Tiwanaku, Bolivia: City of the Empyrean Reaches that Defies all our Conventions

The semi-subterrainian Temple, Tiwanaku. In his ‘History of the Incas’, Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa tells us that after having created the Sun and the Moon, Wiracocha travelled to Tiwanaku, where he fashioned statues of all the races that were to inhabit the Andes in the age to come.  

A Strange Fascination

I cannot define what has drawn me here, but whatever it most certainly has exerted a force on me. It all began in England in 2004, when I knew I had to come here. The last stage of my trip, an overnight journey from the Chilean border to the Peruvian city of Puno – at 12,556 ft (3,827m) above sea level – left me bed-ridden with altitude sickness for several days. It was during that nauseous and breathless sojourn that something re-asserted itself in me about the nature of reality. The world most certainly was not what I had comfortably come to believe in, neither was it what I been told it was constantly. I eventually became acclimatised to the rarefied atmosphere and pressed on with my journey to Tiwanaku.

It was not as if Tiwakanu provided any clear-cut answers to my new-found revelation; it just deepened my sense of perplexity. It defied all of the rationale inculcated into me over years of teaching and of working Civil Servant. Here before me was this vast city, mostly built from immense blocks of precisely-cut stone, on a mountainous plateau that is elevated some two and a half miles (3.85 km) above the level of the sea. There are no luscious tropical fruits here, neither are there plentiful sources of game. The unforgiving mountain climate makes it a struggle to breathe, let alone grow crops.  What was it that drew people to settle here and to build this great metropolis?

The Andean metropolis

Yet people were drawn here, perhaps even in their tens of thousands. An aerial survey carried out in the 1980s identified some 420 hectares (1,038 acres) of Altiplano that displayed crop markings, indicating that the fields surrounding the present archaeological site were once part of a vast complex. Recent drone surveys have confirmed those earlier findings. What visitors see when they visit Tiwanaku today may give a very false impression of the living metropolis that Tiwanaku once was, for It is very much a twentieth-century creation.

The Tiwanku that visitors see today is but a small part of what was once a vast complex. Much of it has been reconstructed according to the ideas of Bolivian archaeologist Carlos Ponce Sanguines. (© Dave Truman).

With very few exceptions, most modern cities have grown up piecemeal, with streets and suburbs having been added in an ad-hoc manner as their populations grew. Tiwanku was not like that. Earlier aerial surveys carried out in the 1950s by the Bolivian organisation CIAT (Centro de Investigaciónes de Tiwanaku) suggested that the site was planned as a whole and that it adhered to a rigorous astronomical orientation. The metropolis’ principal thoroughfares converged on a structure known as the Akapana. Today it resembles nothing more than a rather large amorphous mound, but in its heyday it was a seven-stepped pyramid which would have looked complex when seen from above, because it appeared ‘stepped’ in plan view.

Akapana Pyramid
Today, the Akapana Pyramid appears as a rather amorphous mound within the Tiwanaku complex. When it was fully functional it was a seven-stepped truncated pyramid that had a complex geometry. The picture shows its partial reconstruction following recent excavations. Originally these adobe terraces comprised andesite blocks joined together by bronze inserts. (© Dave Truman).
How old is Tiwanaku?
The toxodon was one of about 80% of large South American mammal species that died out at the end of the last Ice Age. (Picture, Robert Bruce Horsfall).

Interestingly, when the Austro-Bolivian researcher Arthur Posnansky excavated the Akapana in the first half of the twentieth century, he found it to have been built directly over what he believed was a natural hillock. His excavations also revealed fossilised human remains, including an elongated skull. Posnansky noted that the stratum in which the find lay was the same as one in which toxodons had been found in a place not far away. This would date these very strange human remains to at least 11,700 years ago, if not even earlier. It would seem that the nucleus of Tiwanaku has a very old pedigree indeed.

Conventional archaeology cannot provide answers to any of these questions. Evidence that does not fit the relatively recent inception of the site (c. 3,500 BP) is conveniently forgotten, or is swept under the proverbial carpet.  Although Posnansky photographed the skull, it is nowhere to be found today, despite having been sent off to a museum in La Paz. Similarly, conventional wisdom relies almost exclusively on carbon 14 dating and related methods to draw the picture of Tiwanaku’s chronology. Conveniently, this reinforces the idea that Tiwanaku’s past can be but a comparatively recent one.

