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History of research



Colonial and republican times



In the first decades of the colonial era, the Majes River Valley, the largest and richest in all southern Peru, was divided among Spanish landowners. The agricultural activity there was dedicated mainly to the production of wine and pisco which were sold throughout the country. Toro Muerto formed part of one of the largest haciendas in the central valley and served for centuries as a free source of building material, being known among the locals as ‘The Quarry’. Its stones were used to build the houses, the farm and warehouse buildings, and the chapel of the Jesuit order (completed in 1722), now known as the Church of Huarango. The last owners of the Hacienda of Toro Grande before the agrarian reform – the members of the Revilla family – used blocks of volcanic tuff from the archaeological site to build a distillery (in the 1920s and 1940s).



Who discovered Toro Muerto? When and how?

The interest and the first serious research about the rock art in the south of Peru – and especially in the Arequipa region – can be related to the name of the priest, historian and amateur archaeologist Leonidas Bernedo Málaga (1891-1977) who was especially active in the 1930s and 1940s as a vicar and parish priest in the city of Chuquibamba. It is quite possible that he was the first to hear of the existence of a majestic site in the Majes Valley, although he probably never got to know it personally. Consequently, this information did not get much publicity at the time.



Leonidas Bernedo Málaga and his book La cultura Puquina (1949)

An interesting fact is that much earlier this discovery was also within reach of the American historian Hiram Bingham – the ‘discoverer for science’ of Machu Picchu – who organised an expedition in 1911 that ended with the climb to the peak of Nevado Coropuna. From the Majes Valley comes a photo of this explorer standing near a large boulder of volcanic tuff decorated with petroglyphs. However,

it is not a photo from Toro Muerto but from the neighbouring site called Pitis, Alto de Pitis or La Mesana which is opposite Toro Muerto, on the other side of the river.

Hiram Bingham en Pitis (1911)
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Hiram Bingham in Alto de Pitis - La Mesana (the Majes Valley, 1911)

Toro Muerto was finally discovered for science at the beginning of the 1950s (most probably in August 1953) by a distant relative of Monsignor Bernedo Málaga, a young researcher from the National University of San Agustín in Arequipa – Eloy Linares Málaga (1926-2011) and his fellow traveller to the Majes Valley, the distinguished German archaeologist Hans Dietrich Disselhoff (1899-1975). The latter announced this fact for the first time at a conference organised in Germany in 1954 and then published it in the Baessler-Archiv journal in 1955 and later in his divulgation books.




Hans Dietrich Disselhoff and his book Gott muss Peruaner sein (1965)

Disselhoff and Linares have been working together for a long time. However, in the late 1960s or early 1970s, they went separate ways. From this moment on, Linares Málaga claims to be the only official ‘discoverer of the Toro Muerto site for science’ and begins to create his own legend about the discovery (his version is, by the way, very similar to the one that accompanied the discovery of Machu Picchu by Bingham). The official date of the discovery is constantly quoted by Eloy Linares Málaga in his publications as 5 August 1951.



Eloy Linares Málaga (1986) and one of his articles about Toro Muerto



The 1950s and 1960s


French Archaeological Mission camp in Toro Muerto - 1965 (Musée du quai Branly Inv. No  PF0115696)

Meeting of archaeologists: Henry Reichlen, Hans D. Disselhoff, Paulet Barret-Reichlen, Eloy Linares  Málaga

(Musée du quai Branly Inv. No PF0106952_02)

Eloy Linares as an employee and, subsequently, director of the Museum of the National University of San Agustín – today known as the José María Morante Archaeological Museum – carried out research work in Toro Muerto mainly in the 1950s (with his university students) and in 1965 (together with Disselhoff). During these seasons of field work the first documentary photos were taken of the engraved rocks, first tracings and freehand drawings of some petroglyphs were made, as well as the first plan of the southern part of the site. The first attempt was also made to number and catalogue the rocks (unfortunately, in several cases the numbers placed by the Arequipa archaeologist were painted in oil in very large letters; they are still visible today). Linares presented the results of his work in his doctoral thesis in 1974, as well as in his numerous books, scientific articles, and other publications.

Until his death in 2011 Linares – who dedicated his entire professional life to the archaeology of the region – fought for the scientific and tourist promotion of Toro Muerto. He published many books, participated in conferences and symposiums, and gave talks to the public. He called Toro Muerto the ‘Machu Picchu of Arequipa’ and was extremely worried about its continuous destruction, the lack of protection from local, regional and national authorities, as well as the little interest from other researchers. Even in his advanced age he was always willing to accompany his foreign colleagues, rock art experts, during their visits to the site.

Among the researchers who carried out studies in Toro Muerto in the pioneering era of the 1960s, we must also mention the director of the French Archaeological Mission to Peru - archaeologist Henry Reichlen and his wife, Paule Barret-Reichlen. In 1965, with the authorization of the Casa de la Cultura del Perú, they made the first attempt at systematic photographic documentation of the site and its petroglyphs. Unfortunately, probably for personal reasons, this project was soon discontinued, having registered only 190 rocks in the southern part of the site and collected a number of cultural materials from the surface. Currently, the Reichlens’ photographic material is housed at the Musée du quai Branly in Paris, and the part of the material collected on the site (stone tools, painted stone tablets, ceramic fragments) is stored at the Museo Nacional de Arqueología, Antropología e Historia del Perú in Lima.



