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lluclla ruina
panoramica del higueral desde el megalito
cementerio oquines
huge stone lluclla

The Siguas Valley as a Ghostly Space


Ghostly presences are repeated throughout this narrow and arid valley, whether in the form of a half-blurred pre-Columbian road, a boulder laden with symbols inscribed at the beginning of the first century, a clay oven anchored on the edge of a cliff, half-open tombs showing illegal excavations or centuries-old fig trees of Hispano-Arabic origin surviving on a trickle of water. Underneath, much longer inscriptions, traces of violent eruptions that occurred before the arrival of humans -and after it-.


Here, the past is petrified. The visual chronicle, composed of thousands of petroglyphs that manifest scenes of struggle, forms of life already disappeared, abstract models -signs of mental trance or mystical recollection and migratory flows -the true imprint of Siguas- gives a scope of the superimposition of veiled histories and biographies suspended in a buried memory. Thiswhole territory accumulates silent voices, like a kind of "shining". 


Here lies the dichotomy that best defines this cultural landscape: the fixation of images as a constant form of movement. The network of roads –242 identified by the working group from the Royal Ontario Museum led by archaeologist Justin Jennings during the mapping and excavations of 2013, 2015, and 2016– that connects the valley with the coast and the highlands made possible the flow of ideas, goods, and people otherwise impossible routes. Nomadism and exchange occurred even in extreme climatic conditions (aridity and extremely high solar radiation) and forged an environment loaded with ritual signs and links to the invisible world.

volcanes cerca
pueblo antiguo lava 2
cuevas del mar muerto
lluclla bosque de piedras
higueras el colorado-5

1. Chachani and Misti volcanoes overlooking the valley.. 2. Volcanic rock in Pitay. 3. Ridgetop and old oven rests. 4. Lluclla sector and ancient paths. 5. Ancient fig trees (hispanoarabic origin).

Whether from the southern coast of Peru (with Paracas or Nazca influence) 3000 years ago, from the central highlands –such as Quilcapampa, a Wari settlement from the IX century– or from a Spanish galleon transporting fig trees and wheat grains in the XVI century, the crossings and multiple migrations to this place, now converted into a sort of drainage for the immense irrigation of Majes, have left traces that mark an unusual crossbreeding: Here we find the oldest productive expression of the fig tree, one that has impregnated myths and beliefs of millenary roots from Persia and Greece to the Iberian Peninsula and that has accompanied humans since prehistoric times.

This ancient fig tree (400 years old) is part of this cultural landscape.

The Petroglyph as Road Mark and Ritual Testimony


The stony and aggressive ravines that connect the pampas near the valley with the arable areas close to the river have been intercultural vectors for thousands of years. Different situations motivated the migratory flows -flight, expansions, searches, need for exchange-, which loaded Siguas with insignias that remain as geological tattoos, signs that the biography of a place, more than a linear sequence, is composed of superimposed layers full of indecipherable messages, formulated in codes as inaccessible as the shiny cliffs that overshadow the riverbank.

megalito cielo rojo.jpg

Pitay megaliths.

The most ancient traces of these transits - in the form of paths and stone inscriptions - can be seen on these rocks. Because the petroglyphs that populate different enclaves of the valley not only represent fauna, anthropomorphs, symbols marked by the duality of life and death, but also reveal traces coming from far away, cosmovisions that linked worlds and composed a legible text for travelers, either by means of stone or clay signs –as is the case of the almost 200 geoglyphs that cover the high pampas of the valley.


These inscriptions make it possible to trace routes full of meaning: carcanchas as emblems of the transit between life and death, enigmatic gamadian crosses, characters of Paracas or Nazca origin and abstract forms –such as the Gross Munsa geoglyph– "animate the spatial fabric in the form of places loaded with history, memory, traumas and transforming life experiences".

gross munsa web
petroglifo gamadio en quilcapampa
petroglifo quilcapampa only sun
petroglifo soleado

Gross munsa geoglyph and different petroglyphs in Quilcapampa and Quebrada de la Tuna. "We might think of the geoglyphs, petroglyphs, cairns, and other constructions as road signs, marking where to travel, where to rest, and what rituals to undertake along the way. In other words, paths and the signs along them make the landscape legible" (Berquist, Gonzales Mac-Queen and Jennings. "Making Quilcapampa: Trails, Petroglyphs and the Creation of a Moving Place").

Quilcapampa as a Mobile History Made of Rock and Bones


The valley has, in a 9th century Wari settlement, one of the most significant enclaves of its own biography. The interdisciplinary expedition of the Royal Ontario Museum that visited Siguas during the last decade was able to recompose a minimal history "lost in time" in its eagerness to understand the social dynamics that conditioned the Wari empire -whose nucleus was located in the current Ayacucho- during the middle horizon of Peru (600-1200 BC). It is Quilcapampa la Antigua.


The evidence found on the floor of a settlement covered by a thick layer of ash that scorched the valley when the Huaynaputina volcano exploded (1600) made it possible to reconstruct food systems, architectural structures, encounters between locals and outsiders and the development of a complex system of rituals. At the end of the first millennium, a caravan coming from the north began its descent through the red cliffs of the valley. They carried with them goods and animals unknown in Siguas. Were they agents for expansion as emissaries of an empire or expatriates in search of a new home?

