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The Rock Art Network María Isabel Hernández Llosas
The Rock Art Network María Isabel Hernández Llosas
The Rock Art Network María Isabel Hernández Llosas
María Isabel Hernández Llosas
Rock Art Adventurous Field Work during COVID-19 in the Southernmost of South America
9 June 2020

by María Isabel Hernández Llosas
Senior Researcher, CONICET, National Council for Scientific Research, Argentina

Rock Art Network RAN María Isabel Hernández Llosas Field Work South America Argentina Chile CONICET National Council for Scientific Research
Map showing southern Patagonia, Magellan Strait and Tierra del Fuego Island
© María Isabel Hernández Llosas
Mid-March found me doing field work on the northern shore of the Magellan Strait in southern Chile in an archaeological project - financed by The H. and T. King Grant for Pre-Columbian Archaeology and administered by the Society for American Archaeology (https://www.saa.org/career-practice/scholarships-and-grants/h.-and-t.-king-grant-for-precolumbian-archaeology) - whose director is my colleague Liliana Manzi, who, together with Judith Charlin,  have been working with regional archaeology issues in that area, including rock art, for several years.

I was invited to participate in this particular project because, during the 1990's I performed an extensive recording of the rock art on the Argentinean side, specifically in the Rio Chico sector, and now this new project is devoted to study the rock art on both sides of the Argentina-Chile border in a broader regional context.

Rock Art Network View of Rio Chico South America Argentina Chile
View of Rio Chico
© Cecilia Pallo
This area is known as the 'Pali Aike Volcanic Field', located on the southern edge of the Patagonian desert in both countries - Argentina (Province of Santa Cruz) and Chile (Province of Magallanes).

The singularity of this region is its environment, a cold windy desert with a particular topography characterized by the volcanic field, crossed by important rivers which give support to a great variety of birds, mammals (mainly guanacos and its predators, like pumas and foxes) and a scarce but sufficient vegetation to sustain them. This particular landscape was the territory of hunter-gatherers for millennia, and they left important rock art sites, which happen to be the most austral rock art manifestations of the world, in an area where until recently, and despite the early researches, the rock art is still very little known.

The most frequent visual aspects of this rock art is the predominance of abstract designs, mostly painted in red and to a lesser extent black and white, showing a high morphological and technical variability, with a chronology estimated, on relative bases and some indirect radiocarbon dating, around 2,000 years ago within the Late Holocene.

Rock Art Network Guanacos South American wild camelids South America Argentina Chile Archaeology
Guanacos, South American wild camelids
© Cecilia Pallo
 
Rock Art Network Laguna Timone Site South America Argentina Chile Archaeology
View of Laguna Timone Site
© Cecilia Pallo
 
Rock Art Network View of Fell Cave South America Argentina Chile Archaeology
View of Fell Cave
© Cecilia Pallo
 
Rock Art Network Volcanic surface were rock art appear in Rio Chico South America Argentina Chile Archaeology
Volcanic surface were rock art appears
© María Isabel Hernández Llosas
 
Rock Art Network Abstract red linear motifs South America Argentina Chile Archaeology
Abstract red linear motifs
© María Isabel Hernández Llosas
 
Rock Art Network Abstract red and white motif South America Argentina Chile Archaeology
Abstract red and white motif
© María Isabel Hernández Llosas

Rock Art Network Abstract red dots motif South America Argentina Chile
Abstract red dots motif
© María Isabel Hernández Llosas
Recently, other designs have been discovered, corresponding to figurative representations of guanacos (south american wild camelid) with over-sized bellies, in this case engraved, whose shapes are similar to others found hundreds of kilometers away to the north. These motifs are not only novel for the area but also indicate they could correspond to earlier moments of the human settlement in southern Patagonia (Middle Holocene, ca. 5000 - 6000 years BP), suggesting that rock art in the extreme south of Patagonia would reach a greater temporal depth than the one currently assumed (this recording was done in previous field works, within the project 'Arqueología del valle del río Chico e interfluvio Gallegos-Chico, Campo Volcánico Pali Aike. Nuevas técnicas y líneas de evidencia' financed by CONICET-PICT 2061, Argentina).

The necessity of recognizing the amplitude of the diversification of the abstract motifs, together with the study of new types of figurative motifs, sustain the importance of this new project and one main goal is to identify strategies of representation and cultural transmission in hunter-gatherer populations in an area considered as a marginal settlement.

Rock Art Network Engraved Guanaco motif South America Argentina Chile
Engraved Guanaco motif
© Liliana Manzi
The methodology focus on distributional aspects of the rock art sites, including digital surveys of already known sites together with surveys in search for new sites. This information will analyse different approaches, including morphological determinations, studies about variations in techniques, statistical analysis, and geometric morphometry. Excavations of specific sites and their soundings are also planned in order to get a better resolution in the dating and contextual associations between rock manifestations and other kinds of material evidence.

This project was expected to have two field seasons visiting both sides of the border. The first one was done in December 2019, and the second in March 2020. We were doing our work on the Chilean side first, with the intention of going back to the Argentinean side to finish the recording there. But, the COVID-19 caught us in the middle. In fact we were crossing the border hours earlier the same day the lockdown was declared in both countries, when international and internal borders were completely closed.

Rock Art Network María Isabel Hernández Llosas South America Argentina Chile
Team working
© María Isabel Hernández Llosas
For us, coming from the field, the lockdown was unexpected and caught us in a very complicated situation. The uncertainty of our situation and the real possibility of being stuck in Rio Gallegos (the southern city in the Argentinean province of Santa Cruz) for at least two months, on our own, with hotels and other services closed, made the situation a nightmare. After several days of rapidly changing scenarios about what could happen with us, a distant possibility of a rescue flight by Aerolineas Argentinas appeared on the horizon, but we did not know until the very last minute if we could board that plane.

