The socio-ritual organisation of the upper Limarí Valley: Two rock art traditions, one landscape (ScienceDirect Publication: Journal of Arid Environments)

Publication date: August 2017
Source:Journal of Arid Environments, Volume 143
Author(s): George Nash, Andres Troncoso
The Limarí Valley stands within Central Northern Chile and forms part of the foothills of the western Southern Andean region. In terms of altitude, much of the upper reaches of the valley stands over 1000 m above sea level. The natural environment comprises mainly semi-arid scrubland. During later prehistoric times, the Limarí Valley would have provided an important access route between the Pacific Ocean and communities occupying the valley (and its tributary valleys to the north and south). It is within the upper reaches of the valley that prehistoric rock art is located in a variety of locates including rock shelters and open-air sites. Many sites show that both painting and engraving techniques have been applied. This diverse media, along with changes in style, composition and subject matter reflects at two different chronological phases: hunter-gatherers and agrarian communities.In this short paper we compare the socio-ritual organisation of landscape among these two communities that at different times occupied this semi-arid area. Despite the aridity of this landscape, water appears to be the main focus for ritual activity among hunter-gatherers, especially within the secluded upland side valleys. Whilst hunter-gatherer rock art is associated with settlement, agrarian rock art relates to route-ways and the movement of people; here panels appear to act as markers within a transitional landscape. Fieldwork has revealed that hunter-gatherer rock art was usually placed close to flowing water, whilst agrarian rock art sites were located in isolated places, and with no apparent relationship with water. Both hunter-gatherer and agrarian communities are paradoxically contradicting each other in that hunter-gatherer rock art is metaphorically sedentary and agrarian rock art is fluid.Both regimes show how two different ways to engaged with arid places in the Southern Andean region; one related with water and the other with the movement of people and commodities. Both are key aspects to how communities utilised the same landscape, but in different ways and at different times.