1st Place

Engraved in Stone: Desert Shamans of South America



Submitted by: David Reid

Program: Anthropology, PhD

Located in the deserts of southern Peru, my studies have led me to explore ancient road systems that once connected vibrant prehistoric communities and agricultural landscapes. Due to climate change and increased aridification, the encroaching desert now holds evidence of abandoned ruins, looted cemeteries, and broken pottery, as well as engravings, known as petroglyphs, left on volcanic boulders. Since the intense desert sun often washes out photographs of rock art, I utilize image manipulation software to inverse and adjust the colors to better define the petroglyphs. In so doing, animals such as birds and mountain cats emerge from the darkness alongside geometric designs and humans with outstretched hands.

In the southern Andes, this tradition of rock art is often associated with shaman figures, perhaps depicted within this image. Anthropologically, risky or dangerous behavior is often associated with ritual belief to ensure one’s safety. This may explain the connection between rock art, ritual, and prehistoric roads where travelers and llama caravans once crossed perilous desert landscapes and where the availability of water was a constant concern.