Cutimbo Peru: Legacy from the Past of a Thousand and One Questions

The Cutimbo (Kutimpu – giant armadillo) archaeological site is located on the top of an immense meseta (table plateau) about 1,000 feet (300 metres) above the Altiplano in southern Peru. Just to the left of centre can be seen the forms of two of the site’s chullpas; massive megalithic structures that are dwarfed by the geological feature on which they stand. (© Dave Truman)

A Landacape Formed by Recent Catastrophes

The Altiplano never ceases to surprise me. I thought I had it all worked out, ancient cataclysms and all. Then, one morning, I decided to visit Cutimbo. The micro picked up speed as we cleared the suburbs of Puno and headed towards the South-west. The road cut a straight line across the plateau, the only deviation being a slight vertical one, as it accommodated the banks of mud that had settled on its floor thousands of years ago. This was once the bed of Lake Tauca; a vast salt lake that had engulfed this part of the Altiplano, – as well as present-day Lake Titikaka – during the Ice Age.

A geological conundrum 

Geologists still really do not know where all of Tauca’s salt came from. Today, there is salt in profusion further south in the Andes. In Bolivia, Lakes Uru Uru and Poopo are all heavily saline. Then there are the salt flats at Uyuni and Coipasa, which are evaporated lakes. Even as far south as Argentina, the Salinas Grandes glisten blindingly in the Andean sun and there is the salty Mar Chiquita; a vast lake in the Province of Cordoba, thousands of miles (kilometres) from any ocean. How did all this salt get here? Was it just what was left from some very ancient ocean bed, or did it arrive here more recently from catastrophic earth changes?

Most of the salt was probably washed out of this part of the Altiplano, and from what became Titikaka, by the sudden melting of the glaciers at the very end of the last Ice Age – about eleven and a half thousand years ago. The ensuing freshwater floods would have swept it southwards into what is today Bolivia and Argentina.

A walk to the table mountain

Lost in my geological reverie, I barely noticed that the micro had pulled up and that the driver was calling out ‘Cutimbo’. I fumbled in my pocket for change, handed him the required two and a half soles and got out. Then, I looked up. Before me stood what seemed to be an immense citadel formed from the very Earth herself. From the plateau on which I was standing, there rose another one, perhaps a thousand feet (300m) higher. Just beneath its culmination was a sheer wall of of rock, a rampart fashioned by nature to defy all but the most earnest of seekers.

The next meseta
From the top of Cutimbo can be seen another meseta in the distance. Notice the fallen megaliths in the foreground. (© Dave Truman).

I glanced about me at the wider landscape. The daunting prospect before me did not stand alone. There were similar massive protrusions from the Altiplano all around me, suggesting that the plateau here had once been about 1,000 feet (300m) higher than it is today. I thought of the mesas of Arizona, except that where I was standing was already two and a half miles (4.5 km) above the sea. Was this extraordinary phenomenon really the result of tiny streams gently nibbling away at the rocks over millions of years, or had something far more sudden and dramatic happened here to create these curious formations?  My mind drifted back to the immense floods that I believe took place when the Ice Age came to abrupt end – perhaps in a matter of days

Small streams on the Altoplano.
Barely visible in this picture, several streams wind across the Altiplano between the mesetas, as seen from the plateau of Cutimbo’s summit. Did these tiny trickles of water strip out the original surface of the Altiplano by about 1,000 ft (300 m) over millions of years? Or is this curious landscape really the result of catastrophic and immense flooding much more recently – at the end of the last Ice Age? (© Dave Truman).

I started to cross the road. A local man, who lived in Cutimbo – the modern village clustered around the foot of the meseta – had alighted at the same stop. He helpfully pointed me in the direction of the archaeological site, which was at the summit. We walked along the pathway chatting, until he reached his smallholding. I took the opportunity to ask him about any legends concerning the ruins. His rather evasive reply was along the lines of, ‘Oh yes, there are many legends concerning this place’, and then left it at that. Although intrigued, I did not press him on the matter. I’ve learned that trust has to be earned from the country peoples of the Andes. They guard their lore and customs ardently. I made a remark about the presence of the chullpas at the top of the meseta, but again he remained largely taciturn.

Towards the beckoning chullpas

We  parted by shaking hands and I pressed on alone, up the ever increasing slope, towards the top of the meseta and the chullpas. I took my time during the ascent. At this altitude it is very easy to lose one’s breath, even when accustomed to the dearth of oxygen. At about a third of the way up, I was surprised that another chullpa came into view, because it was not visible from the road.

Lower chullpa Cutimbo
The chullpa situated about a third of the way up is rectangular in cross-section and has a shaman’s ‘doorway’ facing a few degrees off due East (© Dave Truman). 

