Pukara Grande, Bolivia: The Half-forgotten Treasure that Hints at a Remote Past Most Strange

At first sight, Pukara Grande appears to be simply another of  the many natural hills lying to the South of the Bolivian town of Huanuni. Ask the locals, however, and you will hear a very different story. Known also as Inka Pucara, this archaeological curiosity is many thousands of years old. (Picture © Luis Gutierrez).

An Andean mining town

Huanuni clings to the side of a valley in the Bolivian Andes, about 30 miles (40 km) south of the city of Oruro. The morning is bright and sunny, but clouds are gathering. Every now and then one of them obscures the sunlight, bringing a sudden biting chill to the thin mountain air. The town owes its existence to one thing alone: tin. Dust from its massive tin mine clogs the streets, turns the stream that divides its streets yellow; and leaves you gagging for what little oxygen there is at this altitude. The smell of crushed ore sticks in your throat, as the heaps of spoil loom all around you, like some villain in a melodrama about to asphyxiate his victim.

Tin mine Huanuni.
Spoil from the tin mine at Huanuni clings to the side of the valley. (© Dave Truman).

This is not the kind of place people usually read about on the web pages proclaiming the mysteries of the Andes. Those brightly-coloured itineraries, with their ‘iconic’  mountain vistas, which lure increasing numbers of tourists from North America, Australasia and Europe to seek meaning in their lives. The irony is that, without Bolivian tin, China could not produce the plethora of smartphones and hand-held devices through which we desire ever more  to see the world.

Slowly, as I walk along the road that leads south from the town, the air begins to clear of the stench of tin. Lupins gingerly make appearances between the lumps of spoil littering the roadside and I feel confident enough to take the deep breath that my lungs so sorely need.  This is not the first time I have visited Pukara Grande, but nothing compares to the feeling I get when approaching an archaeological site, especially when it is remote and relatively unknown. Without the usual distractions of souvenir stalls and themed restaurants my mind can absorb itself in the presence of the deep-cut valley landscape that leads towards this most ancient and sacred place.

A catastrophic past?

Mud interspersed with rocks.
Like many places in the Andes, the soil here contains both rough stones and smoother ones. Some have taken this as evidence of a super-flood consisting of water, mud and rocks that were swept along from numerous locations. (© Dave Truman).

The cutting that was dug for the road I’m walking along reveals a thick reddish clay soil interspersed with rocks and boulders. On previous visits here, I have looked for evidence of a catastrophe that I believe happened at the end of the Ice Age, but that is not what is running through my mind this time. Instead, I consider the fact that this part of the Andes is so rich in metals: tin, copper, iron, gold, silver and, of course, gold. Today, we tend to think of metals in terms of their commercial value and of how to extract them in the most efficient way from the Earth. I’m convinced that ancient peoples’ perspective on metals was very different. Yes, they made use of metals – copper has been mined in Bolivia since at least 4,000 BC –  but it was their qualities within the landscape that so fascinated those people. In particular, the high metallic content of so many minerals here means that they are very effective at conducting electricity; and there is plenty of electricity to be had here.

A tempestuous place

This is where the cold air surrounding the Cordilleras rubs up against warm thermals that rise from the Amazon Basin. As a result, thunderstorms abound and lightning strikes are commonplace. At the end of the last Ice Age the differences in temperature between pockets of hot and cold air were far greater.  Back then, it would have been prime territory for generating tornadoes. Even today, along the Altiplano just to the North of Huanuni,  you can see dark storm clouds begin to form torsion patterns as they move along the plateau lying between the Cordilleras.

