to the right, the carved figure conforming to this contour. There is, again, an irregular notch in the upper corner; and the top is broken off, probably including the head of the animal. The cross section forms an elongated oval as the corners are rounded. Only one face of this weathered stela is carved, though the figure uniquely continues into the notched area.

If we assume that the two remaining seg­ments of the principal “serpent” were once con­nected before being broken, then this technique of combining low relief carving for one portion of the body with grooving for the other is unique.

On the other hand, perhaps we cannot make this assumption as certain inconsistencies make one suspect the stela to have been reused, by re-carving from a previously carved stela. This possibility was first pointed out to us by Dr. Bernard Wailes of the University Museum who noticed that the larger circular ring relief ex­tended into the path of the serpent’s missing body; the only explanations could be that the body undulated at that point, or, more likely, that the relief ring was made after the segment flaked off.

Other of the inconsistencies supporting this possibility of reuse include: 1) the greater width of the upper body compared to the narrow tail portion; 2) the use of grooving for the upper portion in contrast to the technique of relief at the tail; 3) the two parallel lines along the spine of the upper portion do not continue onto the tail portion. All four of these observations sug­gest that the two sections of this principal “ser­pent” never were joined as a continuous body. A possible sequence of carving can be suggested, though the time difference need not have been great, if we assume that, first all of the serpent was in relief as the tail section is now, then flaking occurred, after which the circular ring and grooving of the upper body may have been made. It may have been that originally the monolith was a stela, erected upright in the ground, and that later it was reused as a cover­ing slab for the hole over which it is reported to have been found, and in this reuse its basal part was removed.

Beside the central figure are two circular relief rings of different sizes, perhaps determined by the size of the “serpent” with which each is associated. A small, complete snake with plain body occurs undulating between the two rings; its head has no ears. It appears to be the only example of a more realistic representation of a snake.

This monolith belongs among the Pucara­style ones, having in common the circular ring motifs associated with the “serpents,” and the notched form, though with variations.

Third Monolith from Cancha-cancha Asiruni

This pillar-like block, with rectangular cross section, is carved on one of the narrower faces; it is a reddish sandstone.

Relief is combined with incision in the representation of a “serpent,” its tightly curled tail being unique in such Pucara-style portrayal. The trapezoidal head has no projections for ears as often occur, but only the blockiness of the head protrudes beyond the width of the body behind it. Two eyes are represented by circular depressions, while a mouth is lacking. The body, again like those on the two previous mono­liths, has two incised, parallel lines running down the length of the spine, lacking circles within them, but having the series of incised lines on each side; the exterior form of the body is rounded in the areas between these rib-like lines. Unfortunately, the central section of the body has been flaked off so that its form in the area between the head and tail is unclear, and may have been either zigzag or straight.

Again, as in many Pucara-style monoliths, a relief ring occurs in association with the “ser­pent,” situated here above the “serpent’s” head; but an unusual element is the circular depres­sion below the tail unique to Pucara-style mono­liths. We perhaps have, then, a new element, the circular depression, to add to the inventory of carved motifs. Nevertheless, its position is similar to that of the relief rings on other mono­liths, below the tail of the animal, and yet it occurs on the same face as does the relief ring, if we assume that the circular depression was not an error on the part of the sculptors.

The circular depression may be a variation of the ring motif, either in actual depiction or in meaning, because of its similar positioning; or it may represent something distinct from that portrayed by the ring itself. It is notable that the raised ring would require more carving than the depression alone, and this difference may indicate the greater importance of the ring ele­ment over the circular depression.

It is difficult to give a more specific name to the monolith, such as stela, construction slab, or lintel, to indicate its probable function. While the monolith does have an uncarved area at one end as though for placement in the ground, the carved face is one of the narrower ones, which seems unusual if it was used as a stela or up­right construction slab in a wall. On the other hand, as a lintel the widest faces could have been oriented horizontally in support of con­struction above, but the decoration would not have been in the center of the lintel. Neither does the monolith appear to have been broken on the end near the raised ring, indicating that the carving never was centered on the stone. It is difficult, then, to resolve the problem of function, but the stone probably was placed upright in the ground.