At first sight it appeared unremarkable, but it was only on closer inspection that I noticed some of its striking features. In my article on Sillustani, I described some of the Andean cosmology that underpinned the design of the chullpas there. The cosmology employed here at Cutimbo was essentially the same. Here was the familiar ‘doorway’ facing almost due east at the bottom of the tower; an orifice that would allow the first rays of the solstice sun into the chullpa during the ceremony in which the shaman sought guidance from the ancestors. Chullpas, however, have two entrances. Whilst shamans enter from the material world at the bottom of the tower, the souls of the ancestors enter at the top, as they complete their journeys from the celestial realm.

'Doorway' of the chullpa taken with an Oldfield Filter.
Photograph of the Chullpa’s doorway taken with and Oldfield Filter. Notice the red colouration directly above the lintel. (© Dave Truman).

It was only when this rather obvious thought impressed itself upon me that some of the features of this chullpa started to make sense. I checked the stonework for magnetic anomalies. There were none, except for the lintel that supported the stones above the ‘doorway’ at the bottom of the tower. When I moved the compass towards this stone, the needle spun from magnetic north to west. Interestingly, the only photograph I took with the Oldfield Filter at the whole site that showed any colour variation was the one I took of the lintel in the wall of this chullpa.  As at Tiwanaku, it seemed, the boundaries between different realms were deliberately marked with devices that changed the orientation of the magnetic field.

Relief carvings

I turned my attention to the chullpa’s celestial entrance and was amazed to find several very worn carvings around the top of the tower. A little later, I will discuss the relief carvings  in more detail, with respect to the two large chullpas at Cutimbo’s summit. For now, here are details of the carvings I noticed on this chullpa:

Serpent relief carving at the top of the chullpa.
Relief carving of a serpent, near to the ‘spirit entrance’ towards the top of the chullpa. (© Dave Truman).
Three relief carvings on two adjacent stones at the top of the chullpa. To the left is another serpent. On the stone to its right is a carving of what looks to be a dinosaur and on the far-right of the same stone, a lizard. (© Dave Truman).
Serpent relief carving.
Unusually, this relief carving of serpents appears towards the bottom of the tower. (© Dave Truman). 
Cave paintings

Keen to find out how this example compared to the massive chullpas sitting on the meseta’s summit, I returned to my slow climb upwards. More surprises were in store for me, however. I had climbed but a short way when I came across a sign that diverted me from my upward path towards some cave paintings. I scrambled along a rocky trail that jutted out over a sheer drop on one side to reach a covered recess set in from the craggy wall on the other.’ ‘Hardly a cave at all’, I thought. These places provided spartan refuges in the most difficult of times: when the skies went dark, when the floods laden with debris and boulders swept over the Altiplano and when flares from the sky seared into the flesh. They were shelters born of necessity, not primitivism.

Cave paintings of camelids.
Charcoal drawings of herds of camelids on the wall of the cave at Cutimbo. Were these simply ‘stick drawings’ made by primitive people, or did they actually function as instructional diagrams? (© Dave Truman).

The French researcher and writer Simone Waisbard spent many years collecting the oral traditions of Andean peoples. They told her of an epoch in which the people were forced to leave the Altiplano and take refuge in the caves of the cordilleras, when a succession  of devastating floods plagued their homelands. As the waters started to recede, the amautas  (wise ones) used to draw instructional diagrams on the walls of the caves in order to teach large bands of survivors strategies for hunting the remaining game. Was this, I wondered, what was depicted here?

Towards the table top

I resumed my slow climb to the flat summit of this mountain laden with secrets. As I rose, I could see further and further across the Altiplano towards the jagged grey peaks of the cordilleras beyond, highlighted with snow.  Finally, the path levelled out and curved as I reached the plateau. I looked across the plane that now revealed itself in front of me. I was confronted by the prospect of an immense megalithic tower, rectangular in shape, that made the chullpa I had just inspected lower down seem miniature in comparison. It was not just that the tower itself dwarfed the one lower down the slope, but it was that the stones that comprised this immense chullpa’s walls were so much larger.

The rectangular chullpa at Cutimbo’s summit is built mostly from andesite megaliths. Notice that part of the structure is missing on the right-hand side. There are also fissures in the walls. This damage may be the result of earthquakes. (© Dave Truman).

It was as if, like  Gulliver, I had found myself washed up on the shore of a land of giants. All around the tower, strewn across the summit’s surface, lay large stone blocks, their straight cuts and regular angles jutting out from the tall grass of the pampa. My eyes wandered to the left and a second enormous tower confronted me. About as tall as its companion, this was round and it seemed to have suffered rather less structural damage. It was built from enormous interlocking blocks of stone.

Megalithic chullpa.
The large megalithic circular chullpa at the summit of Cutimbo. (© Dave Truman).

