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.









A Geomantic History of South America: 2

Sacred Number and the Axis Mundi 

Above, a colour-composite image of the Pleiades from the Digitised Sky Survey. (Image in the public domain courtesy of NASA).

The number 7
Polygonal Stone, San Blas, Cusco
Cusco has several streets that feature the number 7 in their names. This polygonal stone, which was probably once part of an older structure, now marks a spring at the top of a street called the Seven Little Angels (Siete Angelitos). (© Dave Truman).

There are some other elements of the story of Amaru Muru that could equally derive from ancient Andean traditions. The Monastery of the Seven Rays is clearly indicative of the colours of the rainbow. Today, you will see rainbow flags in all of the Andean regions populated by the Aymara and Quechua speaking peoples, regardless of whether you happen to be in Argentina, Peru, Bolivia, or Chile. The number seven certainly held significance in ancient times, equally as much as today, and more widely across South America.

Nazca Lines
The German mathematician Maria Rieche, who made the Nazca Lines her life study, believed that certain straight ones across the Peruvian pampa aligned with the heliacal rising of the Pleiades. (CC By-SA 4.0).

The eminent German mathematician Maria Reiche, who spent most of her life studying the Nazca Lines in Southern Peru, found that some of the lines and triangles marked onto the surface of the desert aligned with the rising and setting points of particular constellations, including the Pleiades, or Seven Sisters.

The Pleiades were observed also by the Incas as a way of determining the abundance or otherwise of forthcoming harvests. This was done by judging the clarity of the seven stars in the sky, at the point at which they first became visible above the horizon without being outshone by the brilliance of the Sun (in technical language this is known as their heliacal rising). The technique employed was, in fact, a very disciplined form of observation, since atmospheric conditions governed how clearly the Pleiades shone, they provided an indication of the optimum planting time for crops such as potatoes. It is hardly surprising then that the number 7 features so prominently and persistently in Andean lore, if for no other reasons than the security of the next harvest.

Philo of Alexandria
Philo of Alexandria, whose teachings sought to blend elements of Judaism with Greek philosophy. He considered that nature delighted in the number 7. (Public domain).

The mind of the paq’o is more all-encompassing than this though, and somehow I think that an Andean might agree with Philo of Alexandria when the latter wrote, “Nature delights in the number 7”. Andean lore is no stranger to sacred number, geometry and geomancy. The number 7 is indeed abundant in the Andean cosmovision, not least also because it is the sum of 3 and 4, which are the numbers of of the three pachas and the traditional quarterly division of Andean villages and cities. Settlements were crossed by four pathways that ran to the four rising and setting points of the solstice suns on the horizon. We shall explore this characteristic of dividing space into four in due course.

The Axis Mundi and the three vertical pachas of Andean cosmology

The word pacha is often loosely translated into English as ‘world’ of which there are three of the spatial variety, the Hanaq Pacha (the world above/land of the gods/condor), Kay Pacha (the earth/puma) and Ukhu Pacha (the world below/of the dead/serpent).

The Ash Tree Yggdrasil of Norse mythology. The sacred tree is the Axis Mundi, where the three vertical realms of Norse cosmology met. There is a curious parallel here with the three vertical pachas of the Andean cosmos. (By Olaf Bagge, in the public domain).

Here again we meet the limitation of the Western rational mind in grasping the concept of the pacha and one which likewise confused the Spanish, who frequently equated the three pachas with the heaven, earth and hell of Catholic theology. It is not my purpose to give a full account of the concept of pacha here, or to list the many variations in nomenclature and nuance that exist. Suffice it to say that a pacha incorporates what we conceive of as both time and space. Hence, a pacha can also be thought of as a particular era, or of time. Pachas could replace one another over time and each might have its own characteristics. The arrival of a new pacha was heralded by a pachakuti (turning of the world upside down) and would be marked by changes in heavenly configurations, perhaps earthquakes and the possible overturning of an existing social order. Again, it is perhaps better to think in terms of a holographic conception. Those who are familiar with fractals and holograms will come closer to an understanding of the pacha and other ‘parts’ of the Andean cosmovision than those who are accustomed to thinking in a linear fashion.

The serpent and the Ukhu Pacha

Let us now return briefly to Amaru Muru, which means the Gateway of Amaru in both the Quechua and Aymara languages. We know something of the Gateway, or doorway, but who, or what, then is Amaru? The Amaru is the mythical water serpent of the Andes, which is associated with great changes and upheavals at the end of one era, or cycle, to clear the way for the start of the next one.