Cloud formation
Cloud formation on the Altiplano, between Huanuni and Oruro. Notice that at the bottom centre of the formation, the cloud is beginning to reach towards the ground. If there were to be a greater difference between the hot and cold air here, it would begin to form the central vortex of a tornado. (© Dave Truman).
The electric landscape
Inside Pukara Grande
One of the very few expeditions to penetrate the intrior of Pukara Grande has revealed a half-collapsed megalithic structure. If John Burke’s research into the electromagnetic properties of ancient sites is correct (see below), then the presence of  spots of light  in this picture may be significant. Known as ‘orbs,’  they may be more than specks of dust caught in headlamps and flashlights. (Picture © Luis Gutierrez)

Not surprisingly, some of this region’s most ancient inhabitants, the Urus, regarded lightning as sacred. Like other Andean peoples who can trace their origins in the distant past, they were probably able to sense the presence of electromagnetic fluxes – called telluric currents – flowing through the landscape they inhabited. Experiments conducted by Andrija Puharich in the 1970s showed that fluctuating magnetic fields did seem to enhance his subjects’ psychic abilities, but not in a way that could be explained through what we know as the standard model of physics. Was this why Pukara Grande has been regarded as a holy place by the local Aymara communities since time immemorial?

Fault line sign
Sign on the road from Huanuni,  indicating that Pukara Grande borders a geological fault line (© Dave Truman).

Just then, my thoughts were brought to an abrupt halt by something I had perceived on previous visits, but which hadn’t really registered with me. By now I had reached the northern skirt of Pukara Grande. On the opposite side of the road from me was a yellow sign warning drivers that there was a geological fault running across the road. In other words, the northern edge of Pukara Grande bordered a major geological fault line.

Inside Pukara Grande (Pictures © Luis Gutierrez). 

It seems that the interior of Pukara Grande was the result of deliberate engineering. It is not just a network of natural caves, however. The engineering involved not just precisely fitting megaliths , but perhaps fluxes in the Earth’s natural electromagnetic field.  

Those who have read any of the scientific studies carried out by the late John Burke into telluric currents at megalithic sites will know that geological faults feature prominently in many such ancient places. Burke found that the faults acted as what he called ‘conductivity discontinuities’, meaning that they could produce very powerful fluctuations in the local geomagnetic field.  In effect, they amplify the changes in the Earth’s electromagnetic field induced by the sun and by atmospheric conditions – such as thunderstorms.

Alignment on map.
By extending Sholten d’Ebneth’s alignment to the South-east from Tiwanaku I found it crossed Oruro and Pukara Grande in Bolivia. (© Dave Truman).

I have written elsewhere about how I found that Pukara Grande stood on an extension of the alignment of sacred sites rediscovered by the mathematician Maria Sholten d’Ebneth. Towards the end of the same article, I outline the legends of the local Aymara people, who say that Pukara Grande became a place of refuge during a great cataclysm. I believe this to be a cultural memory of the changes that took place in the Andes at the end of the last Ice Age, between about 13,000 and 11,500 years ago. The local people also consider Pukara Grande to be their most holy place. Even today they celebrate the December Solstice there, which they call Ayllu Bomba. What interested me on this visit was the possible relationship between their reverence for this place and any particular electromagnetic properties it may possess.

The vaulted roof (Pictures © Luis Gutierrez)

Although most of Pukara Grande’s summit appears to be natural, it actually consists of an immense vaulted roof. Investigations on the summit have revealed massive flat stones that may have functioned as slates. In addition, there are entrances to the labyrinthine corridors below the vault. Were these opened up after a mega-flood had engulfed the adjacent valley in water, ice, mud and boulders?

A strange attractor 

I pressed on towards the path that leads through the village to the summit of this most ancient and holy place. By ‘chance’ on the previous morning, I had   met the leader of the local community and had used the opportunity to ask his permission to make a visit, as well as to writing this article. When I began to climb the path that led to the summit, I noticed how much the skies were beginning to darken.

I climbed further, as the temperature plummeted and the wind picked up. Then the hail came, biting into my face with all of the vehemence of someone scorned. I was nowhere near the summit and I struggled to take pictures of the great bluff in front of me as my hands froze. A clap of thunder nearly split my ear drums. Ominous clouds gathered on the ridge that forms Pukara Grande’s summit. There was no way I could climb any further. It was far too dangerous to try to do so in this weather. One slip and I could tumble chaotically down a steep slope, my arms and legs flailing uncontrollably against boulders as I fell.