I have discussed some of the technicalities of Tiwanaku’s dating elsewhere, but it is worth emphasising here how so much evidence has been brushed aside simply because it raises awkward questions. Even though Posnasnky’s astronomical dating of 17,000 years BP has been shown to be too old, subsequent studies at the site using the same methodology have continued to yield dates that are nearly as early. Curiously, they all agree on a dating of between 11,300 and 12,000 years ago – a period that corresponds to the end of the last Ice Age.

Is astronomical dating valid?

I need to point out here that this method of astronomical dating was originally developed by Sir Norman Lockyer. It is now largely, if reluctantly, accepted as valid for the dating of certain Egyptian and Greek temples and for Phase III of Stonehenge. Yet somehow, the astronomical alignments producing the above dates of all four cornerstones of the Kalasasaya Temple at Tiwanaku are dismissed as mere ‘coincidences’.

Kalasasaya corner stone
One of the four corner megaliths of the Kalasasaya Temple at Tiwanaku that has been used to establish the date of its erection of between 12,000 and 11,300 BP. The adjoining walls are a 20th century reconstruction. Note the extreme weathering of the stone, which was most probably rectangular originally. (© Dave Truman).

Ultimately, whether we  interpret evidence in terms of a larger pattern, or as a result of a random ‘coincidence’ depends upon  our values. Even so, I think many people would be hard put to to repudiate Maria Sholten D’Ebneth’s rediscovery that Tiwanaku sits on an alignment of Andean ancient and sacred sites, stretching all the way to northern Peru. 

If this is indeed no mere ‘coincidence’, then consider the feat of surveying required,  not to mention the knowledge of the Earth’s dimensions and of its curvature.

Mystery of the megaliths
The ‘Lintel’ sits in a part of Tiwanaku called the Kantatalita, where geophysical surveys have recently identified a pyramid buried deep in the mud. Like many pieces of worked andesite at Tiwanaku and Puma Punku, it displays recesses that once housed metal inserts, which were probably bronze. Were these just for securing the stones, or did they function electromagnetically? (© Dave Truman).

The massive worked  stones that lie scattered across the Altiplano are perhaps what raise the most questions in people’s minds, if they think about Tiwanaku and neighbouring Puma Punku at all. How were they moved? Why are some of them cut so precisely? Were they just for buildings, or are they the scattered fragments of machines? There are hundreds of more questions that have been asked, but very few who ask have considered the nature of the stones themselves. By far most of the megaliths at Tiwanku are either red (sometimes striped) sandstone, or grey andesite. (Incidentally the same combination of stones was used at Puma Punku). My research has focused on the andesite, but I also think that the great sandstone blocks need further consideration. The two types of stone may well have complementary properties that were understood by the paleo-engineers who constructed both sites.

Magnetic anomalies

Some of the andesite blocks here on the Altiplano have very unusual properties indeed. They contain lumps of a mineral called magnetite, which as its name suggests, is highly magnetic. Sometimes you can see the black lumps of magnetite near to the surface of an andesite megalith. When this is so, the megalith’s surface is often stained an orange colour, because the air oxidises the magnetite into haematite – common rust.

Andesite block Puma Punku
Andesite block showing a relief carving of a chakana (Andean Cross) exposed during the recent excavations at Puma Punku. It was not possible to test whether this stone created a magnetic anomaly, but other blocks marked with the chkana at both Tiwanaku and the Puma Punku Pyramid certainly do. (© Dave Truman).

Those who built Tiwanaku and Puma Punku knew about the presence of magnetite in these rocks, Indeed, they chose these stones deliberately for their unusual magnetic properties. This is evident  because those megaliths that change the direction of the Earth’s magnetic field most acutely are nearly always marked with a chakana, or Andean Cross. In other words, the builders were quite consciously engineering changes in the Earth’s magnetic field in this locality.

