Dozens of Large, Mysterious Rings and Rock Piles Identified in Peru


Dozens of circular geoglyphs have been mapped by archaeologists in Peru, near the ancient town and archaeological site of Quilcapampa. The glyphs have been dated to between 1050 and 1400 AD, and are believed to reflect the movements of trade routes by the ancient peoples.

According to LiveScience, the geoglyphs are comprised of many lines and rings within rings at the ancient site of Quilcampampa in the Sihuas Valley.

Archaeologists have identified and mapped dozens of the geoplyphs using unmanned aerial drones and satellite imagery, in addition to ground surveys. Many of the circles can be seen from the ground, but the larger ones are better seen from far above, as is the case with the famous Nazca lines of Peru.

Circular geoglyphs recorded at Quilcapampa. This one features an irregular pattern of many rings. (Credit: Justin Jennings)

Research team leader Justin Jennings, a curator at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in Toronto spoke with LiveScience. He said that many of the geoglyphs have been dated to the Late Intermediate Period, and at that time Quilcapampa was a trade hub supporting a 70-hectare (173 acre) settlement.

Many Styles and Sizes notes that some of the geoglyphs are accompanied by rock piles and cairns. These are believed to be part of the overall design, and the archaeologists have determined the geoglyphs and patterns were created by removing stones on the surface and exposing the light and sandy soil below.

Quilcapampa, Peru. (Google Maps, 2016/

The ancient site of Quilcapampa, Peru [marked]. The rocky, sandy landscape hosts many mysterious geoglyphs. (Google Maps, 2016/

The size and shapes of the geoglyphs vary, with some being simple circles or one-ring styles, and others showing more complexity. One of the designs boasted at least six rings in an irregular arrangement, and it contained smaller circles within, creating a swirling effect.

Those with one ring tend to range between two to four meters (6.6 to 13.1 feet) in diameter, and larger designs with multiple rings can stretch over 800 square meters (8611 square feet).

Ancient rock piles and cleared circles at Quilcapampa, Peru. (Credit: Justin Jennings)

Purposeful and Symbolic Circles

The circling pathways and built up rock piles were created across the landscape near ancient trade paths. It could be these were quickly established to point to specific routes or mark the end of a journey. Archaeologists also speculate that the earthworks had symbolic significance, and may have described the flow of trade, people, and goods through the village at the time.

Jennings told LiveScience that “During the period when Quilcapampa flourished, there was ‘much more interaction between the coast and the highland.” The “circulation’ of people and goods (including food) along these pathways was necessary for daily life — something the circular designs might symbolize,” he continued.

Whatever their purpose, the cairns do not seem to contain human remains or evidence of burial.

Rush to Research

Like with other finds of rock art and earthen works across Peru, researchers rush to record the features before they can be damaged by environmental conditions or human involvement, including land and agricultural development. In past, the famous Nazca lines of Peru have suffered damage due to squatters, animals, and even environmental political action by Greenpeace .

The ‘Tree’ Nazca Line, Peru. ( Diego Delso, Wikimedia Commons, License CC-BY-SA 4.0 )

The ancient people of the area were prolific in their earthworks. Previous studies have revealed numerous petroglyphs etched into cliff walls at Quilcapampa.

Results from the mapping and study are set to be published in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports and researchers will continue their work at Quilcapampa in the summer. Perhaps future insights will solve the mystery of the giant rings and designs etched into the soil across Peru.

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