Fourth Monolith from Cancha-cancha Asiruni

Upon our inquiring for other monoliths at the site, informants referred us to a stone in the form of a woman or of a “charango.” Identify­ing the monolith, we found that the general form was irregular but did not conform exactly to their description. The condition of the stone was extremely poor, having been badly weath­ered and flaked. It was reported to have been incorporated into wall foundations. The mono­lith is roughly rectangular, constricting at one of its extremes, and the carving, again badly weathered, is limited to one face.

The dimensions are: maximum length of portion remaining 1.82 m.; maximum width of carved face 45 cm.; maximum thickness 53 cm. Recognizable figures include a relief ring having a maximum exterior diameter of 19 cm. and an interior diameter of 8 cm.; an incomplete, small, snake-like figure below the ring about 53 cm. long; an amorphous element to one side of the ring, about 74 cm. long; and finally another re­lief ring with about 12 cm. maximum exterior diameter.

Three Undecorated Monoliths from Cancha-cancha Asiruni

These unusual pillar-like blocks have a neck-like constriction carved above the mid­point of the length, dividing the block into three sections. This constriction has an oval cross section and separates the other two sections which have rectangular or sub-rectangular cross sections. It would appear that these blocks were made to be implanted into the ground at the longer end; and, according to inquiries, one of these “stakes” (not illustrated) was in fact found implanted in such a fashion. The two illustrated blocks are well consolidated pink sandstone.

The constricted areas of these three blocks are more highly polished than the other rectan­gular sections, but this may be merely an indi­cation of better preservation of the indented areas. The three blocks are all weathered, and one is broken and incomplete (the left one of the two illustrated).

Because these blocks lack carved designs we cannot identify the culture to which they belong on stylistic grounds; but we assume they are a part of the Pucara stone carving inventory on the basis of their occurrence among the other Pucara-style carved monoliths from the site. For the first time, this form of block has been found with Pucara-style monoliths, though their func­tion remains undetermined. It is possible, how­ever, that they served as boundary-limiting stakes; or, from a rather general comparison with the form of the Caminaca stela described below, they could be simplified versions of stelae, or even general representations of, for example, the human figure, though this is less likely.

First Monolith from Taraco

This pillar-like stela, carved on all four faces and having an almost square cross section, was encountered during the 1968 exploration in the town of Taraco, located in the province of Huancane, Department of Puno. It and the next two described below are newly recovered ones and have been erected in the plaza along with four others previously found in the town and described by Kidder in 1943. We have published this stela in a separate article en­titled “Una estela monolitica de Taraco (Puno), Peru,” in Arte y Arqueologia, No. 1, 196g, pages 119-127, the Journal of the Instituto de Investagaciones Artisticas, Facultad de Arqui­tectura, Universidad Mayor de San Andres, La Paz, Bolivia; this monolith is the only one of the group described in this article to have been published previously.

Alfred Kidder described this important site . of Taraco, its monoliths, ceramics, and lithic artifacts in his 1943 monograph. Thomas Pat­terson has indicated briefly an outline of the long sequence of occupation of the site (at least two thousand years up to Inca times) in “Cur­rent Research: Highland South America,” American Antiquity, Vol. 32, No. 1, page 144.

This stela, unique among the other Taraco monoliths, has elements in low relief of about 1 cm. and lacks grooving or incision. The mate­rial is either quartzite or sandstone, greenish gray in color, with the relief being yellowish brown to brown, perhaps the result of painting. The stela was found during one of the recent excavations made for sewers and house founda­tions in the town.

We feel the stela to be of particular archae­ological importance in that it appears to combine elements similar to those of the Pucara culture, early Tiahuanaco (not classic), and Paracas (or early Nazca).

The elements we compare to Paracas ones are the curvilinear motifs, perhaps representing stylized heads with scroll-like appendages, which occur above the “serpents” on faces A and C and ventrally on the anthropomorphic figures on faces B and D. Similar motifs occur on Paracas or early Nazca textiles found on the south coast of Peru, uncertainly dating from perhaps 700 B.C. to the time of Christ. It is notable that on Pucara-style monoliths relief rings occur in the same context or position as these “stylized heads,” above serpents (and other animals, or below them) and ventrally as a navel on an­thropomorphic figures. It may be that this stylized figure substituted for the frequently occurring relief ring, or vice versa; and if it was a symbol, perhaps it symbolized the same thing as did the relief ring, or some variety of it.

