Faces in the pre-Hispanic rock art of Colombia: Semiotic strategies, visual semiospheres, and gestures


  • Martín Cuitzeo Domínguez Núñez Escuela de Antropología e Historia del norte de México, Chihuahua, México




rock art of Colombia, pre-Hispanic faces, Guane culture, ancient semiotic systems, visual semiosphere, gestures


This article analyses the sign systems or semiotic models that make up the meaning of a double face or mask drawing in the pre-Columbian rock art of Colombia, also discussing two human figures with depicted faces associated with the main picture. The sample of rock art was detected on the walls of the Chicamocha Canyon at the Mirador de Bárcenas site in the Santander Department in Northeast Colombia. Its origin is attributed to the Guane chiefdom. We hold as a central argument that this face and its gestures were part of a sign system or visual semiosphere that spread along the banks of the Chicamocha Canyon. However, the image shared some semiotic models and visual communication strategies with societies that inhabited areas in central Colombia located hundreds of kilometers away from the site studied. We support this claim because the forms, the use of the space in the images, and the gestures of a hieratic character appear both in the faces of the petroglyphs of the Huila Department as well as in some pre-Hispanic gold masks from the Cundinamarca region.

The images of the rock art faces were analysed using a visual semiotic model based on the suggestions of the Mu group and analyses by Félix Thürleman and Jean Marie Floch. The analysis was complemented by Jacques Fontanille’s proposal for the levels of semiotic relevance, with Juri Lotman’s concept of the semiosphere employed as a key concept.


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How to Cite

Domínguez Núñez, M. C. (2021). Faces in the pre-Hispanic rock art of Colombia: Semiotic strategies, visual semiospheres, and gestures. Sign Systems Studies, 49(3-4), 463–488. https://doi.org/10.12697/SSS.2021.49.3-4.11