© Dave Truman

I turned to make my way back to the deserted village below. As I did so, the storm started to abate. This was not the first time that this had happened. In February 2015 a vicious storm had blown up just as I had reached the same spot during my ascent. Then, as now, Pukara Grande had decided to occult its true nature from me.

Picture galleries (© Luis Gutierrez and Dave Truman).


The vaulted roof of Pukara Grande could not have spanned such a vast expanse without support. This was done through articulated stone columns that at first appear to be a natural feature. Please look closely at them and with an open mind.

Worked stones both large and small

There are many large stones on the slopes of Pukara Grande that appear to have been worked, rather than being erratics deposited by glaciers. Additionally, there are occasional finds of smaller stones that show clear evidence of working, some of it very fine. 


© Dave Truman

Sillustani Peru: Where Houses of Souls Reach into Solstice Skies

Dedicated to the memory of John Major Jenkins (1964-2017), without whose scholarship and insight this article would not have been possible.

The One remains, the many change and pass;
Heaven’s light forever shines, Earth’s shadows fly;
Life, like a dome of many-colour’d glass,
Stains the white radiance of Eternity,

Percy Bysshe Shelley

Funerary towers, or a technology for ‘catching’ returning souls?

Chullpa at Sillustani
On the high plateau of the Andes, just to the West of Lake Titikaka, stand the the battered remains of megalithic towers commonly known as chullpas. They dominate the skyline like  massive sentinels, but their age old struggle with the elements in this harsh and barren landscape has taken its toll. Storms, earthquakes and the cupidity of humans – in the form of tomb-robbers – all have ravaged these curious structures over the centuries. They are left to stand in decaying magnificence, two and a half miles (3.9 km) above the level of the ocean. (© Dave Truman).
Chullpas at Sillustani
Megalithic chullpas at Sillustani Note the figure to the right to judge the size of the towers. (© Dave Truman).
Chullpa reconstruction.
Reconstruction of a Chullpa built by the Uru people, beside Lake Uru Uru, Bolivia. The mummified remains of their dead were placed in a foetal position within. The Urus are said to have begun the tradition of constructing doorways in the chullpas that face either the rising or setting solstice sun. They did so in order to commemorate a distant era in which they believe the sun was obscured and everything became dark. I consider this to be a cultural memory of real events at the end of the last Ice Age. (© Dave Truman).

If non-natives of the Andes picture a chullpa at all, they most probably picture one of those megalithic circular towers like the ones portrayed above. The truth of the matter is that not all Andean chullpas are built of stone, neither are they necessarily circular. One of the first people from the English speaking world to study Andean archaeology, Ephraim George Squier (1821-1888) came across a rectangular chullpa made of adobe, when he was making his way to Cusco. Similar chullpas to the one Squier encountered exist further south on the Bolivian Altiplano.

Modern archaeologists generally think of the Sillustani chullpas as funerary towers, since they were often found to contain the mummified remains of the Kolla people, who lived in the Titikaka region from before the time of the Incas.  In the Aymara language of the Kollas, the towers were actually called  uta amaya, which perhaps gives a us a better clue as to their significance.  Uta amaya means, ‘houses of the soul’.  Far from being simply places where the dead were laid to rest, the  chullpas of Sillustani performed a vital function in the lives of the Kolla people and in their Cosmos.  Even though Towers of Sillustani housed the bodies of dead ancestors, they really had nothing at all to do with funerals.

Ruins of a chullpa with a concrete filling.
Many of the towers at Sillustani have had to be filled with concrete to reinforce their decaying walls. (© Dave Truman).
Lords and Ladies of Hatun Kolla

Sillustani’s towers were built for the mummies of the royal members of the Kolla tribes. These were the Lords (and Ladies) of Hatun Kolla, who are spoken of with reverence by local people in this part of the Andes even today. For the present day Aymara peoples, the Hatun Kolla are a link to a lost age, when heroes of mythical proportions inhabited cities that are now lost beneath the waters of Titikaka. Strange as it may seem to us, there may be substance to these Aymara legends.

