Finding meaning in the mountains: the Cerro Pintados geoglyphs

Notes from Camelid Country

The barren wastes of the Atacama Desert in northern Chile are scattered with hidden surprises. We’d already had our eyes opened at Humberstone and Pica, but there is no greater wonder to be found in the Atacama than the hauntingly mysterious geoglyphs at Cerro Pintados – the largest single collection of geoglyphs anywhere in Latin America.

Driving through the post-apocolyptic landscape en route to Cerro Pintados it seems improbable that there is anything of interest at the end of the dirt road. Perhaps the desiccated corpses of other foolish travellers who made the mistake of wandering off the beaten track, but giant pre-Hispanic artworks wouldn’t top the list of possibilities.

The geoglyphs are both pre-Hispanic and pre-Inca, testimony to the fact that there were cultures thriving in these harsh desert conditions long before any form of written history could record their civilisation. Like the culture behind the more famous…

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