Stela from Tiwanaku with serpent motif
Acutely weathered Stela in the Semi-subterranian Temple at Tiwanaku, carved with a serpent motif, perhaps representing the Ukhu Pacha. (© Dave Truman).

The serpent is associated with the underworld (Ukhu Pacha) and, not surprisingly therefore, also correlates to the occurrence of earthquakes, of which there are many in this corner of the globe. Celestially, the serpent corresponds to the shape of a particular ‘dark cloud’, within the band of the Milky Way, above the southern tropic (ie in the ‘lower’, or underworld). In nature, serpents live under the ground also. The cycles that end in a period of destruction may be social, political, architectural, celestial, climatic, or natural. Usually, they are some combination of some, or all of the same.

Amaru, the serpent of the underworld, has a mythological pedigree that stretches back a very long way indeed. However, you do not need agree with me about the extreme antiquity of some of the most intriguing Andean archaeology to appreciate the powerful connections that exist between the Andean underworld and the Amaru. The use of serpent imagery in association with earth energies has parallels in many other ancient cultures across the globe and should be familiar to anyone with even a passing knowledge of these subjects. Now it is time to leave the Bosque de las Piedras and return south, across Lake Titicaca, to the Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun), where we will discover another serpent connection.

Much has been written about the Isla del Sol, and much more will doubtless be written, but here I want simply to draw your attention to something that Paul Coon claims to have discovered, when he described the Rainbow Serpent and the Plumed Serpent as lines of male and female energy that weave their way around the Michael and Mary Lines as they encircle the globe. The imagery is, of course, very similar to what we have just been discussing and is part of his work on the Planetary Chakras, of which Lake Titikaka is one of the 52 Planetary Gateways to Immortal life. The masculine – feminine dynamic is a persistent theme in the mythology of Lake Titikaka and especially of the Isla del Sol and its close companion, the Isla de la Luna (Island of the Moon).

Tiwanaku: the Stone in the Centre

In his book Galactic Alignment, John Major Jenkins makes an interesting observation about the correspondence between the path of the Milky Way above and the topography of the Andes, as well as that of other mountain chains, on the Earth below.

Jenkins concludes that the Galactic Centre and solstice-galaxy alignments have played a significant part in Incan and pre-Incan traditions. Moreover, he singles out two locations that are the strongest candidates for the terrestrial counterpart to the Galactic Centre in South America: Tiwanaku, which at 16° south of the Equator passes directly underneath the Galactic Centre at its zenith, and Cusco, of which we shall learn more in due course.

Without a topographical globe in hand, it’s hard to picture this, but no one can deny that a circular chain of mountains runs crosswise around the globe, at roughly a 60°angle to the equator. If we imagine this mega-chain to be the terrestrial counterpart to the Milky Way, then two locations present themselves for being the Galactic Center on Earth: Tibet and Peru. This is the biggest mapping of sky onto Earth that we could imagine. This is “as above, so below” in a big way.

The complexes at Tiwanaku and Puma Punku lie in close proximity to each other at about 12 miles south of the current shoreline of Lake Titikaka. The dating of the sites is hotly disputed between academics and ‘alternative’ archaeologists, with the latter generally arguing for an earlier one and perhaps going back as far as 15,000 BC. Puma Punku has been said by many to pre-date Tiwanaku; but it is not just its dating that presents an enigma.

Sandstone Block Puma Punkuk
Immense block of finely worked red sandstone at Puma Punku Bolivia, which is estimated to weigh 130 metric tonnes. Many hundreds of megaliths lie scattered across the Bolivian altiplano, whilst others lie beneath the ground in stata of mud. Was Puma Punku subject to a catastrophe in the distant past? (© Dave Truman).

At Puma Punku collossal blocks of red sandstone and grey andesite are strewn across this corner of the altiplano as if they had been dashed to the ground in some titanic fit of pique. There have, thankfully, been no sustained attempts to reconstruct Puma Punku from this almost random array of blocks, but that is hardly surprising. The stones of Puma Punku defy any attempts to do so. The sheer size of some of the largest ones would make them difficult to manoeuvre. Above all, many of them have been worked with such precision and intricacy that it is more than conjecture to imagine that we are looking at the scattered fragments of some kind of colossal ancient machine. If so, what was its function? What was the technology?