Lake Umaya

Part of Lake Umaya, which is overlooked by the Sillustani megalithic complex, just to the West of Lake Titikaka. Note the pale markings on the water’s surface. Do these denote traces of sunken palaces where the Lords of Hatun Kolla once lived? (© Dave Truman )
Hitching-posts of the Sun

The chullpas are not the only archaeological curiosity that Sillustani has to offer. Lying close by are two stone circles that go by the name Intihuatana. The name may be familiar to anyone who has visited Machu Picchu, for it is the name of a megalith there, which is thought to be an astronomical clock. The term Intihuatana comes from the Quechua language and translates as ‘hitching post of the sun’.

Stone circle at Sillustani
The stone circles at Sillustani most probably functioned as calendars to mark the June (winter) solstice in the southern hemisphere. (© Dave Truman)

So why are the stone circles at Sillustani called hitching-posts of the sun? Well, the notion of hitching the sun so that it appears to stand still in the sky is probably a reference to the solstices. For many traditional cultures around the world, these dates in June and December were important for many reasons. For ancient astronomers,  who keenly observed the positions of the rising and setting sun, the solstices presented a remarkable phenomenon. The clue to this phenomenon is in the name solstice itself, which translates from Latin as ‘stop-sun’.  Although we may casually talk about the sun´s  rising in the East, it actually moves its rising point slightly throughout the year each day. The only exceptions to this are the solstices and the days immediately before and after them, when the sun appears in the same place on three consecutive days.

Inti Huatana at Machu Picchu
Perhaps the most famous Intihuatana is the one at Machu Picchu. Just like the stone circles at Sillustani, it was a solstice marker. This was when the sun stood still for three says and was therefore ‘hitched’ to the stone. (Picture Jordan Klein, CC BY 2.0)

In the Andes, it seems, a stone that marked the position of the sun’s solstice sunrise was thought of as its ‘hitching post´, because it marked its rising position on those days when it appeared to stand still. This is why the stone circles at Sillustani were known as  hitching posts of the sun.  Just like Stonehenge in Britain – and numerous other stone circles around the world – many of their principal stones marked either the summer or winter solstices, or both.

Some readers may be familiar with the reasons archaeologists give for why solstices were important to many ancient cultures.  These were to do with calendars and the need to mark the seasons for agriculture, hunting and gathering.  What is not always appreciated is the importance of the solstices in the cosmology and spirituality of many ancient peoples. If we consider this at Sillustani, then we may gain a greater understanding of how the site – both its stone circles and towers – may have functioned as a whole.

The conical shape of a chullpa
Archaeologists and engineers have been baffled by the cone-shaped profile of many of the Sillustani towers, which taper towards the ground. The shape makes no sense at all from the point of view of structural stability and adds considerably to the technical challenges of building the towers. The design would, however, make sense if the towers were intended  as ‘funnels’ to catch the returning of departed ancestors’ souls during the solstice. (© Dave Truman).

I stated earlier that it is probably better to think of the Sillustani towers as ´houses for souls´ rather than funerary towers. After all, this was how the Kolla people saw them. It turns out that during the June (winter) solstice in the Andes, the towers were the scene of a particular shamanistic ceremony.  Remember that the towers housed the mummies of the Hatun Kolla, who were the royal members of the tribe and  who probably  would have been the shamans of former times.

Entrance to a ruined chullpa.
Entrance to a ruined chullpa at Sillustani. (© Dave Truman).

Every June 21st, the Kolla shaman would perform a ceremony that involved the taking of the San Pedro cactus and other sacred plants. The shaman would crawl into the tower through the small entrance at the bottom and would commune with the souls of the departed ancestors, whose mummified bodies were present there with him. My source for this information told me that this was how the shamans received guidance regarding the conduct and governance of the tribe over the months to come.

Capac Raymi Festival
Woodcut by the indigenous chronicler Huaman Poma Ayla of the Incas’ Capac Raymi Festival. (NB The original is not tinted. Public domain).

