Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino

Art > Rock Art

The pictographs of El Médano

Around 75 km north of Taltal, the El Médano ravine is home to one of the most remarkable rock art deposits in the South American Pacific watershed. The site has more than a thousand red-painted images that include silhouettes of black sperm, sperm and baleen whales, sea lions, swordfish, hammerhead sharks, rays, turtles and other sea creatures. The most complex images depict scenes of human figures aboard tiny sea lion skin rafts throwing roped harpoons into the sides of enormous whales.

In these scenes, the vessels and crews are extraordinarily small, sometimes almost invisible beside the large animals. This size difference is considered to be exaggerated—capturing species this large would have almost certainly capsized the small crafts—which points to a symbolic relation that seeks to drawspecial attention to the great success of the hunt. Still, these compositions convey an attempt by their creators to adjust the size and position of the rafts and prey to create the illusion of distance and depth, making objects appear not only smaller than they are in reality, but also further away. As a result, though at first glance they seem disproportionate, the scenes appear almost realistic. Indeed, hunting of large cetaceans such as the baleen whale was well documented among the Chango people in the early 17th century off the coasts of northern Chile.
Location: Taltal Coast, Region II of Antofagasta.

Timeframe: Approximately 500–1500 A.D.

Style: El Médano

Source:  G. Mostny and H. Niemeyer, 1983, Arte rupestre chileno, pp. 47–51, Ministerio de Educación, Serie Patrimonio cultural chileno, Santiago.G. Mostny and H. Niemeyer, 1984, “Arte rupestre en El Médano, II Región”, Revista Creces 9 (5): 2-5, Santiago.

For more information:  J. Berenguer, 2009, “Las pinturas de El Médano: 25 años después de Mostny y Niemeyer”, Boletín del Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino 14 (2): 57–95.