In many ways, this tower resembled the ones I had seen at Sillustani, but I could not help thinking that it was much older. Its andesite blocks, although equally finely worked as those at Sillustani, seemed to have been much more weather-worn.

The sacred geometry of the chullpas

Both Cutimbo and Sillustani are sites where there are rectangular and circular chullpas. The combination of styles may not be because of invasions by different peoples, who brought with them distinct building technologies, as is often supposed. Rather, it could be an expression of complementary principles of geometry at work in the universe, which was reflected by the builders of the chullpas.

The Peruvian researcher, Javier Lajo has observed that the geometries of different pre-Columbian temples in the Andes varied according to whether a male or a female deity, or spiritual presence, was worshipped there. Put simply, those buildings intended for the worship of the male tend to be square or rectangular, whereas those intended for the female are circular.

Base of rectangular chullpa at Sillustani.
The base stones of what was probably an incomplete rectangular chullpa at Sillustani, showing the ‘doorway’ through which the shaman would have entered for the solstice ceremony. (© Dave Truman).

Might it just be that this principle also accounts for the different geometries of the chullpas? In my article on Sillustani, I argued that these towers were where the shamans of the Kollas communed with the souls of their dead ancestors during the southern winter solstice. Could the rectangular chullpas have been built to house the souls of returning male ancestors and the circular towers those of female ancestors?

Enigmatic relief carvings

Curiously, only the large round chullpa at Cutimbo’s summit sports any relief carvings. Its rectangular companion possesses none. Whereas most of the carvings on the chullpa on the mountain’s slope are grouped around the ‘spirit entrance’ at the top of the tower, here they are grouped around the shaman’s ‘doorway’, which faces due east at the bottom. To say the least, they present a mystery:

An unknown mammal relief carving.
An unknown mammal stands to the right of the shaman’s ‘doorway’ of the round chullpa, which has been blocked with a stone to deter vandalism to the interior. Note that these massive stones have been placed on top of foundation stones. (© Dave Truman).
Two heads relief carving.
Two heads appear to emerge from the megalith immediately above the ‘doorway’. To the left can be seen the extremely worn head of an unidentified mammal. (© Dave Truman).

In his book Magicians of the Gods, Graham Hancock draws certain parallels between these relief carvings and those at Golbekle Tepe in eastern Turkey. There are certainly stylistic similarities, but the Golbekle Tepe carvings have enjoyed the benefit of having been buried for many thousands of years before they were unearthed. These carvings have not been so fortunate. The extreme weathering of the hard andesite rock from which they have been formed is testimony that they may be as old as their Turkish counterparts.

There is another difference between these carvings and those at Golbekle  Tepe. Several of those who have studied the Turkish carvings have been able to identify the animal figures depicted there. Here, the figures seem to defy any identification. When I first studied them, I searched the internet for pictures of South American mammals, both modern and from the Ice Age, both small and large. I could find nothing that matched the Cutimbo creatures. The carving of the two heads is equally puzzling. Are the heads human, or are they apes? Bearing in mind that the chullpas enabled contact with the spirits of ancestors, are they some sort of tacit acknowledgement of hominid ancestors, of which we are no longer aware? There are many questions to be asked.

Perhaps, as with the relief carvings at Tiwanaku, these may be representations of chimera, therianthropes and other shifting shamanistic spirit forms. If so, then they are stylistically very different from the Tiwanaku sculptures. Yet, conventional archaeology tells us that the builders of these stone chullpas were supposed to have been culturally linked to those who built Tiwanaku. Could it be that conventional archaeology’s map of South America’s past, before the arrival of the Spanish, is completely wrong?

As I turned to leave this most baffling of sites, my attention was drawn to one of  the many megaliths lying on the ground close to the rectangular chullpa. There, carved on to one of the large stones that was probably shaken from the tower during an earthquake, was one of the most unfathomable figures I have ever set eyes on:

Enigmatic relief carving
This puzzling relief carving lies amongst the rubble of large worked stones at Cutimbo. (© Dave Truman).

Was the head intended to be human, or had the thousands of years of wind, rain and hail deceptively worn its features that way? Why did it have no hind legs, or were millennia of rain and hail responsible for erasing those too? Why were the hands, which appeared to cling to the stone so desperately, that large? As I stated earlier, Cutimbo has left me with so many questions, but with hardly any answers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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?
Toxodon
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).

Paleo-buttressing

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

Worked stones both large and small

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

 

© Dave Truman

Sillustani Peru: Where Houses of Souls Reach into Solstice Skies

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

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

Percy Bysshe Shelley

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lake Umaya

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Solstice Gateways

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

The age-old question

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

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

Picture galleries:

Stones and cirles

Lake Umaya

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

© Dave Truman