The 1970s and 1980s

Antonio Núñez Jiménez and Eloy Linares Málaga

At the end of the 1970s, the first extensive photographic documentation of Toro Muerto was made by one of the most famous researchers of rock art of this period, the Cuban geographer, speleologist, politician and diplomat Antonio Núñez Jiménez (in the years 1972-1978, he was the ambassador of his country in Peru). Based on this material – already in Cuba – his collaborators prepared the drawings of the petroglyphs. All the preserved graphic material of this project is currently kept in the Antonio Núñez Jiménez Foundation of Nature and Man.


Núñez Jiménez delivers his book to Gabriel García Márquez                      

In 1985, Núñez, as Vice Minister of Culture of Cuba, organized – under the patronage of UNESCO – the 1st International Symposium of Rock Art in Havana. Eloy Linares was one of the main guests of the congress.

In his speech, he called for the recognition of Toro Muerto as ‘the world’s largest repository of rock art’ and its inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage List. In the same year, Núñez published a two-volume work Petroglifos del Perú: Panorama Mundial del Arte Rupestre, which contained almost three thousand drawings and photographs of petroglyphs from all over Peru. The second edition of this book was published in four volumes (Volume IV was mainly dedicated to Toro Muerto). A year later, extensive material from the site was published separately in book form as the album

El libro de piedra de Toro Muerto.

For several decades the book by Núñez Jiménez formed the reference work for all those involved in rock art studies in Peru. The drawings presented in it served to illustrate articles and books by other authors. Unfortunately, as they were made on the basis of photographs (many times oblique ones) many of them presented serious distortions. As they were made by people who have probably never seen the petroglyphs of Toro Muerto (or of the other sites described by the author) themselves, they are not very accurate and sometimes misleading (cf. van Hoek 2011).


In 2004, in honor of the great Cuban researcher of the rock art of Toro Muerto and of Peru in general,

a commemorative plaque dedicated to him was installed in front of the UNSA Archaeological Museum in Arequipa.

A little later, a small park with his name was inaugurated in the university campus, where a few rocks with petroglyphs transported by Linares to Arequipa from the Majes Valley still in the 1970s found their place.



The 1990s and the first years of the 21st century

Another 20 years of silence in the scientific studies or methodological proposals had passed, until in 1998

a reconnaissance with a perimetric survey was carried out by the regional headquarters of the National Institute of Culture in Arequipa (INC-A). The limits of the site were then marked (50 sq km) and the first detailed topographic plan of the complex was produced. Likewise, new codifications (inventory numbers) were placed on the rocks. For this project, topographic survey methods were used with the instruments available at that time (a theodolite), and a large part of the site with approximately two thousand rocks was registered.


At the beginning of this century, other types of interventions were developed in Toro Muerto, focusing mainly on the proper recording of the rocks and their carved panels, such as that of Muriel Pozzi-Escot who, in 2000, on the basis of the INC-A plans, documented and photographed 1,151 blocks.

Her methodology consisted of dividing the site into sectors, and she focused her work on Sector 6 located in the central part of the complex and on an area of 1,000 x 500 meters she had arbitrarily selected.

General plan of the site (Pozzi-Escott 2009: 358, Fig. 16)

  Díaz Rodríguez & Daria Rosińska 2008: 84, Fig. 1.            

Later, Daria Rosińska from the University of Wrocław (Poland), together with Luis Héctor Rodríguez Díaz (2008, 2016), carried out an archaeological survey of the perimeter of the site and a part of the valley. Their work focused mainly on the characteristics of the landscape and some cultural elements: cemeteries, roads, resting places and remains of irrigation channels.


Additionally, it is necessary to highlight the work done by a Dutch rock art enthusiast Maarten van Hoek (2003, 2005a, 2006, 2013a, 2018) who concentrated on the interpretation of some motifs of the iconography of Toro Muerto, the chronology of the petroglyphs and some aspects of their execution.

Sectors of work and registration results of the previous projects



The age of digital technologies

The registration of rock art was always associated with the development of cameras and topographic measurement equipment. Until the beginning of this century, classic (analogous) cameras and theodolites were used in archaeology. It should be noted that detailed documentation of a site as extensive as Toro Muerto and all of its petroglyphs was practically impossible at that time, if only because of the costs of such an operation (rolls of film needed for thousands of photos) and the subsequent problems with drawing up an inventory of the material acquired and processing it.

The rise of the GPS, digital cameras, drones, computers and powerful software revolutionized archaeological documentation dramatically, facilitating, simplifying and accelerating the entire process. This technological evolution has occurred mainly in the last 20 years.


Field work (2015-2016) and some results of the Toro Muerto Archaeological Project

Three field seasons of the Toro Muerto Archaeological Project – led by Karolina Juszczyk (Institute of Archaeology, University of Warsaw, Poland) and Abraham Imbertis Herrera (Arquomática SAC, Peru) – were carried out in 2015 and 2016. During these seasons, approx. 1,650 decorated boulders were identified and documented in an area of approx. 3.80 sq km2. The first orthophoto map of the southern and central parts of the complex, 3D models of the engraved rocks and several tracings of the petroglyphs were made. The results of this work are published on the project’s website (

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