Outlined Cross  Quilcapampa

Petroglyphs in Quilcapampa. According to Berquist et al, "the style of some petroglyphs suggest that Quilcapampa's earliest rock art as well as the paths moving past it date to the first millenium BC."

The second hypothesis is the most credible according to the conclusions of "Quilcapampa: a Huari enclave in southern Peru". These nomads (of noble origin) approached Siguas after political instability in Central Peru, crossing a whole network of roads - through which cultural influences also arrived long before the conformation of the Wari state, back in 600 BC - and choosing an area crossed by steep paths leading to the river. The decision to build in this place was not accidental: the petroglyphs that populate its crags to this day (Stephen Berquist's documentation records 492 examples of various kinds) evoked sacred memories and ritual marks; moreover, their coordinates were aligned with entities of "local cosmological importance" –such as the southern cross or the volcanoes Chachani, Misti, Ampato and Coropuna–.

quilcapampa luna
Quilcapampa panoramic
quilcapampa septiembre 3

Quilcapampa, the Wari enclave of the Siguas valley. Nowdays Quilcapampa is the name of the old farm, where wheat, figs and grapes were cultivated. 

The creation of Quilcapampa obeyed distant impulses and the interrelation between nomads and their valuable knowledge and locals the valley, at that time, was inhabited by small farming communities that possibly had histories also marked by migration. The food systems of chuño, quinoa, molle and guinea pig reveal a culinary symbiosis - not free of social differences - that is still evident today. The vilca, a hallucinogenic plant that served as an additive to chicha de molle for ritual and social integration purposes (3), also arrived with the Waris, who, rather than establishing a system of exploitation, populated a redoubt for a few decades and closed it in a ceremony marked by melancholy.

pacay molle genor.jpg

Pacay and molle surrounding an ancient fig tree. According to Biwer and Melton, both crops, were important elements in Quilcapampa's food system 1200 years ago. Guinea pig was also part of "Wari cusine" in the ancient settlement (Alaica, Quiñones Cuzcano, La Rosa: "Vertebrate and Invertebrate Remains in Quilcapampa").

More Inaccesible Places: La Banda and Lluclla


If Quilcapampa allows us to trace actions, impulses, interventions in space and time and give them a proper context - largely thanks to the work of archaeologists -, the other enclaves that enunciate the past of this cultural landscape remain in a kind of silence. Little is known about them especially those located on the east bank, which are more difficult to access both by car and on foot. Even so, it is possible to recognize forms similar to those that Berquist and Van Hoek documented during their mappings –carcasses, auquenids, paracas anthropomorphs–. And steep settlements on the side of the trail guarded by birds of prey.


The mountain that covers the east bank from the end of Quilcapampa to the old town of Pitay (about four kilometers) shines when the sun begins to set. Then the chronicle of the petroglyphs can be read. Accessing these crags, at least now, is much more difficult than climbing up and down the steep trails of Quilcapampa. This sector is crowned by megaliths, some of them superimposed on the hill. Observing these remains from the foot of a 400-year-old fig tree and from a wheat field composed of ancient Castilian seeds, the basis of the local mestizo bread, provides access to records that mix languages, foods and religions juxtaposed in the middle of this aridity enlivened by the river and some streams –and of strange similarity with middle eastern environments.

gallinazos banda kräftig
rancheria web alta-4
rancheria web alta-2
rancheria petroglifo llamas y montaña
petroglyph red stripe
wheat and petroglyphs

La Banda sector in Siguas.

Towards the end of the valley, when the soil turns from red to gray (less clay and more stone), megaliths surrounded by platforms and tombs rise in front of a couple of fig trees and a pacay (a fruit tree highly appreciated by several pre-Columbian cultures). Here the track has a brutalist form, with giant pieces of rock that compose petrified forests very dear to wasps, foxes and hares. Next to these giant rocks, architectural remains (of origin not yet studied) show marks now adorned by herbs such as jarilla or sancayos. Even in front of the fig tree grove, on a mountain with Wari and Inca testimonies which was merciless excavated, more numerous cactus mimic the rocks of this old town, protected by a wall that crowns the summit.

huge stone lluclla
lluclla tumbas
lluclla libro

Megaliths and ancient paths in Lluclla, at the end of the valley. 

pitay old town
pueblo viejo muro alta web
cola de caballo pitay

The ancient town of Pitay and its wall. 

New Roads, New Goods: Fig Trees, Wine and Wheat


Six hundred years after the closure of Quilcapampa, the valley began to receive the crops that defined its food system until the late 1990s. Wine was emerging as a worthy commodity in the midst of lands reminiscent of the Alpujarras of Andalusia, but the Huaynaputina put an end to these ambitions when it darkened the valley (and the whole of Arequipa) for two weeks with one of the most memorable eruptions in history (it caused a volcanic winter that devastated Russia). Grapes are still grown, yes, but they did not define the cultural landscape as much as fig trees and wheat, precious goods for food interchange in colonial and republican times with the muleteers of the highlands.

higuera antigua contrapicado
trigo oscuro
ortiga urtica urens lexicon
higos y granada sihuas 2021

Ancient fig tree (albacor variety), dark wheat and nettles.