Megaliths at Tiwanaku’s Kalasasaya Temple, before the ‘restoration’ work that resulted in the building of walls between them. (Public domain courtesy of Arthur Posnansky).
Kalasasaya with modern reconstructed wall
Standing stone at the Kalasasaya showing the modern reconstructed wall. (© Dave Truman).

We can imagine a little more easily what the neighbouring Tiwanaku site once looked like, although the ‘walls’ of the Kalasasaya complex are a modern reconstruction that give a false impression of how it must have been originally. Until comparatively recently here, you would have seen a series of megaliths arranged in a large rectangle.

The Akapana Pyramid

As you walk away from Puma Punku, you will see today, on your right, a large rather nondescript mound with a flattened top. This is the Akapana Pyramid and fortunately we do know something rather more reliable about how it may have looked originally. What appears to today’s modern visitor as a rather large – almost amorphous – earth work, was once a stepped and truncated pyramid. For reasons that are far from clear, at some point in the Akapana’s history, it became covered in soil and mud. Beneath the accumulated dirt, excavations have revealed the remains of precisely worked masonry.  The ravages of time and treasure hunters have made it impossible to obtain the Pyramid’s exact dimensions, but it has been estimated to have been about 780 feet (257 metres)  at its widest point and over 50 feet (16.5 metres) tall.


Akapana Pyramid
Excavations at the Akapana have revealed that it was once a  precisely constructed severn-stepped pyramid with a truncated apex. The andesite plinths on either side of the steps probably at one time displayed statues of pumas.      (© Dave Truman).

The Akapana once would have appeared as a series of seven large steps, or tiers, that taper towards the platform on the top. I have previously discussed the significance of the number seven in ancient Andean cosmology, so I shall not labour the point here.

Suffice it to say that seven tiers were built here for a particular reason. We know from elsewhere that the numbers of tiers of the Mayan Pyramids all had numerological, celestial and calendrical significance. Perhaps this is just a coincidence? On the other hand, there is good evidence that there were trade and cultural contacts between Central and South America in ancient times. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility therefore to consider that both Central and South American cultures shared the habit of including numbers that were significant to them in their architecture. Above all at Tiwanaku, you are left with the distinct impression that every angle and every number are there to convey a meaning.

There was once a sunken court on the top of the Akapana that was originally, before being covered in earth and vandalised, in the the shape of a Chakana that faced upwards towards the heavens. The symbolism and geometry of the Chakana are highly significant, especially at this location. Even today, you will see Chakanas throughout South America, not just in the Andean region. I have even seen Chakanas adorning the belt buckles of mate drinking gauchos in the Rio Sul in Brazil. In the Andes you will see the Chakana everywhere: from rainbow coloured flags fluttering in the Plazas de Armas, to painted signs advertising restaurants and hotels.

The Chakana
By the time that the Incas rose to prominence, the Chakana seems to have possessed twelve right-angles. Earlier versions of the motif had different numbers. (© Tony Cross).

In most literature it is referred to as an Inca Cross, but its provenance as a symbol is much more ancient. As with other symbols of great antiquity, the multiple meanings associated with Chakana are the result of accretions over time. Its etymology seems to stem from the Quechua and Aymara word(s) chaka, meaning bridge and it may have been associated, in some astronomical contexts, with the three stars of Orion’s belt. (The three were thought to have been “linked” in some way, rather like a ladder, or rope bridge). However, the overriding sense of the concept of chaka (bridge), and therefore of the Chakana, is rather more generic, as William Sullivan points out:

In Andean culture……the concept of a “bridge’ (or stairway) had uses as a cosmological metaphor: in myth it stood for a point of contact between this world and the supernatural worlds, while in purely astronomical uses it referred to abstract “junctions’ on the celestial sphere, that is, to locations whose significance lay in marking areas of the sky critical for grasping the essential geometry of the fixed sphere of stars. 

Now, we all already know that the significance of Tiwanaku’s location is that it lies beneath the path of the Galactic Centre when it is at its zenith as it seems to move along the band of the Milky Way. This then, would be an entirely fitting and congruent location for a terrestrial axis point, since it is indeed a place “critical for grasping the geometry of the fixed sphere of stars.”

Did the ancient builders of the Akapana have a sense of ‘As above, so below’ that they expressed in the physical world about them? Several writers have noted that the name Tiwanaku may derive from the Aymara term taypicala ‘the stone in the centre’. Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa’s account of the founding of myth of Tiwanaku by the Andean creator god Wiracocha seems to confirm this tradition:

He [Wiracocha] went to a place now called Tiahuanacu in the province of Collasuyu, and in this place he sculptured and designed on a great piece of stone, all the nations that he intended to create. This done, he ordered his two servants to charge their memories with the names of all tribes that he had depicted, and of the valleys and provinces where they were to come forth, which were those of the whole land.

