Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino

Art > Rock Art

The pictographs of Tambillo

The Tambillo pictographs are found on the walls of eight small rock shelters distributed along some 300 meters of the narrow, dry bed of the upper Quisma Ravine, some 20 kilometers from Pica. They were produced using the flat-paint technique, very often combining two or more colors and, in some cases, with the figures outlined in another color. Red and white are the predominant colors, followed by yellow, light green, and less frequently black.

Variations in the way humans and camelids are depicted can be observed, as well asoverlapping motifs, suggesting that the paintings were applied at different times. One panel has been crucial in establishing the Inca presence in the pictographs of Tambillo; on the left hand side it displays a design in the shape of a quipu, the Inca accounting device, and on the right there is a figure wearing a feathered headdress and checkerboard tunic typically worn by soldiers from the Inca capital of Cusco. While it is difficult to know exactly why these two figures are present in such a desolate, remote location, we do know that Tambillo was always a major landmark on the route from the Altiplano to the oasis of Pica and the coast, and that when the Incas occupied the region, they sent a branch of their celebratedInca Road through here. Perhaps, then, these two pictographic emblems reminded travelers that the route was under the control of the Empire.

Location: Quebrada de Quisma, Pica, I Region of Tarapacá

Timeframe: Approximately 1000¬–1600 A.D.

Site: Tambillo

Source:  A. M. Llamazares, 1993, “Arte rupestre de las quebradas de Guatacondo y Quisma, norte de Chile”, Boletín SIARB 7, pp. 38–47.

For more information:  J. Berenguer, 2009, Chile under the Inca Empire, exhibition catalogue, pp. 100–101 and 104–107, Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino, Santiago.