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Main: The Amazon rainforest. Inset: The Harakbut Face. Source: vaclav / Adobe Stock and Arqueologia Revelada

The Harakbut Face: Man-Made Monument or Natural Phenomenon?


One of the most enigmatic places on the Earth, South America has captivated researchers for centuries. At its core, the vast Amazon rainforest, an ancient and almost endless expanse of dense nature, is teeming with unexplored regions and hidden treasures. The Amazon is home to numerous native tribes, some of which remain isolated to this day, living their ancient paleo lifestyles undisturbed.

Due to the sheer size of the Amazon, many of its more remote regions have never been explored, and out-of-place structures and ancient remains are still hidden in its faraway corners. One such odd spot is the so-called Harakbut Face, a large and finely detailed human face seemingly carved from a rock overhang. Located deep in the secluded Peruvian Amazon, it is revered by the native Harakbut tribe. But is it a natural phenomenon or a man-made monument? Will it be able to survive the encroaching hand of civilization?

Aerial view of a river within the Amazon rainforest. (gustavofrazao / Adobe Stock)

Aerial view of a river within the Amazon rainforest. (gustavofrazao / Adobe Stock)

Unlocking the Secrets of the Ancient Harakbut Face

The Harakbut Face, known by the native Harakbut tribesmen as  el rostro, which means face, is located in Peru’s Amarakaeri Communal Reserve. This vast area is situated in the southern Amazon region of Peru, and encompasses a region of 402,335.62 hectares (994,192 ac.). Found within the Madre des Dios region, the reserve takes up a great part of the ancestral homeland of the Harakbut tribe.

The Amarakaeri Communal Reserve was created in 2002 after repeated demands by the local tribes, which include the Harakbut, Yine, and Matsiguenka indigenous peoples. As such, it is an area of significant historical importance, as well as being a natural region that is coming under a growing threat from rampant encroachment of industry. The communal reserve is under constant pressure from poaching, illegal fishing, rampant timber logging, gold mining, artifact plunder and unplanned infrastructure projects.

Constant attempts to preserve their ancestral home and their traditional ways of life are undertaken by the Harakbut tribe. Also known as the Harakmbut, Harakmbet and Arakmbut, these indigenous peoples of Peru are split into two distinct tribal groups – the Amarakaeri and the Huachipaeri. First contacted in the 1940s, this tribe is one of the oldest in the Madre Des Dios region. Today, the Amarakaeri Communal Reserve is their last refuge and there are only 5,000 of them left.

Nevertheless, accompanied by twelve rangers from the National Service of Natural Protected Areas of Peru, they present a vigilant and devoted protective force against the many perils that threaten their ancestral home. They actively fight to patrol and protect an area of roughly 400,000 hectares (about 990,000 ac.) which is a significant feat for such a limited number of people.

The ancient Harakbut Face in Peru’s Amarakaeri Communal Reserve. (Reserva Comunal Amarakaeri – Sernanp)

The ancient Harakbut Face in Peru’s Amarakaeri Communal Reserve. (Reserva Comunal Amarakaeri – Sernanp)

Harakbut Warriors as Protectors of the Ancient Forests

It is estimated that this native tribe lived in the basins of the Colorado and Madre des Dios rivers for several thousand years. Numerous complex myths and legends have survived to this day. One mentions the Harakbut as the “Warrior People,” destined to protect the ancient forests of Amarakaeri.

Today, the Amarakaeri Communal Reserve is home to ten indigenous communities and is hailed as Peru’s most pristine environment in the Amazon rainforest. Still, due to the sheer size of these regions, illegal activities continue to be a constant threat. Even though the Harakbut tribe received land titles from the state in 1977, the nation still allowed over eighteen mining concessions on their territory.

These mining operations and illegal logging are leaving the rainforest severely wounded, with thousands of hectares of precious trees lost forever. These devoted tribesmen are fighting to put an end to the spread of these industrial activities, which could in time threaten their ancient sacred places, the so-called  amana. The  amana dot the reserve as a testament to the centuries-old habitation by the Harakbut. Certainly, one of the most famous of the  amana is El Rostro – the Harakbut Face.

The Harakbut Face in Madre de Dios, Peru. (Awesome Pictures Nature Animal)

The Harakbut Face in Madre de Dios, Peru. (Awesome Pictures Nature Animal)

El Rostro and Its Sacred Significance for the Harakbut Tribe

Allegedly, there are several of these big heads spread over the vast Harakbut territory, but  El Rostro remains the iconic one. Located in a remote area of the rainforest, it is difficult to reach, requiring a challenging trek. But the sight of this incredible structure is a reward in itself. Perched over a wild and rapid flowing Amazonian river, emerging from the dense foliage, is an oddly realistic human face, its sharp lines jutting from the cliff face.

This sacred location is made from sedimentary rock, aged and covered by a thin layer of bright green moss. One glance—both from profile and front—is enough to let you know that it is, without a doubt, a human face peering towards the jungle. A sharp, aquiline nose with oddly straight and precise lines, combined with the jutting brow and a prominent under bite lower jaw, all portray a serious and powerful male figure, akin to a great god, a tribal chieftain, or a venerated ancestor.

