By a friend on facebook: “Clearly the remnants of another colony of the previous worldwide civilisation – the site looks cruder than most other megalithic sites, but it is certainly because the stones used there are limestone blocks, which got heavily corroded over time. A “trained eye” will easily notice the same polygonal masonry that is seen in other megalithic sites. Keep in mind that all masonry works from these builders most probably had the same level of finesse, which nowadays can only be observed on walls that were made with stones that are much less vulnerable to acid rains, like, for example, the andesite and porphyry walls in Peru.”
Valey temple, Egypt
Oseirion, Egypt (also polygonic interlocking)
Edo Castle, Japan
Polygonal masonry is a technique of stone construction of the ancient Mediterranean world. True polygonal masonry is a technique wherein the visible surfaces of the stones are dressed with straight sides or joints, giving the block the appearance of a polygon.
This technique is found throughout the Mediterranean and sometimes corresponds to the less technical category of Cyclopean masonry.
Section of the ancient polygonal masonry wall of Amelia, Italy (ancient Ameria)
A detail of the polygonal masonry bastion flanking the Porta Maggiore.
The so-called Porta Rosa of the ancient city of Velia employs a variant of the technique known as Lesbian masonry.
Polygonal masonry is a technique of stone construction of the ancient Mediterranean world. True polygonal masonry is a technique wherein the visible surfaces of the stones are dressed with straight sides or joints, giving the block the appearance of a polygon.
This technique is found throughout the Mediterranean and sometimes corresponds to the less technical category of Cyclopean masonry.
The so-called Porta Rosa of the ancient city of Velia employs a variant of the technique known as Lesbian masonry
(“Polygonal masonry wall, Amelia, Italy” by Torquatus – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 4.0 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Polygonal_masonry_wall,_Amelia,_Italy.JPG#/media/File:Polygonal_masonry_wall,_Amelia,_Italy.JPG)
“Norba, detail of Porta Maggiore bastion” by Torquatus – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 4.0 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Norba,_detail_of_Porta_Maggiore_bastion.jpg#/media/File:Norba,_detail_of_Porta_Maggiore_bastion.jpg
“Velia 0975” by Carlomorino – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Velia_0975.jpg#/media/File:Velia_0975.jpg
The term comes from the belief of classical Greeks that only the mythical Cyclopes had the strength to move the enormous boulders that made up the walls of Mycenae and Tiryns. Pliny’s Natural History reported the tradition attributed to Aristotle, that the Cyclopes were the inventors of masonry towers, giving rise to the designation Cyclopean.
A typical stretch of Cyclopean walling (near Grave Circle A at Mycenae)
The walls are usually founded in extremely shallow beddings carved out of the bedrock. ‘Cyclopean’, the term normally applied to the masonry style characteristic of Mycenaean fortification systems, describes walls built of huge, unworked limestone boulders which are roughly fitted together. Between these boulders, smaller hunks of limestone fill the interstices. The exterior faces of the large boulders may be roughly hammer-dressed, but the boulders themselves are never carefully cut blocks. Very large boulders are typical of the Mycenaean walls at Mycenae, Tiryns, Argos, Krisa (in Phocis), and the Athenian Acropolis. Somewhat smaller boulders occur in the walls of Midea, whereas large limestone slabs are characteristic of the walls at Gla. Cut stone masonry is used only in and around gateways, conglomerate at Mycenae and Tiryns and perhaps both conglomerate and limestone at Argos.
Outdated definitions of the Cyclopean style
Harry Thurston Peck, writing in 1898, divided Cyclopean masonry into four categories or styles:
The first style, which is the oldest, consists of unwrought stones of various sizes in which the gaps are, or were, filled with small stones.
The second is characterized by polygonal stones, which fit against each other with precision.
The third style includes structures in Phocis, Boeotia and Argolis. It is characterized by work made in courses and by stones of unequal size, but of the same height. This category includes the walls of Mycenae, the Lion Gate, and the Treasury of Atreus.
The fourth style is characterized by horizontal courses of masonry, not always of the same height, but of stones which are all rectangular. This style is common in Attica.
While Peck’s first and possibly second and third styles conforms to what archaeologists today would classify as cyclopean, the fourth now is referred to as ashlar and is not considered cyclopean. There is a more detailed description of the Cyclopean styles at the Perseus Project.