Head sculptures, Tiwanaku.
Sculptures of heads mounted on tenons and inserted into the wall of the semi-subterranean temple, Tiwanaku. (© Dave Truman).
Tenon head sculptures from Tiwanaku
Further examples of Tiwanaku’s  tenon-head sculptures, as they were found by Arthur Posnansky. The heads show a wide difference in features, suggesting that they may represent different tribes that once peopled the Altiplano. (Public domain, courtesy of Arthur Posnansky).

Earlier in this version of the Wiracocha creation myth, the sun, moon and stars all originate at place called Titikaka (literally ‘Lion Cliff’), a name that anciently referred to a black cliff that cascaded water, rather than to the whole of the Lake now called Titikaka. Significantly, the sunken courtyard on top of the Akapana included a particular drainage feature. Thanks to the ample seasonal Altiplano rainfall, and to the ingenious design of the drainage feature, the pyramid did indeed cascade water in what must have have been a spectacular fashion.

Was the Akapana Pyramid then some kind or reproduction, or perhaps more accurately some kind of fractal, of the creation point of the cosmos? Was it the point at which that which is above translates into that which is below? It is certainly true that Tiwanaku, at least in terms of the accepted academic chronology, was the centre of an extensive empire covering what is today western Bolivia, southern Peru and northern Chile. Moreover, its cultural and economic influence spread further still. In this very corporeal sense, the Tiwanaku culture became the centre of trade, ritual, power and influence in South America between about 600 AD and 1000 AD.

The Southern Cross
The Southern Cross as it appears in the night sky, south of the Equator. To its bottom left is the dark cloud constellation of the Coal Sack, see  part 1 of this article. (SA 3.0 courtesy of Naskies). 

Today, the Chakana is most frequently associated with the Southern Cross in the popular mind. This may be because the azimuth rise of the Southern Cross was used by the later Incas to mark out the four quarters of the Tawanstinsuyu, or the extent and bounds of the Inca dominion, from its location in Cusco. For this reason, the Chakana was said by the Incas to ‘reside’ in Cusco. In addition, a Cusco foundation myth tells us that the ‘rock in the centre’ was deliberately re-located in some way from Tiwanaku to Cusco. We shall find out why and how later.

The Chakana and sacred number

The Chakana contains multiple levels of symbolism and meaning. The three rectangular blocks in each quarter of the cross are said to represent the three vertical ‘worlds’ of the Hanaq Pacha, Kay Pacha and Ukhu Pacha (see above). At the same time, the Chakana has four arms, which represent the four cardinal directions and the four seasons. In this respect, it is used today to mark the cycle of festivals throughout the Andean year, with the upright of the cross denoting the solstice points and its horizontal arm marking the equinoxes. It also has 12 rectangular corners, which are said to represent each month of the year. At this point in the description, I shall ask you to take note of some simple numerology:

3 pachas  + 4 directions   = 7 steps on the Akapana

3 pachas x 4 directions = 12 corners on the Chakana, 12 months in the year

The circle in the centre of the Chakana is actually considered to be a hole and is commonly referred to as the axis point. The central axis of the Chakana is the means through which the shaman moves between the three different pachas, on earth, above and below.

Chakana as Axis Mundi
Tower of Babel
Samuel Laing’s representation of the Tower of Babel. The historical Tower was probably a ziggurat, or 7 stepped pyramid. Ziggurats are considered axes mundi. (Public domain).

Here we find some of the most striking parallels between the imagery employed by shamans in Pre-Columbian South America and those in numerous other cultures and mythologies. You will find similar allusions to the central axis in the myths of the Scandinavian Yggdrasil, (or World Tree), and in the Hindu, Jain and Buddhist accounts of Mount Meru, to name but two. Perhaps some of the most notable parallels are found in the Finnish Kalevala, a collection of verses that tell of the theft of the Sampo. This was a magical mill that scholars have shown was connected with imagery for the North Pole.

Yet another significant feature the symbolism associated with the central axis is that it is often also the connecting point between the male and female principles. Frequently this manifests as the masculine sky touching the feminine earth, expressed in some or other way. The mythology of the Andes shares this characteristic, as we shall see further in due course. Comparative mythology is a vast and fascinating area for study, which involves understanding the technical language of myth, precession and ethnography amongst many other things. It is too vast and intricate a subject to do anything other than to touch on here.