We finally were included on the flight and the way home was another adventure. Just to go from the place we were staying in Rio Gallegos to the local airport was like a terror movie: internal safe-passage, military retains, sanitary authorities dressed as astronauts controlling body temperature, which, if exceeded certain degrees, you were unable to board the plane.....and so on. When the plane took off, it was the only one in the air in the whole country. When we arrived at Buenos Aires Airport, another set of astronauts were waiting for us in the main trail. We could see that all the other aircraft there were stopped and parked in the lateral tracks, covered completely with plastic sheets.

Buenos Aires Airport was completely shut (not lights, no - of course - shops, nothing), only the carrousel with our luggage was working. When I got out I had already asked a taxi driver who I know to come and pick me up. He got a permit for me and for him to get out of there and get home. All the streets were deserted. We had to cross another military retain before we got the main street towards my place, where, again, there was nobody anywhere. Total desolation. The rules of the lockdown were, and still are, quite strict in this part of the World.

Being completely happy to have had the possibility to get back home, I still have a weird feeling: when we leave to the field the World was one, and coming back, the World was a completely different one. The fact that the situation is Global makes it more scaring. What will happen to the World, to our lives and ultimately to our rock art project in the southernmost end of South America?

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Rock Art Network
LATEST ARTICLE
Rock Art Network
→ The Final Passage
by Martin Marquet
4 May 2020
RECENT ARTICLES
Rock Art Network
→ Illuminating the Realm of the Dead: The Rock Art within the Dolmen de Soto, Andalucía, Southern Spain
by George Nash
29 July 2020
→ Rock Art Adventurous Field Work during COVID-19 in the Southernmost of South America
by María Isabel Hernández Llosas
9 June 2020
→ The Final Passage - FAQ
by Jean-Michel Geneste
1 June 2020
→ Experts rush to map fire-hit rock art
by Andrew Bock
15 May 2020
→ Sacred Indigenous rock art sites under threat
by Amy van den Berg
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→ Virtual Meeting
by Ben Dickins
22 April 2020
→ The Bradshaw Foundation Launches the Rock Art Network Website
by Wendy All
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→ The aftermath of fire damage to important rock art at the Baloon Cave tourist destination, Carnarvon Gorge, Queensland, Australia
by Paul Taçon
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→ The removal and camouflage of graffiti: The art of creating chaos out of order and order out of chaos
by Johannes H. N. Loubser
11 November 2019
→ The Histories of Australian Rock Art Research symposium, 8-9 December 2019, Griffith University, Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia
by Paul Tacon
5 November 2019
→ San rock art exhibition at the National Museum & Research Center of Altamira
by Aron Mazel
17 September 2019
→ The 2018 Art on the Rocks Colloquium
by Wendy All
2 December 2018
→ Preserving Our Ancient Art Galleries: Volunteerism, Collaboration, and the Rock Art Archive
by Wendy All
1 December 2017
→ Altamira and the New Technology for Public Access
by Pilar Fatás Monforte
30 April 2017
→ From the Chauvet Cave to the Caverne du Pont d’Arc: Methods and Strategies for a Replica to Preserve the Heritage of a Decorated Cave That Cannot Be Made Accessible to the Public
by Jean-Michel Geneste
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by Noel Hidalgo Tan
28 April 2017
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by Nicholas Hall
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→ Fundraising for Rock Art by Promoting Its Values
by Terry Little
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The Rock Art Network
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LATEST ARTICLE
Rock Art Network
→ The Final Passage
by Martin Marquet
4 May 2020
RECENT ARTICLES
Rock Art Network
→ Illuminating the Realm of the Dead: The Rock Art within the Dolmen de Soto, Andalucía, Southern Spain
by George Nash
29 July 2020
→ Rock Art Adventurous Field Work during COVID-19 in the Southernmost of South America
by María Isabel Hernández Llosas
9 June 2020
→ The Final Passage - FAQ
by Jean-Michel Geneste
1 June 2020
→ Experts rush to map fire-hit rock art
by Andrew Bock
15 May 2020
→ Sacred Indigenous rock art sites under threat
by Amy van den Berg
12 May 2020
→ Virtual Meeting
by Ben Dickins
22 April 2020
→ The Bradshaw Foundation Launches the Rock Art Network Website
by Wendy All
23 March 2020
→ The aftermath of fire damage to important rock art at the Baloon Cave tourist destination, Carnarvon Gorge, Queensland, Australia
by Paul Taçon
24 November 2019
→ The removal and camouflage of graffiti: The art of creating chaos out of order and order out of chaos
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by Paul Tacon
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→ San rock art exhibition at the National Museum & Research Center of Altamira
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by Wendy All
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→ Altamira and the New Technology for Public Access
by Pilar Fatás Monforte
30 April 2017
→ From the Chauvet Cave to the Caverne du Pont d’Arc: Methods and Strategies for a Replica to Preserve the Heritage of a Decorated Cave That Cannot Be Made Accessible to the Public
by Jean-Michel Geneste
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→ Emerging Consciousness and New Media: The Management of Rock Art in Southeast Asia and New Opportunities for Communicating Its Significance
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28 April 2017
→ Step by Step: The Power of Participatory Planning with Local Communities for Rock Art Management and Tourism
by Nicholas Hall
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→ Fundraising for Rock Art by Promoting Its Values
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