Elements similar to those of the Pucara style, other than the one of analogy of the positioning of the stylized figures noted above, include the elongated zigzag and the double-headed “serpent” motif seen on faces A and C. The ears on the “serpents” could indicate some other animal’s head; such projections do occur in Pucara-style “serpents.” Another element similar to Pucara ones is the checkered relief cross which occurs here as a waist band on faces B and D, and which continues around the stela, serving to connect all four faces and the rounded corners.

The closest similarity in general form and in elements and their composition lies with several monoliths from the Bolivian altiplano at sites south of Lake Titicaca, particularly with Stela 15 found in the semi-subterranean temple at Tiahuanaco. Stela 15, so designated by the Centro de Investigaciones Arqueologicas de Tiwanaku, was found by Wendell C. Bennett in his excavations there, alongside a classic Tiahuanaco-style one. Dr. Carlos Ponce Sangines gives a date of Epoch III for Stela 15, per­haps about 100 B.C. to A.D. 100 or even later. Stela 15, also carved on all four faces and having a pillar-like form, has a principal face with a very similar anthropomorphic figure in relief on its principal face; each of the two contiguous faces has an undulating “serpent” with the single, eared head pointing upward.

We cannot be certain at this point whether these similarities indicate historic relationships among the peoples having these styles; never­theless, this stela provides additional evidence for determining the nature of and relationships between the altiplano cultures of Pucara and Tiahuanaco and their possible connections with other non-altiplano groups such as those of coastal Paracas.

Second Monolith from Taraco

This monolith, similarly found in the town during excavations for sewage canals and house foundations, is a pillar-like block, dark green in color. Its cross section is rectangular, having rounded edges, and the upper plane surface in­clines. It is well preserved and was probably a stela, as it has been carved with broad incision or grooving on all four faces. Unfortunately we lack information about the base which is im­planted at an unknown depth beneath the ground.

Each of the two narrower faces, not shown here, has a vertical groove centered along its length. The principal wider faces have what ap­pear to be extremely stylized representations of the “serpent” figure, one of which has a human­like head connected to the grooved zigzag body line. On the other wide face, the zigzag body line terminates in an “arrow” form, apparently the stylization of the eared serpent. Both figures seem similar to those on faces A and C of the first stela from Taraco.

Because of its simplified style, it is difficult to compare this stela with typical Pucara stone carvings. The closest comparison is with the first monolith from Taraco, as already suggested, the widest faces apparently being very much simpli­fied versions of faces A and C; too, the general pillar-Iike form, carved on all four faces, with the upper plane surface inclined, is similar. However, the technique of relief is lacking here. It is only more remotely of the Pucara style, then, if we assume the zigzags represent the wavy ser­pents found on Pucara-style monoliths.

Third Monolith from Taraco

This black slate block, similarly found in the town during excavations for canals and foundations, is stepped, or notched, in one upper corner. The sides of the block are not straight, but rather tend to be inclined to one side in a subtle curve; the cross section is sub-rectangular. Relief is combined with grooving on one of the principal faces, while relief alone was employed on the other.

The animal on face A, occupying almost its entire length, is almost identical to one on a stepped stela described by Kidder in 1943 in a Peabody Museum paper and shown there in plate IV, 1 and 2, also from Taraco and pres­ently erected in the plaza there. The animal, difficult to identify, closely resembles similar animals on two monoliths found at Tiahuanaco; it does not look like an otter, however, because of the broad tail.

The figure on face B appears as a coiled, ear-headed animal, perhaps a tadpole. Similar figures have been said to represent the native catfish, the suche, with the projections on the head being its long barbels; a suche, however, would not be long and coiled. The other carved face of Kidder’s stela has a frog or toad-like representation between two circular relief rings, one above the head and one below the feet. If we can carry our comparison to these second faces, then the tadpole (?) figure here is not far removed from the frog representation in Kid­der’s stela. The similarity of tadpole to frog may be a more significant association, suggest­ing metamorphosis of a tadpole into a frog. The relief rings vaguely suggest eggs.