Before we leave the Chakana, it is worth making a couple of more comparisons with other cultural traditions around the world. Little research has been done to date on the relationship between the geometry of the Chakana and that of sacred symbols in the Old World. While eloquently describing the the qualities of certain Canonical Numbers. in The Dimensions of Paradise, John Michell writes:

The Earth Spirit, 1080, corresponds to the Chinese ch’i or life-breath of nature, which accumulates in the folds and cavities of the earth……….It [1080] is the number of magic, imagination and madness and, above all, of that Mystery that lies at the heart of things and is not to be comprehended by any system of morality or rationalism.

Squaring the circle of Andean sacred geometry
Chakana's internal angles
The sum of the Chakana’s right angles is 1.080°. In Western esoteric culture this corresponds to the Divine Feminine, which is known as Pachamama in the Andes. (© Tony Cross).

Interestingly, Michell goes on to note that the number 1080 was sacred to the Gnostics and was associated by them with the Serpent of Wisdom. In the ancient tradition of Sacred Geometry, the Earth Spirit (number 1080) was represented as a circle and the squaring of the circle in this tradition expressed the joining of masculine and feminine. (The square being the geometric representation of the masculine principle). Each of the corners of the Chakana is a 90° right-angle and there are 12 of them, so 12 x 90 = 1080: the number of the feminine Earth Spirit. Right-angles are, by their inherent quality “squares”, in that you need to use only right-angles and nothing else to make a square, and the geometry of the square is masculine. Are we seeing here the Andean version of the squared circle? The numerology and geometry of the Chakana would seem to be woven together in an intricate and sophisticated way to describe just that.

Of course, this would require the Pre-Columbians of South America to divide the circle into 360° for the arithmetic to work. Is that such a preposterous idea? Not if you can accept that there was, perhaps in very ancient times, some kind of contact between cultures, or a common heritage.


 ⇐ Read part 1      Read part 3 ⇒

© Dave Truman


A Geomantic History of South America: 1

Earth and Sky

The Dark Rift of the Milky Way is one of the most prominent dark cloud constellations. These have been venerated by numerous South American cultures stretching back into the remotest  antiquity. The Dark Rift stands between our solar system and the Galactic Centre. The picture above was taken in 2012, when our solar system aligned most closely with the Galactic Core. (Public domain courtesy of NASA).

The Andean world-view

I need to begin my brief account with something of an explanation. I came to the insights I am about to share during several extensive trips to the South American Continent, where I have been investigating evidence for the existence of an advanced civilisation of extreme antiquity, specifically during the Pleistocene era.

This is a subject that I find absorbing and fascinating, but it is not the subject of this article. So on reading further, please forgive me if any of my enthusiasm for this possibility may colour the observations I make. The following narrative is essentially about the Inca civilisation and its predecessor, the Tiwanaku (Tiahuanaco) culture, and it takes place between about 300 AD and approximately 1533 AD. It is about how each culture established an axis for its territory and the cosmology, mythology, numerology, geometry and symbolism each employed to do so.

I say ‘axis for its territory’, but that is misleading. The axis, in the world-view of these cultures, was much more than a central point of a given parcel of land. It was the axis of everything they understood themselves to be. There was no civilisation without the axis; there was no creation without the axis.

Precessional motion of the Earth
The right pointing arrows show the daily axial spin of the Earth every 24 hours. As well as this, the Earth also precesses (i.e. moves in the opposite direction) every 26,000 years, as is shown by the left-pointing arrow, by ‘wobbling’ around its axis. In their book, ‘Hamlet’s Mill’ Giorgio de Santillana and Herther von Dechend argued that very ancient cultures knew of the Earth’s precessional motion and tried to convey it to later generations through their mythologies. (Public domain courtesy of NASA).

The Incas saw themselves as the inheritors of the wisdom of Tiwanaku. and there is much to suggest that such wisdom was highly sophisticated and included a knowledge of the precession of the equinoxes and even of the Galactic Centre. A culture does not attain an appreciation of precession overnight. It takes thousands of years of meticulous observation of the heavens. It also takes a culture that is able to pass information down over thousands of years.

This was done through myth, in a quite specific and technical way. Contrary to what we have been taught, myths are not the naïve mental ramblings of so-called ‘primitive’ peoples, who were too stupid to make sense of the world around them. Neither are they untruths, as in the colloquial meaning of the word today.