Curiously, there is a connection between the solstices and the return of the souls of the dead in many different cultures. The Incas – who later came to use Sillustani themselves – held a feast at the December solstice called Capac Raymi, when they ate, drank and made merry alongside the mummies of the departed. It was the solstice, however, that enabled the souls of the ancestors to return to the physical realm. There is a cosmic logic to these strange customs.

The Solstice Gateways

The solstices are also distinctive because they mark the two times in every year when the path of the sun through the sky (known as the ecliptic) crosses that of the Milky Way.  Those who have studied ancient cosmologies from around the world have noted that, in numerous traditional systems, the solstices were when souls were thought, either depart the physical world, or to enter  it.  Indeed, this doctrine has been found to be so widespread that it has been named the Solstice Gateways.

The age-old question

As with so many other Andean megalithic sites, there is controversy over the age of Sillustani. My research has strengthened my opinion that parts of the Tiwanaku complex date back to the period immediately after the last Ice Age and I am coming round to the view that other megaliths may be even older. Equally, we should not fall into a bear-pit of materialist polemic here. Those of you who followed the link to John Major Jenkins’ technical paper on the Solstice Gateways above, may recognise that not only was this knowledge highly sophisticated and ancient, but it also pervaded many ancient cultures around the world. Perhaps the Lords of Hatun Colla were latter-day custodians of this ancient spiritual science?

If so, then the question of exactly when Sillustani’s megalithic towers were constructed is of secondary importance. Stones were fashioned, dressed and assembled into these ‘houses of souls’ in order to facilitate a very ancient spiritual technology. It might just be that the Hatun Kolla had preserved, what were to them, venerable and esoteric traditions of working megaliths in order to do just that. After all, why else would they have gone to all that trouble if these were just funerary towers?

Picture galleries:

Stones and cirles

Lake Umaya

Note the cross pattern formed on the water’s surface, just to the right of centre. Does this indicate the ruins of walls, or other artificial structures, below the surface?
To the right of this picture, on the surface of the lake, there is a right-angled shape. Does this indicate another sunken ruin?
Again, notice the two lines running almost horizontally across the Lake’s surface in the bottom third of this picture.

© Dave Truman

Huaca Prieta, Peru: A Tale of Monstrous Mammals, Avocados and Why We Need to Re-think the Peopling of the Americas

Glyptodons, such as the one featured above, were monstrous mammals (technically known as megafauna) that lived in both North and South America during the last Ice Age. Distant relatives of modern armadillos, the species in the picture was the size of a family saloon car.  They may have enjoyed eating wild avocados; just like other American Ice Age megafauna did. If so, then it was only the glyptodons that lived in North and Central America that enjoyed them. This obscure fact could change our thinking about Ice Age people altogether. (Image courtesy of Pavel Riha, CC-BY-SA-3.0). 

A trip to the northern coast of Peru

The bus drops us off about twenty miles north of the city of Trujillo on the Pan American Highway, a strip of tarmac that runs like a black ribbon close to South America’s Pacific coast. I’m with Ivan, an amateur historian from Trujillo, who has made a study of the cultures that lived here before the arrival of the Spanish. We’ve come here to try to learn more about an archaeological site called Huaca Prieta, which may yet change our understanding of South America at the end of the last Ice Age.

Clovis first? Well, not really
Bering Strait satellite
Satellite picture of the Bering Strait, which lies between present-day Siberia (Russia) and Alaska (U.S.A.). In the last Ice Age, when sea levels were much lower, a land-bridge existed where there is now water. Up until a few years ago, it was thought that the ancestors of all indigenous Americans crossed this bridge in order to populate both of the Americas. (Public domain)

In the last century, it all seemed so simple. During the Ice Age, so the story went, sea levels were much lower. This allowed people to cross the land bridge that then joined Siberia to Alaska, around 13,000 years ago. When the planet gradually heated up, the sea levels rose and people could no longer cross between the two continents. The immigrants slowly moved southwards down the coasts of the Americas, hunting and gathering as they went. The warming of the world at the end of the Ice Age was a rather a sedate affair – or so it was thought.