A rock face in Manzanares el Real, Madrid, which illustrates an example of pareidolia. (CarlosPS / Adobe Stock)

A rock face in Manzanares el Real, Madrid, which illustrates an example of pareidolia. (CarlosPS / Adobe Stock)

Is It a Man-Made Megalith or a Natural Phenomenon?

Among the Harakbut, this location is utterly sacred. Agreed that it represents their most distant ancestor, these rock faces are said to be created by Toto, a powerful primordial spirit. However, whether or not this face is a man-made object remains debatable. Important research that was conducted on site can imply that this is in fact a lithological structure, a clear result of geomorphological processes. This again points us towards the widespread phenomena of pareidolia, through which the human eye often spots familiar symbols and shapes from natural objects and things.

If this is in fact a fully natural creation, it is unmistakably lifelike, and nature really outdid itself. But some staunch believers can still adhere to the claim that the Harakbut face is made by ancient man. If we are to question this claim, we need to ask ourselves one simple question: Why here? The face is situated in a very remote part of the Amazon rainforest, hard to reach and seemingly overlooking nothing of importance.

Most manmade megalithic structures are often placed at locations with significance, either in correlation with the stars, celestial objects, or as part of vast funerary complexes. It seems that the Harakbut face doesn’t fit the pattern. Could it be that the ancient inhabitants of this region of the Amazon rainforest simply discovered this oddly symbolic natural rock formation, and have revered it ever since?

Recent Pilgrimage to Rediscover Remote Harakbut Face

In fact, the Harakbut Face is so remote that many local tribesmen have never actually seen it. Its existence was for a time semi-legendary, passed from generation to generation. It was mentioned as the sacred ritual site of the tribe, a remnant of their most ancient predecessors and part of their mythology. And if we take into consideration the fact that the Harakbut have no written history, and that it is a chief part of their oral tradition, it can be clearly understood that the Harakbut Face has great significance to them.

This importance, bolstered by the growing threat of the industrial operations in its vicinity, prompted several Harakbut tribesmen and leaders to embark on a sort of “pilgrimage” deep into the rainforest in search of the rock face. This was not the first such expedition, but certainly the first in recent years.

Harakbut leaders Korisepa Jaime and Tayori Luis, among others, were accompanied by British filmmaker Paul Redman, who documented the whole experience, and a United States Rainforest Foundation official, Tom Bewick. The expedition was dubbed the “rediscovery” of the ancient Harakbut Face and, as Luis Tayori put it, “a reunion with [our] ancestors.” The resulting documentary, entitled The Reunion, documented the expedition and brought the story of the Harakbut into the spotlight.

When seeing the Harakbut Face for the first time, it is difficult to consider it as a natural formation. The resemblance to a real face is so uncanny and realistic, that one automatically assumes it was made by a human hand. Tom Bewick, who accompanied the expedition, concluded that the Harakbut Face was sculpted by humans, staing:

“There are no other rocks remotely similar in shape in that river valley... [It] is perched perfectly overlooking a valley, and presides over a waterfall and a basin that resembles an amphitheater. . . There are markings all over [it] that indicate it was hacked out with rudimentary tools. . . There are actually two Rostros - a Rostro within a Rostro - look below the nose... The boulders along the river are arranged in a way to channel the flow away from hitting the [Rostro’s] face directly, and in a way that would make it impossible for the face formation to have been caused by impact from even the heaviest of storms... The Harakbut don’t have a written history, but claim the Rostro has been in their oral history for generations and generations.”

The Reunion from If Not Us Then Who on Vimeo.

Can Nature Really Carve Something So Precise?

This powerful claim came from a man who got to see this unique monument in person and the effect it left on him is clear from his quote. Numerous photographs from different angles can still give an important insight into the nature of the Harakbut Face. The lines just below the nose are extremely precise, as if carved with great precision, as are those below the protruding brow ridge. Just below it is a prominent cheekbone, on both sides, and if it is natural, then it points to extreme coincidence.

Photographs from previous expeditions, from 2009 for example, show the Harakbut Face when it was covered with a thin layer of moss, which gave it an even more humanlike appearance, softening the sharp edges of the rock and creating an unbelievably real human face of immense proportions. There is also a very distinct possibility that the original rock formation simply had enough basis for ancient indigenous peoples to work on it, refining the shape into a monumental human face.

Those who undertook the 2009 expedition have claimed that there are two more such faces in the region, along with numerous archaeological remains, further deepening the mystery and the enigma of the Amazon rainforest.

