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19 April 2009
Ancient rock painting discovered at Machu Picchu

Dr. Reinaldo (Dito) Morales Jr., assistant professor of art history at University of Central Arkansas, has confirmed a major discovery in the world of rock art: an ancient rock painting at a burial site from the Inca site of Machu Picchu in Peru. Morales discovered the painting in 2000 while on a three-day graduate school research trip. The painting is located on a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage site, Machu Picchu, which has been the subject of scientific study for nearly 100 years. However, after trying to find research on the painting over the past eight years, Morales said he has not found any mention of this particular painting even though the nearly 50-foot rock on which it appears is a popular tourist attraction passed by approximately 70,000 tourists in 2007 alone.
     "I have pored through the research literature," Morales said. "I am still waiting on a couple more things that may come in, but I don't think the literature will mention this work." Morales said he has been scouring over resources for the past few years and has tried to read every book and journal that includes any mention of rock art in Peru. "I have tried to find every single source, including a national inventory of rock art in Peru that mentions rock art nearby, but not this site," Morales said.
     Although Morales discovered the painting in 2000, he never actually thought about the importance of what it could be until recently. He said he assumed, after first seeing it in 2000, that the painting had already been discovered and researched. Last year, Morales traveled to the site in the Peruvian Andes to confirm the painting's location and to document the painting through his own personal sketches and photos. "This past December, I confirmed that it is a painting," Morales said. "It looks, to my eye, very prehistoric." The black painting - likely done with charcoal or the mineral manganese - has developed a calcium deposit over it, which Morales said could take a thousand years or more to form.
     Although the painting is in an Inca environment, Morales said he does not believe his discovered painting to be from that culture because Incan art is typically dominated by rectilinear geometric patterns, whereas this painting is primarily curvilinear. "In my proposal, I've said this painting looks like the Recuay, a Peruvian culture who are much, much earlier than the Inca - 1,000 or 1,500 years earlier than the Inca, and from a completely different part of Peru.
That's the closest thing I can figure out to it, but they don't belong there. So I have no idea who may have done this." Morales added, "I don't know if it's supposed to represent something or if it's just some sort of abstract geometrical marks. That's the question of the century for rock-art studies."
     "You could be talking about something that dates back to 5000 BCE," said James Farmer, an associate professor and chairman of the art history department at Virginia Commonwealth University. "It is stylistically similar to some other things in the Andes" from that time. But some parts of the painting are in goodenough condition that it might be just 500 years old, he said. While it's probably not Inca in origin, the question of "whom we would assign origin to is going to be a much more difficult question to grapple with," Farmer said. "I think that would be sort of the first wave of research."

Sources: University of Central Arkansas (14 April 2009), NWA News.com, Arkansas Democrat Gazette (17 April 2009)

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