Dubbed the Clovis People by academics, these early Americans were hunter-gatherers and they made very effective stone tools. Indeed, they were such good hunters – it is still believed – these small bands of itinerants were personally responsible for wiping out all of the huge mammals, such as ground sloths, mammoths, mastodons, glyptodons and toxodons that once roamed the Americas during the Ice Age.

Mammoth and Mastodon
Two North American relatives of modern elephants that died out at the end of the last Ice Age: the woolly mammoth (left) and the mastodon (right). Most palaeontologists still insist that they were all hunted to extinction by the Clovis people. That skeletons and carcasses of large numbers of these creatures have been found, their tusks pitted with meteoric iron shot, called spherules, suggests differently. Were most of these creatures actually killed by thousands  of cometary impacts and explosions that took place at this time? (Image: Dantheman9758).
So what about the peopling of South America?

The truth is that those who study the migration of humans into South  America are already having to change their thinking about how this happened. This is because there is an increasing mass of evidence – genetic and archaeological – that is forcing them to.

Huaca Prieta is one of the burgeoning number of archaeological sites in all of the Americas that have given the lie to the Clovis first theory, if only because of its dating. In a recent archaeological dig at the site, the  geologists present wanted to find out more about its underlying rock strata. When they dug down, they were surprised to find the remains of hearths, stone tools and plants. The archaeologists in the team radiocarbon dated the organic matter present to between 14 and 15,000 years old. Back then, quite obviously, there was no Pan American Highway hugging South America’s Pacific coast. The idea that the people who left those remains – or their ancestors – had wandered down the coast from Alaska, hunting and gathering as they went, was out of the question. The dates just did not stack up.

These were some of the questions swirling through my mind as we looked for a colectivo to take us towards the coast and, we hoped, towards Huaca Prieta.  Eventually, we found a battered black Datsun, squeezed ourselves into the rear seats and waited until the driver had gathered enough passengers to make the trip worth his while. We did not have to wait long and soon we were racing along a road that divided a vast expanse of sugar cane that undulated in the scorching winds that race down the coast from the equatorial North. (This is the coast where the phenomenon we know as El Niño grows up, sprinting with all the vigour of a young boy from its birthplace across the Pacific.)

Huaca Prieta as seen from Cao Viejo
Today, Huaca Prieta appears as a rather unspectacular mound near to a headland within the El Brujo Archaeological Complex. Currently, nobody is allowed anywhere near to this paradigm-changing place, as Ivan and I discovered when we tried to get close enough to it to take some pictures. (Photograph: Véronique Debord-Lazaro).
An archaeology of human conciousness
Gourd Vessel
Huaca Prieta was used as a sacred site for nearly 10,000 years. This pre-ceramic drinking vessel is made from a gourd and is in a style that has been linked to the Valdivia culture in Ecuador (2, 300 BC), which some have linked in turn to the Jomon culture of Japan. It is just one of many finds there suggestive of sustained links across the Pacific, as well as through time, at Huaca Prieta. The figure represents a person’s being transformed from a human to a feline. Human to cat transformations  are common in the art and sculpture of many ancient cultures in the Andes, including Chavin (Peru) and Tiwanaku (Bolivia). This is almost certainly a motif that is linked to the practice of shamanism. (Image available under Share Alike).

Already, amongst the colectivo’s passengers on our journey towards the coast,  the conversation had turned to the peculiar energies present in the land around Huaca Prieta and of present-day shamanistic ceremonies conducted there. Huaca Prieta does not stand alone on this particular stretch of Peru’s Pacific coastline.

