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.
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?
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.
The electric landscape
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?
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.
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.
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.