Energetic Tiwanaku

This raises the question of why they would want to engineer the magnetic field. My previous article on Pukara Grande mentioned the work of John Burke in relation to telluric currents. Burke conducted a series of experiments at Tiwanaku’s Akapana Pyramid, where he placed seeds inside its chambers as thunderstorms approached. He found that the seeds grew much more vigorously, and produced much higher yields, than control specimens.

Storm approaching the Akapana Pyramid.
A storm approaches from the South, what was once the truncated summit of the Akapana Pyramid. (© Dave Truman).
Picture of the same storm approaching the Akapana taken with an Oldfield Filter. Notice the accumulation of colours in the cloud above the Pyramid’s summit and on the side away from the approaching storm. Does this indicate fluctuations in the Earth’s electromagnetic field generated by the storm? Compare this photograph with those of a storm approaching Pukara Grande. (© Dave Truman).

Natural electromagnetic fluctuations at Tiwanaku are certainly affected by the presence of thunderstorms there. I have found that the distortions in the magnetic field around these andesite blocks become accentuated as storms approach. On one occasion the compass needle even started to spin in an anti-clockwise direction! More productive harvests would have obvious benefits, especially in this difficult growing environment, but was it the only reason the builders sought to engineer the Earth’s magnetic field here?

Bird manA shamanistic citadelBird man

Another feature of the Tiwanaku complex that conventional archaeology treats inconclusively is shamanism. True, it acknowledges that shamanism was practised here – at least during the the relatively late period when it recognises it was occupied – but it leaves the subject at that.

On the other hand,  I consider that shamanism was a central feature of Tiwanaku and Puma Punku, perhaps especially during the very early dates discussed above. Could it really be that the engineering of the Earth’s magnetic field was intended to facilitate shamanistic practices there?

Certainly, shamans might be asked to produce greater crops, but there were  other reasons as well. One curious fact about magnetite is that we actually manufacture it in our bodies. In humans, most of it can be found at the top of the nasal passage and around the centre of our foreheads. This is very close to the pineal gland, which has been associated with the ´third eye´ in many spiritual traditions.. Could it be that we are sensitive to these natural fluctuations in electromagnetic fields and that the magnetite our bodies produce can sense these?  Many researchers think that we are. Perhaps the engineering of the magnetic field at Tiwanaku was also intended to induce altered states of consciousness in the shamans who practised there.

The more I have studied Tiwanaku, the more I have realised that shamanism was central to the very being of the place. Its strange relief carvings have been the cause of many theories. Some, including myself, think that several of them may even hint at large mammals that became excinct at the end of the Ice Age. One thing they are not, however, are realistic representations of any animals – from whatever era.  Invariably, they are exotic combinations of birds, serpents, mammals and humans in what can sometimes seem a baffling mixture of features.

Feline heads at Tiwanaku
Feline heads are abundant in the relief carvings at Tiwanaku. Sometimes they adjoin serpentine bodies, as well as sporting avian hads. This is in addition to as the feline-human therianthrope the chachpuma. (Public domain).

One of the most striking amongst all of these is a creature called the  chachapuma. In a sense, it would be wrong to think of the chachapuma as a cobination of man and puma, because it is really a dynamic transformation from human to feline. Even the most conventional archaeologists recognise this to be a shamanistic motif, which seems to be associated with journeys into the spirit-world.

Here, it is worth understanding the meaning of the name Puma Punku in English: it means ´Gateway of the Puma´. Is it just coincidence (that word again) that doorway and gateway imagery abounds at both Tiwanaku and Puma Punku, including the famous Gateway of the Sun? Perhaps these ´doorways´ were not simply the constructional devices we so often assume them to be.    

The Gate of the Sun
The Gate of the Sun as it was in the early 20th century, before its repair and when much of it was still buried under the Altiplano mud. Local traditions of the Aymara people asserted that this was a gateway where the souls of the dead gathered in order to meet the god Wiracoha and to gain entry to a realm known as Alax Pacha. (Public domain).

I don´t think I shall ever solve all of the mysteries of Tiwanaku and Puma Punku, but it is the fascination of what´s difficult that keeps me returning to this ruined city on the Altiplano.







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

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