Wherever I looked, it seemed, there were mounds rising from the sandy landscape: El Brujo (literally, ‘the wizard’, but perhaps more accurately the shaman’), and Huaca Cortada are but two of the mounds present in this archaeological complex that goes by the name of El Brujo. All, however, are regarded as huacas by the locals. The term is difficult to translate, because English lacks a word that grasps its full significance. (Perhaps ‘sacred place or object’ is as close as we can approach its meaning?) There are mounds that conceal pyramids too. Long after Huaca Prieta was abandoned, the Moche people built a seven-stepped pyramid here (also a huaca: Huaca Cao Vieja), at which they conducted numerous human sacrifices. Evidently, there is something about the intensity of an unseen presence in this particular part of the world that animates the human psyche – either for good or ill.

Polychrome relief from Cao Viejo
Polychrome relief from the seven stepped pyramid of Huaca Cao Vieja constructed by the Moche culture (c. 100-700 AD) within the El Brujo Complex. Note the beard and moustache. The surrounding undulating serpent/dragon figures may symbolise the presence of strong telluric fluctuations present in the local environment. (© Dave Truman)

I hesitate to use the word ‘energy’, because of its New Age connotations, but it is difficult to find a substitute. Telluric currents, on the other hand, have been measured by physicists. They are mostly caused by solar winds, which  bombard the Earth’s magnetic field with sub-atomic particles. Changes  and fluctuations in the Earth’s magnetic field can affect our consciousness in ways that we hardly understand today. My research at several sites in South America has suggested strongly that the people who built them were capable of engineering those currents in complex and sophisticated ways. Perhaps these were  what my companions in the colectivo were actually referring to, when they spoke of the potent ‘energies’ at Huaca Prieta and its companion huacas?

Huaca Prieta: El Brujo Complex’s most ancient sacred place

The construction of sacred places here did not stop with the coming of the Spanish to South America. The Complex contains the remains of one of Peru’s first Catholic churches, which was built over the site of a huaca in 1538. It is worth pondering for a moment as to why this complex of huacas should have been a place that has attracted people for 14,000 years. Is it all really just a matter of superstition. as those who embrace scientific orthodoxy would like us to believe?  The sheer antiquity of the Complex makes it hard to explain why so many very different cultures have felt driven to embrace a sense of something other than the mundane here.

Equally, the archaeologists’ belief that El Brujo is a single complex comes from their excavations and from mapping  its topography. All of the huacas sit within a defined geogrphical area. Curiously, its shape is a miniature version of the South American continent and is instantly recognisable as such when you look at a plan of El Brujo.

Archaeological surveys undertaken using drone technology have revealed that the shape of the El Brujo Complex corresponds in many respects to the that of the South American continent. Is this a coincidence, or does it result from paleo and Pre-Columbian remote viewing undertaken by shamans over many years? (Image courtesy of Xanga). 

Archaeologists have put this down to mere coincidence, but after many years of studying South American ancient sites, I dare to differ. Geoglyphs – giant drawings that are scored across the landscape – were drawn by many ancient cultures on this continent. The most famous of these are the Nazca Lines, but there are many others. We may object to the idea that the site is a huge map, because there is no way that these ‘primitive’ peoples could have known the shape of their own continent. To say so may be to misunderstand the true nature of human consciousness. The physicist, Dr Hal Puthoff of the Stanford Research Institute would probably think so too. In the 1970s, he conducted a series of experiments into something known as remote viewing, in which he provided empirical evidence that such an undertaking is a reality. My own research into the shamanistic nature of many South American sacred sites indicates that one of their manifold functions was to enable very similar experiences to those of Dr Puthoff’s remote viewing subjects. Namely, of being able to perceive physical objects from distant perspectives – perhaps even outer space!

Evidence that challenges previous assumptions

The very early finds beneath the mound of Huaca Prieta have been a surprise to archaeologists, because they imply a high degree of  cultural sophistication, especially as they are now known to be so old. On the other hand, some accounts of the excavations have been keen to stress the ‘primitive’ nature of the stone tools found in the lower levels of the site. After all, they suggest, this would seem to confirm the site’s antiquity, simply by those tools’ being ‘primitive’.