The stela Kidder described and this one are extremely similar, not only in the figures represented and their size, but also in material, in form, being stepped and slightly curved, and in overall size. These close similarities suggest that the monoliths formed a pair at the site. If we can propose the possibility that stepped stelae functioned to support lintels, for example, then such monoliths ought to be found in pairs. This Taraco pair may represent a unique ex­ample in support of this hypothesis. If they had been set up with the notches facing inward, then the matching animal figures (face A here) would be on reverse sides from one another. On the other hand, pairs could have been made for other purposes, so our case is still not clearly resolved.

The monolith is Pucara-like in its stepped form; the secondary faces of both this one (face B) and Kidder’s have Pucara motifs, while the figures on the principal faces (face A here) are not clearly Pucara-like.

Plain Slab from Taraco

Although undecorated rectangular slabs or blocks are present at many sites in the Puno area, particularly related to Pucara construc­tions, this slab was notable in its dimensions. The slab, probably sandstone, is rectangular in all faces and in section with well controlled form, the edges closely approaching right angles. Its dimensions are: length 4.72 m., width 85 cm., and thickness 25 cm. Other plain, cut blocks from Taraco were illustrated by Kidder in 1943.

Traveling from Taraco to Saman there is a site, near a bridge, called Juchichu Kori. Here were found ceramics of Pucara and other styles along with similar plain stone slabs but of smaller dimensions (about 1.30 m. by 70 cm. by 15 cm.), some of which were fragmentary.

Stela from Caminaca

This monolith is now erected in the central plaza of Caminaca, capital of the district of Caminaca, province of Azangaro, Department of Puno. On the highway from Juliaca to Saman, near the bridge of Juchichu Kori, there is a trail that leads westward to Caminaca.

Although no archaeological site was lo­cated in the village itself, nearby there is a hill called Miscolla; here, according to the former mayor of Caminaca, Mr. Faustino Huarachi M.. there once had been an anthropomorphic mono­lith about 1 m. high, but it had been taken to Puno. It is possible, therefore, that this hill is the archaeological site from which this stela was derived.

During his office as mayor and his super­vision of road and bridge building, Mr. Huarachi observed that among many large stones being used was this carved one. He ordered that it not be employed in such a manner and that it be brought to Caminaca to be erected in the plaza.

Face B, not shown here, has a relief in­scription in block letters 4 cm. high, now al­most completely worn so that only individual letters can be read. It is said to have been carved in Latin, possibly in Colonial times, and to tell about the founding of Caminaca. The fact that it was reused after its original pre-Conquest use by another, different culture is notable. The people of the village believed that the figure on face A was a wreath until the actual meaning was pointed out to them. The new mayor felt, therefore, that it should be re­moved from the plaza since animals, which he felt to be supernatural, were represented instead of a “harmless” wreath.

The stela is a rectangular block with rec­tangular cross section, having a neck-like con­striction in the central portion, comparable in form to the “stakes” from Cancha-cancha Asiruni. Originally only one face must have been carved until the time of its later reuse.

The raised border surrounds a sub-rectangu­lar depression which contains two snake-like animals as though in motion, head of one behind the tail of the other. These relief animals, en­circling a raised circular ring in the center, have incised body markings similar to those on many Pucara-style monoliths and to the “serpent” on the first stela from Cancha-cancha Asiruni. The bodies, however, are very much shorter than those already described above as “serpents.” The position of the animals around the ring in the center is unique.

Because of the motifs and their design de­tails the stela is related to the Pucara style.

Anthropomorphic Statue from Mallaccasi

This carved statue comes from near the site of Mallaccasi, northwest of Pucara in the Province of Lampa, Department of Puno; the site and other monoliths from there were de­scribed by Kidder in 1943. The Ticona brothers from Pucara took us to the site in 1967; they knew of the existence of the monolith because they had been requested by a man in Pucara to bring it to the village several years ago. Appar­ently it had originally been erected on top of a hill; however, the brothers had left it halfway down the hill, where we found it, they having abandoned the project because of its weight and association with a sudden and frightening rain. They were sure that if they moved it again it would rain; and it did, frightening them once more. We removed the statue to Cuzco in 1967.