It is the modern mind that has set up mythos and logos almost as opposites. In the original Greek, their meanings were much closer together and both words referred in some way to an account, or something that was said. Trace the meaning of mythos further back – to its Proto-Indo-European roots in the verb mewd (to care about something) – and we are getting closer to how we should really think about myth: an account of something of importance.

Cosmological diagram
The Cosmological Diagram of Juan de Santacruz Pachakuti Yamqui Salcamaygua; a sixteenth century indigenous Andean chronicler. (Public domain).

Precession was important to the Inca and Tiwanaku cultures because they perceived that there were synchronicities between the celestial world and the mundane world of nature below. Time moved in cycles. Events and changes in the world could be mapped against movements in the heavens, both for longer and shorter cycles of time. Star lore was thus based upon precise observations.

The Andean sages did not use a zodiac of twelve constellations, circling the earth in what is called the plane of the ecliptic, with which we are familiar. Instead, they studied the Milky Way as it traversed the heavens. Although certain constellations were important to them, their zodiac consisted of various ‘dark clouds’ within the band of the Milky Way, to which they ascribed the names of animals: the llama, the fox, the toad, serpent, partridge, etc.

These animals also feature in Andean myths and we begin to appreciate the technical meaning of those myths when we start to realise that their myths of animals are telling us something about the heavens and about the times in which they lived.

Dark cloud constellation of the Calsack.
The dark cloud constellation of the Coalsack, known to ancient Andeans as ‘Lluthu’ (partridge). It lies just to the South-east of the Southern Cross. (Photograph by  Naskies, CC BY-SA 3.0).

I shall give an example of how complex inter-relationships were thought of and used to illustrate something of how the Andean mind works. November and December mark the season when the rain comes to the altiplano and the sun moves into constellation we call Scorpio. To the Inca, this constellation was associated with a plough and storehouse – both images of the season’s abundance. This is not surprising, given the importance of rain to securing the forthcoming harvest. Scorpio also happens to point towards the Galactic Centre and to those ‘dark cloud’ constellations in the Milky Way closest to the Centre, the mother and baby llamas. They are the zodiacal animals emblematic of the nurturing of new life.

We therefore have a whole complex of associations and relationships, involving the seasonal cycle, birth, renewal, fecundity, abundance etc. This complex embraces the celestial, natural, human and political spheres of Andean knowledge and culture.

It is one that also embraces the axis, manifested here as the Galactic Centre, as the source of all existence. It was no coincidence that rituals to ensure the abundance of the forthcoming harvest were enacted, at this time of year, both in Cusco and Tiwanaku, as the temporal and political centres of their respective cultures. Neither is it arbitrary that both cities happened to lie beneath the band of the Milky Way as it crosses the ecliptic.

This is a fundamentally different way of conceiving of the world than most of us, in our western post-enlightenment culture, have been taught. We naturally divide things up into separate and discrete parts; into neat categories.

We are not encouraged to see the patterns and inter-relationships between the phenomena around us, be they celestial, political, natural or physical. For the Andean shaman, (called a paqo), the world is much more like a hologram of inter-connectedness. Perhaps it is more akin to how Michael Talbot wrote about the physicist David Bohm’s theory of implicate order:

The idea that consciousness and life (and indeed all things) are ensembles enfolded throughout the universe had an equally dazzling flip side. Just as every portion of a hologram contains an image of the whole, every portion of the universe enfolds the whole. This means if we knew how to access it we could find the Andromeda galaxy in the thumbnail of our left hand. We could also find Cleopatra meeting Caesar for the first time , for in principle the whole past and implications for the whole future are enfolded in each small region of space and time.

Shaman at Amaru Muru
A modern-day Andean shaman, or paq’o, stands before the ‘doorway’ of Amaru Muru in Peru, not far from the present-day shore of Lake Titikaka. (© Dave Truman).

Could it be that the Andean shaman knows something more than we do? Where Talbot makes theoretical associations and speculations, the shaman has an established canon of correspondences that he can draw upon. The shaman knows that the axis defines his universe and that the axis is the centre of the city, world and galaxy. The world around is one that is replete with meaningful patterns, as is the world within. It is my contention that this knowledge is very ancient indeed and that it can be traced back in time to equally ancient origins. It can be seen in geometry, number and proportion, as we are about to find out.