The recipe that links the colorful caravans that founded Quilcapampa in the IX century with the Eurasian world is undoubtedly the chimbango. It is composed of sun-dried figs fermented in the same style as chicha de molle, which was seasoned with vilca as a festive and ceremonial motif in the core of the Wari citadel. Figs ferment easily -in fact, they used to be planted next to molle trees- and make up this drink, which is also associated with commemorative moments that erase (momentarily) social differences through ecstasy.


Whole wheat bread, molle, guinea pig, lucuma, fennel seed, roasted corn, lard, fresh cheese, dried figs and (now) rye: the keys to a food system that is nourished by successive occupations in this rugged geography and that allows us to reconstruct political and social disruptions, whether through a group of nomads from the central highlands of Peru in search of a new home, or through fig trees brought in Sevillian galleons and whose variety was introduced in the eighth century in Hispania when Berbers and Arabs, repositories of knowledge from the East, formed Al-Andalus. Fig bread –a product I make almost daily– reflects, like chimbango, flows that carry with them distant imprints (with Roman, Greek and Arabic influence).

chimbango de tres higos

1. Fig cake as an example of an ancient recipe, which was essential for food security. Its use has been documented in Mesopotamia, Egypt, Persia, Ancient Greece and Rome (D. Namdar and I.Ziffer, "Figs in History and Art"). 2. Chimbango as a fermented beverage (like chicha) made of dried figs.

Resilient Marks: Enough to Face Climate Change, Desertification and Biodiversity Loss?


The current situation of this valley is defined by the increasing standardization of the landscape -with dozens of fig trees sacrificed year after year in the plains to enable monocultures such as avocado, with a very high water footprint-, the effects of the Majes irrigation project -sanding in the river that has almost eliminated shrimp-, the threat to riparian biodiversity in order to widen the riverbed and desertification. However, the steep and stony hills, where you have to stiffen your calves to go from one fig tree to another, represent the best refuge for these, always accompanied by pomegranate trees, olive trees, nettles and molles. The inaccessibility, as in the case of the petroglyphs located on the crags that dazzled travelers for millennia, allowed these relics that came from so far away to survive.


In the midst of ruins and fig trees, the stone and clay ovens are shown as the inert object that best reflects this agricultural crossbreeding. Their mere existence, located among the trails formed thousands of years ago, reveals one of the oldest cultures of whole wheat bread in South America, with an extensive network that, like the geoglyphs, mark the path of people who inhabited and left the valley. The few specimens that remain standing lie unchanged - just like the fig trees in the mountains - if they are far from the roads. They are rarely used, and if they are, they resort to refined flours from overseas. Fortunately, the varieties brought centuries ago still exist. After the ritual wheat harvest, comes the grinding on stone -by hand- and the baking with molle wood (with a smoky flavor, since the molle gives off abundant smoke) or fig wood (with a timid and aromatic fire).

horno montaña genor
pan mestizo manteca
horno padre abel

Whole wheat bread was also part of the old food system in Siguas (colonial and republican time). Some ovens are still in different sectors of the valley.

All these enunciations (many of them coming from very distant places in time and space) still remain intact in some enclaves of Siguas, even when the threats of water stress, irresponsible intervention of space and soil erosion are real. Some flourish like fig trees or wheat, others resist like the ovens and geoglyphs, many others are buried or reduced to rubble. Whether they are anchored in vegetation or igneous, whether they are living specimens or funerary complexes, these marks reveal a past rich in signs that in themselves make up a field-text, a mixture of overlapping and still productive histories that, perhaps with respectful agriculture, will find the fertility necessary to stimulate and maintain the memory.

centeno higuera petros
sapo charca scharf
monte lecho

Rye as a new crop in the Siguas valley. The biodiversity in this arid environment faces real challenges like global warming and the impact of irrigation projects that will monopolize the suitable water. 


From the book "Quilcapampa: a Wari Enclave in Southern Peru" (2021):

1. "Making Quilcapampa: Trails, Petroglyphs, and the Creation of a Mobile Place" (Stephen Berquist, Felipe Gonzales MacQueen, Justin Jennings). 

2. "Settling Quilcapampa: Plan and Adaptation" (Luis Manuel Gonzales La Rosa, Justin Jennings, Giles Spence-Morrow, Willy Yépez Álvarez).

3. "Plant Use at Quilcapampa"  (Matthew E. Biwer y Malory Melton). 

4. "Vertebrate and Invertebrate Remains at Quilcapampa" (Aleksa K. Alaica, Patricia Quiñonez Cuzcano, Luís Manuel Gonzales La Rosa).

Aditional sources:

5. "Settlers and Squatters: The Production of Social Inequalities in the Peruvian Dessert" (Astrid B. Strensud). 2018. 

6. "Accesing the Inaccesible: Rock Art of Quilcapampa, southern Peru" (Maarten van Hoek). 2021.

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