The much weathered and flaked condition has obliterated detail so that only the pro­nounced features remain. The eyes are circular rings, not very common in Pucara-style anthro­pomorphic sculptures where eyes are usually solid oval reliefs. An oval ring forms protruding lips, while ears are represented by circular re­lief rings. Hair or some kind of head covering is represented from the top of the head down to about the waist in back where it takes on a trapezoidal shape with a horizontal incision across the back of the head. The position of the arms is unclear, but the right hand appears to overlap the left arm slightly; it is possible that the hands hold something, as in other Pucara anthropomorphic sculptures in which trophy heads are held in the hands. The head and body are connected without indication of neck; only the mandible protrudes in relief from the chest. No shoulders are represented, although the upper arms stand in relief. The waist of this standing, not squatting, figure is slightly constricted. The type of breech clout worn differs from ones rep­resented on other anthropomorphic statues in lacking the squared flaps on each side. The gen­eral form, crudely executed, then, is neither so blocky nor so realistic as most other Pucara sculptures.

Another standing human (male) statue and a stela from Mallaccasi, described by Kid­der in 1943, are also crudely executed and differ from most Pucara monoliths. This Mal­laccasi group seems to stand out in its stylistic differences, as Kidder noted, and could represent local, temporal, or functional variations from the Pucara and Pucara-like monoliths themselves.

Statuette from the Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago

During a visit we made in December 1969 to the Field Museum of Natural History in Chi­cago we “discovered” this statuette in one of the archaeology store rooms. Dr. Donald Col­lier, Chief Curator of Anthropology there, kindly allowed us to photograph and publish it.

The statuette, so called because it is less than half life size, belongs to the Emilio Montez collection, having the catalogue number A 2732. This “carved stone figure,” as it is described, collected by Montez, was purchased from him by the newly formed but as yet unchartered Field Museum on September 9, 1893, together with many other objects he collected from Cuzco and Ayacucho. The Montez collection, presumably including this piece, was displayed in the World’s Columbian Exposition from May to October 1893.

The provenience given for the statuette is Cuzco, which could mean either the city or the department. This monolith is most like Pucara­style statues from Puno, however, such as those Kidder illustrates, and for this reason we feel the statuette came originally from Puno. Fur­thermore, no Pucara materials have been found in Cuzco itself, although some Pucara-style monoliths have been reported from inside the department of Cuzco near its southern border with Puno, such as in Chumbivilcas and Sicuani. While the possibility that it comes from the De­partment of Cuzco cannot be ruled out, it seems highly probable on stylistic grounds that it is from Puno. We have no information about how Montez collected the piece; perhaps he did go to Puno, or, he could have obtained the statuette in Cuzco after it had been brought there.

This piece is unique among Pucara statues in its blockiness and very much flattened profile, but in other characteristics its similarities are outstandingly Pucara-like. The statuette, like many other standing Pucara statues, has a very small pedestal-like base to be set into something, such as the ground. Pucara standing statues sometimes have an open space between the legs as this one does. Unique, however, is the rep­resentation of the ankle bones (?). The breech clout, again, is a familiar Pucara element. The positioning of the hands over the chest is very similar, while the representation of what appear to be the shoulder blades and spine also occurs in Pucara statues. The oval eyes and mouth are Pucara-like, as is the protruding chin, although here it is more pointed. The headband, perhaps twisted, with an animal ornament in front, some­times a frog but here a coiled “serpent,” is also common in Pucara statues, as is the raised area on the forehead below the headband and sur­rounding the face, suggesting a cap.

The monoliths we have described and il­lustrated are surely indicative of the presence of sites of the Pucara culture or related cultures. With the exception of Taraco and Mallaccasi, all the sites are new to archaeologists. They offer many opportunities for the further study of Pucara culture in southern Peru, and we hope that architecture, ceramics, and more stone monuments will add greatly to our knowledge of the still little known archaeology of that part of the world.

Cite This Article

Chavez, Sergio J. and Chavez, Karen L. Mohr. "Newly Discovered Monoliths From the Highlands of Puno, Peru." Expedition Magazine 12, no. 4 (July, 1970): -. Accessed February 21, 2024.

This digitized article is presented here as a historical reference and may not reflect the current views of the Penn Museum.

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