What if we consider these stone tools as simply ‘crude’, rather than ‘primitive’? Would this allow us to envisage a different scenario; perhaps one that is not necessarily shackled to the idea of perpetual progress? Imagine for a moment a series  of catastrophes that took place over perhaps a few thousand years. This could have wiped out almost all human culture and most of humanity itself – just like the large mammals I referred to earlier. Might not this account for the crude nature of those tools? Interestingly, the very period from which these early Huaca Prieta finds have been dated – the end of the Ice Age – may well have been one in which successive catastrophes did take place.

Ground Sloth
Ground sloths were a group of large mammal species living in the Americas, which became extinct at the end of the last Ice Age. This example, magatarium, was over 20 ft (6m) tall when it stood on its hind legs. Around 80% of South America’s largest mammals died off at the end of this period, supposedly through being hunted by humans who possessed ‘primitive’ stone tools like those found at Huaca Prieta. Is the real reason for this mass die-off a series of environmental disasters? (Public domain).
From piles of  megafauna dung to the fashionable restaurants of Islington
Botanists are puzzled by the survival of avocados into the modern era, since they co-evolved alongside the giant mammals that died out at the end of the last Ice Age. When the ground sloths and mastodons disappeared, so should have they. It is still believed that avocados were first cultivated 5,000 years ago in Mexico, but might they have been cultivated during the last Ice Age? The presence of a 14,000 year old avocado stone at Huaca Prieta suggests this may be so, especially as the avocado tree is not native to South America. (Photo by B. Navez).

One piece of evidence found at Huaca Prieta is particularly difficult for mainstream archaeology to accommodate, because it calls into question the whole concept that humans progressed from being hunter-gatherers to agriculturalists.

Around 13,000 to 14,000 years ago, Huaca Prieta’s earliest inhabitants were eating avocados. Yet the avocado has never grown in the wild near there – or in South America at all. Wild avocado trees grow only in Central America and Mexico. In any case, wild avocados are nearly all stone and very little flesh. More than this, the stone is poisonous to humans. They were, however, a very tasty snack for ground sloths – at least those species that lived in Central America. If avocados are a little too gentrified for your taste, then how about the humble potato? A recent genetic study has shown that potatoes were deliberately hybridised to produce edible tubers around 10,000 years ago.

All of this suggests to me that these Ice Age people were rather more like us than many in our contemporary Western culture would like to admit. It also hints at a world that was recovering from disaster, rather than  groping towards civilisation. It may even imply that goods, such as potatoes and avocados, were traded by sea between Central and South America, as agricultural crops.

What really drove the changes assumed to be ‘progress’?

In one important respect, however, perhaps  the early inhabitants of Huaca Prieta were  very different from us. Until very recently, archaeologists had assumed that changes in material circumstances had driven greater cultural sophistication. Thus, in the Middle East, the great cities of Sumeria  had arisen around 3,000 BC, because people stopped being hunter-gatherers and had started to take up farming. The story goes that, by farming, they produced more food and could therefore settle in urban centres, without having to go out hunting, or gathering food every day.

Gobekle Tepe
T’ shaped column from Gobekle Tepe (11,000 – 9,000 BC) showing a superbly carved relief of a predatory animal. (CC BYSA 4.0).

There is one massive archaeological complex in Mesopotamia (today’s Eastern Turkey) that is beginning to change the prevailing view of things. It is called Gobekle Tepe and, just like Huaca Prieta, it dates from long before the first known Sumerian cities; from that little understood transitional period at the end of the last Ice Age. It consists of a vast complex of stone circles, many with exquisite relief carvings, and it seems to have been an observational temple and centre for shamanistic ceremonies. Some of those who have studied Gobekle Tepe now think that it was not built because people started to settle in villages – astounding enough as that would be at such an early date. Quite the reverse, people started settling near to Gobekle Tepe because they required more sustained access to a place they regarded as sacred. In other words, we may have been putting the material cart before the spiritual horse in our interpretations of the changes that happened in ancient human societies.

My mind drifts back to that brief conversation in the colectivo on our way to Huaca Prieta. What was it that really brought those early people to this particular stretch of coast all those millennia ago? Whatever it was, it certainly wasn’t the presence of any wild avocados.