Geographically speaking, we shall take a journey northwards, along the line of the Andes mountain range, from Lake Titikaka on the borders of Peru and Bolivia to Cusco. This was the journey that many of the Inca foundation myths say was made by the dynasty that became the greatest political and social state in Pre-Columbian South America. It is also a journey through a mythical, celestial and geomantic landscape.

Lake Titikaka as the terrestrial source of creation
Sunrise over Lake Titikaka
Sunrise over Lake Titikaka, Bolivia from the Island of the Sun. In the distance can be seen the Island of the Moon (Coati) and just to its left on the mainland, the Sacred Mountain  of Illiampu.  (© Dave Truman).

Let us begin our journey with what I consider to be one the most ancient locations on the Continent; Lake Titikaka and its surrounds, which as we have seen, was once much larger than today. For those unfamiliar with Lake Titikaka, I should explain that it lies on the altiplano (high plateau) at around 12,000 feet above sea level, between the twin spines of the Andes. It straddles the border between Peru and Bolivia today, but in more ancient times Lake Titikaka and its environs have been part of various political domains, including Incan, Spanish and Tiwanakan to name but a few.

The altitude and the lack of trees lend the sparse altiplano an air of starkness, whilst newcomers to such heights can often struggle breathing and with the many rapid changes in weather and temperature. One does not have to be interested in subtle earth energies, or sacred geometry to encounter mysteries in this landscape: it is a mystery of itself. All along the altiplano, in Bolivia and as far south as northern Argentina and Chile, you will find salt lakes and salt flats.

Ceramic feline figures
Ceramic feline figures retrieved from beneath Lake Titikaka, near to the Island of the Sun. The figures may have been votive offerings. (© Dave Truman).
Ancient flooding

Titikaka, the largest lake on the altiplano and one of the world’s highest, can barely be considered a freshwater lake at all, on account of the high salt content of its waters. Its native fauna’s closest relatives are all oceanic species. It boast its unique species of sea horse and is home to world’s only inland species of gull. It is almost as if part of the Pacific Ocean had suddenly been thrust upward of 12,000 feet into the air, bedrock and all, by some Titan. This is a fitting place indeed for legends of creation and emergence.

Monument to the god Tunupa, carved into the cliff-face near to Ollantaytambo, Peru. Tunupa is sometimes associated with Wiracocha. (D. Gordon E. Robertson CC BY-SA 3.0).

However the salt water may have arrived on the altiplano – and there are various theories – we can be fairly certain that the Lake was once much larger than it currently is. The Andean legend of the god Tunupa, who is often seen as the same as the creator god Wiracocha, seems to go back to a time when its water level was much higher than today. The ruins at Tiwanaku, and Amaru Muru, would have both at one time have been on the borders of the Lake. More mysteriously still, Tiwanaku style archaeological finds have been recovered from under the existing Lake, suggesting that perhaps there had been settlements on the altiplano before the seawater arrived – however it may have arrived.. This intriguing possibility has been given a boost in recent years by aerial photographs from Google Earth of what appear to be structures underneath the surface of several Andean lakes. As ever, speculations and theories abound.


Stone head in the Tiwanaku style retrieved from beneath Lake Titikaka. (© Dave Truman).

Wiracocha, the Andean creator god, has long been associated with Lake Titikaka in Andean myth. In primeval times, he was said to have brought into being the very first peoples, by fashioning them from clay, only to turn the first of them to into stones. Other myths speak of Wiracocha’s turning the earliest human ancestors into foxes, condors and other animals and birds. This was said to be the origin of the huaca, (plural huacas). It is difficult to define a huaca in any functional or logical way. In some senses it translates as ‘shrine’ in English, but that would be way off the mark. It is really a concept that ties a human lineage to certain sacred places, to a particular animal, to a particular constellation,  or even to a particular ‘dark cloud’ shaped like the same animal within the band of the Milky Way overhead. There are many huacas, but each has its own specific set of correspondences and associations.

Lines across the landscape
Nazca Lines
Photograph of the Nazca Lines in Southern Peru taken from space. Although the Nazca Lines pre-date the Incas by many hundreds of years, researcher Tony Morrison, amongst others, considers the Inca system of cesques and huacas were based on theose of earlier peoples, such as the Nazcans. (Public domain, courtesy of NASA).

Geographically speaking, huacas were arranged in straight lines called cesques across the countryside. Often they were piles of stones, but they could be other objects, or natural features in the landscape. In later Inca times, they were an important feature of the geomancy of Cusco, as well as the whole of the Inca realm. I came across what can only have been a convergence of cesques and huacas close to the shores of Lake Titikaka. It is somewhere that is charged with a particular, almost palpable, presence, which contains a huaca called Amaru Muru.