Representational image of the environmental issues and destruction caused by oil exploration and logging in the Amazon Rainforest. (Peter / Adobe Stock)

Representational image of the environmental issues and destruction caused by oil exploration and logging in the Amazon Rainforest. (Peter / Adobe Stock)

Guardians of the Amazon at War with the Oil Industry

Sadly, many of these previous expeditions were undertaken for completely different reasons, with no interest in  El Rostro. In 2009, the region was subject to an exploration expedition by men of the Hunt Oil Company. Seemingly, the company officials were aware of the importance of such a discovery, and actively attempted to hide and downplay the find.

Diego Cortijo, an official of the Spanish Geographical Society who actively worked with Harakbut leaders in the region, went himself to discover the face after hearing so much about it from the tribesmen. His finds have provided important clues about the location.

Cortijo claimed that the Harakbut Face could have Inca roots, due to the well-known presidential Incan profile which faces east towards Inti, the Sun God of the Inca. Furthermore, he stressed that ancient tools were found in the vicinity, furthering the possibility of human involvement.

Sadly, the Harakbut Face faces an uncertain destiny. Large corporations—chiefly Hunt Oil—don’t care about the ancient past, about nature, or even about indigenous peoples. What they do care about is money. And this area of the Amazonian rainforest lies on a lot of money in various forms.

The Hunt Oil Company is one of the largest privately owned companies in the United States. With a longstanding interest in this particular region, primarily driven by its abundance of natural resources like gas and oil, Hunt Oil has undertaken numerous geological surveys, geomagnetic measurements and scans in the area.

In 2006 the oil company signed a contract with the Peruvian government which allowed it to operate in the region, a pact which was soon followed by the very first drilling platforms. It is stated that Hunt Oil’s concession in the region, known as Lot 76, overlaps almost 80% of the Amarakaeri Communal Reserve, which Peru itself proclaimed as a protected natural area of great biological diversity.

Hunt Oil’s activities are putting this area, and all the indigenous peoples living in it, in great danger. The Harakbut Face is also threatened. Numerous activists, tribesmen and movements are fighting to put a stop to Hunt Oil’s activities, but seemingly with limited success. Such is the fate of our world.

These images show how illegal gold mining causes deforestation in the buffer zone of the Amarakaeri Communal Reserve. (SERNANP / Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project)

These images show how illegal gold mining causes deforestation in the buffer zone of the Amarakaeri Communal Reserve. (SERNANP / Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project)

The Mighty Amazon: Last Refuge of Eternal Nature

Fighting the ever-encroaching tides of the modern world seems to be an impossible task. Large industrial companies, with Hunt Oil being an obvious example, are just like enormous monsters, made from naphtha or oil, whose oozing poison engulfs the very last bastions of untouched nature on Earth.

The Amazon rainforest releases an approximate 20 billion tons of moisture into the atmosphere every day. It also holds a record in biodiversity. Anywhere from 40 to 100 species of tree can be found on 1 hectare (2.47 ac.) plot of land in the rainforest. It is also home to some 80,000 plant species, from which more than half play a critical role in regulating the global climate and sustaining local water cycles. Now is the time for us to ask ourselves: Shall we stand by and watch it be destroyed by money-craving oil companies?

Top image: Main: The Amazon rainforest. Inset: The Harakbut Face. Source: vaclav / Adobe Stock and Arqueologia Revelada

By Aleksa Vučković


Catholic News Service. 9 March 2018. “In Peru’s Madre de Dios Region, Church Helps Indigenous Peoples Survive” in  EarthBeat. Available at:  

Hill, D. 8 May 2015. “Natural Rockface or Tribal Sculpture? Peru and US’s Hunt Oil Don’t Care” in  The Guardian. Available at:

Jabiel, S. 6 August 2019. “Guardians of the Forest” in  Sally Jabiel. Available at:

Unknown. 22 January 2020. “The Harakbut Face – A Supermassive Ancient Face Hidden Deep in the Peruvian Amazon” in  Monkey & Elf. Available at:

Valle, R.B.M and Echevarría López, G.T.. 2018. “What is Anthropogenic? On the Cultural Aetiology of Geo-Situated Visual Imagery In Indigenous Amazonia” in  Rock Art Research 35(2):123-144.


Frequently Asked Questions

The Harakbut Face is nestled within the depths of the Peruvian Amazon rainforest, specifically in the Amarakaeri Communal Reserve. This remote and sacred landmark emerges from the verdant foliage, embodying the cultural and spiritual heritage of the indigenous Harakbut tribe.

The Harakbut are indigenous peoples inhabiting the Amazonian Madre de Dios region of Peru. With a rich history spanning generations, they have cultivated a deep connection to the land and its natural wonders. The Harakbut Face holds profound significance for their cultural identity and ancestral legacy.

Pareidolia is a psychological phenomenon characterized by the perception of familiar patterns, such as faces or shapes, in random stimuli. In the context of the Harakbut Face, it prompts speculation about whether its distinctive features are the product of natural erosion or intentional craftsmanship by ancient hands.

Aleksa Vučković's picture


I am a published author of over ten historical fiction novels, and I specialize in Slavic linguistics. Always pursuing my passions for writing, history and literature, I strive to deliver a thrilling and captivating read that touches upon history's most... Read More

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