The Atacama Desert stretches for 600 miles south of Chile’s Peruvian border and west of the Andes. Often compared to Mars, the Atacama Desert is known to be the driest desert in the world, with areas that have not seen rainfall for centuries. On the barren landscape, hundreds of geoglyphs are found along an ancient caravan route that connected two distant oases, the Calama and Quillagua. Geoglyphs are figures etched on the earth, created by removing the darker topsoil and exposing the lighter subsurface layer. Alternatively, they can be created by accumulating material on the surface, or through a combination of both techniques. The area known as Chug-Chug encompasses 23 archaeological sites and preserves close to 500 geoglyphs depicting geometric and zoomorphic figures. They represent the highest concentration of geoglyphs in the Atacama Desert. The majority of the figures were created between 900 and 1550, with some dating from as early as 1000 B.C.
Despite the favorable geological and climatic conditions that have allowed the fragile geoglyphs to remain in a good state of conservation, in some cases for thousands of years, irresponsible human activities are increasingly posing a threat. In recent decades, the site has been damaged by nearby mining activity and by increased foot- and off-road-vehicle traffic due to tourism and events like the Dakar Rally. In addition to physical threats, the integrity of the ancient landscape is undermined by the high-voltage pylons that have been erected near, and in some cases directly over, the geoglyphs.
Although the site is a national monument, this designation does not provide the required protection to the cultural landscape. Instead, it affords protection to the individual geoglyphs—a common issue for many similar sites in Chile and Peru. The 2016 World Monuments Watch calls for the establishment of an archaeological park to protect, preserve, and interpret the site of Chug-Chug and to recognize and honor the legacy left by the ancestors of today’s indigenous communities.
For Watch Day at Chug-Chug Geoglyphs, Fundación Desierto de Atacama led residents of the nearby city of Calama on a guided tour of the site. The guides assisted in the interpretation of the site and led a discussion on its conservation needs. Watch Day, which took place on May 29, 2016, coincided with Chile’s Heritage Day, an annual celebration that promotes awareness of the nation’s cultural heritage.