Amaru Muru: portal to  a different reality?
Amaru Muru
The megalithic doorway that has been cut into a sandstone cliff at Amaru Muru, Bosque de las Piedras, Peru. Photograph taken with an Oldfield Filter®. (© Dave Truman).

At a place called Bosque de las Piedras, (Forest of Stones) that lies between the Peruvian city of Puno and the Bolivian border, you will see the shapes of lizards, grotesque fairytale giants and whales all sculpted from the red sandstone. It is as if whatever formed these cyclopean stones had wanted to play a trick on you, to disorientate you and to challenge all of your preconceptions about how the world is and how it came about. The boundary between what is natural and what has been created by humankind seems to have become blurred here. The very shapes of the stones speak of times when living creatures were rocks and rocks were living creatures. Above all else, you feel the sheer antiquity of the place.

From your first glance, Amaru Muru defies categorisation by the rational mind and amplifies your sense of disorientation. Nestled underneath huge folds of sandstone stands a sheer wall on the side of which is etched a square groove, some 23 feet high and wide. Inside the square is a niche, which being about 6 or more feet high, seems to be some kind of doorway. A doorway that leads nowhere other than into the rock itself. So speaks the rational mind, which also wonders why and how the niche was carved, or even if it was carved at all, because it appears to have been melted, or dissolved, away from the stone façade somehow. There are even stone outcrops nearby that display similar signs of melting, or dissolving. That particular mystery is not unique to Amaru Muru and you will find similar signs of stones, including the hard and granite-like andesite, having seemingly been worked in this way on numerous sites in the Andes. Some sites even show signs of stones’ having been vitrified somehow.

In Peru, legends and superstitions inhabit the aether. When I visited Amaru Muru, I was told of how a couple of newly-weds had disappeared through the doorway, never to return to this world. That is a common motif in many of the stories associated with the site, Most accounts of Amaru Muru include the notion of passing through this portal, or ‘doorway’, into another realm of reality. In recent years, the site has become popular with North American and European tourists, who are seeking to experience something of the spiritual reality that lies behind appearances. I encountered just such a group during my visit there. They participated in a ceremony, under the guidance of two Andean paq’os, which included each person’s kneeling in front of the ‘doorway’ for a while. Several of them reported having passed through the ‘doorway’ into somewhere else.


Close up of Amaru Muru taken with an Oldfield Filter
Close-up of the ‘doorway’ of Amaru Muru taken with an Oldfield Filter®, taken shortly after the shamanistic ceremony had finished. (© Dave Truman).

The shamanistic ceremony certainly seemed to have engendered some kind of effect on the subtle energies around the ‘doorway’ as I discovered when I took a few photographs with my digital camera using an Oldfield Filter®. Some pictures showed that light seemed to be bent in a curve around the ‘doorway’ and the surrounding façade. Although the pictures taken before the ceremony had shown vivid colours, there was no curvature of light beforehand.

In some strands of contemporary Andean culture, Amaru Muru is associated with Lemuria and with a golden Solar Disc that was taken to the site from Lemuria (or sometimes Mu) at a time of great earth changes, in order to preserve the spiritual wisdom of civilisation. Here, according to one version of the legend, was founded the Monastery of the Seven Rays, which was instrumental in guiding and forming the nascent Tiwanaku culture, after the great cataclysm that had destroyed the continent of Lemuria. There then follows an account how the early Tiwanaku culture turned away from the spiritual principles taught to them by the Lemurians and of its being destroyed, interestingly enough, in a great flood.

Pachakutec worshipping Inti at the Korikancha
The Sapa Inca Pachakutec worshipping a golden disc of the Sun in the Coricancha in Cusco. By the chronicler Martín de Murúa. (Public domain)

This is not the place to recount all of the many and colourful contemporary versions of stories associated with Amaru Muru, some of which contain probable influences from the Bible and from popular accounts of Atlantis. Even the story of the Golden Disc may originate in the removal of a great solardisc of made of gold from the walls of the Coricancha – the great Inca Temple of the Sun in Cusco – so that it could not be looted by the invading Spaniards. On the other hand, the flooding of the Twanaku villages could be a genuine memory of sunken cities beneath the lakes of the Altiplano, as mentioned previously.



Read part 2 ⇒

© Dave Truman