Example of “ashlar” labeled masonry. Non polygonic straight blocks.
In some Masonic groupings, which such societies term jurisdictions, ashlars are used as a symbolic metaphor for progress. As described in the explanation of the First Degree Tracing Board, in Emulation (and other) rituals the rough ashlar is a stone as taken directly from the quarry, and allegorically represents the Freemason prior to his initiation; a smooth ashlar (or “perfect ashlar”) is a stone that has been smoothed and dressed by the experienced stonemason, and allegorically represents the Freemason who, through education and diligence, has learned the lessons of Freemasonry and who lives an upstanding life.
Difference between Cyclopean masonry, shown in the blue rectangle, and ashlar masonry, outside the rectangle (the Lion Gate, Mycenae, 13th century BC)
There still remain, however, parts of the city wall [of Mycenae], including the gate, upon which stand lions. These, too, are said to be the work of the Cyclopes, who made for Proetus the wall at Tiryns. (2.16.5) Going on from here and turning to the right, you come to the ruins of Tiryns. … The wall, which is the only part of the ruins still remaining, is a work of the Cyclopes made of unwrought stones, each stone being so big that a pair of mules could not move the smallest from its place to the slightest degree. Long ago small stones were so inserted that each of them binds the large blocks firmly together.(2.25.8)
Modern archaeologists use “Cyclopean” in a more restricted sense than the description by Pausanias; while Pausanias attributes all of the fortifications of Tiryns and Mycenae, including the Lion Gate, to the Cyclopes, only parts of these walls are built in Cyclopean masonry. The photograph above shows the difference between Cyclopean masonry (shown in the blue rectangle), and the ashlar masonry of the Lion Gate.
Locations of Cyclopean structures
Apart from the Tirynthian and Mycenaean walls, other Cyclopean structures include some tholos tombs in Greece and the fortifications of a number of Mycenaean sites, most famously at Gla.
In Sicily there are many Cyclopean structures especially in the eastern part of the island.
Gigantic Unfinished Stele Abandoned in Chinese Quarry
Gigantic unfinished stele abandoned in an ancient Chinese quarry could provide the answer to the question how other megalithic stone blocks were made in other parts of the world…
The Yangshan Quarry is an ancient stone quarry near Nanjing, China. Used during many centuries as a source of stone for buildings and monuments of Nanjing, it is presently preserved as a historic site. The quarry is famous for the gigantic unfinished stele that was abandoned there during the reign of the Yongle Emperor in the early 15th century. In scope and ambition, the stele project is compared to other public works projects of Yongle era, which included the launching of the Treasure Fleet for the Zheng He expeditions and the construction of the Forbidden City in Beijing.
The stele base, partly separated from the body of the mountain
The unfinished base of the giant stele, with a hiker next to it for scale, located at the NE end of the southwestern pit of the Yangshan Quarry. One can see in the photos how the giant piece of rock has been parially separated from the mountain by digging under it.
The Monument Body (right) and the Monument Head (left), in Yangshan Quarry, Nanjing.
According to a legend, workers who failed to produce the daily quota of crushed rock of at least 33 sheng would be executed on the spot. In memory of the workers who died on the construction site—including those who died from overwork and disease—a nearby village became known as Fentou or “Grave Mound”. Ann Paludan translates the place name as “Death’s Head Valley”.
The Yangshan Quarry is situated on the Yangshan Mountain (elevation 140 m), also known as Yanmen Shan, northwest of Tangshan Town. The Yangshan is the main peak of the Kongshan Mountain Range. The site is located 15-20 km to the east from the eastern part of Nanjing City Wall and the Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum. Administratively, the area is in the Jiangning District of Nanjing City, Jiangsu Province.
An overall view of the quarry site from a walking trail. The stele base, center left; the stele body, and the stele head in front of it, near the horizon, a bit right of center
The Yangshan Quarry has been worked from the time of the Six Dynasties, the local limestone being used for construction of buildings, walls, and statues in and around Nanjing.
After Zhu Yuanzhang (the Hongwu Emperor) founded the Ming Dynasty in 1368, the city of Nanjing became the capital city of his empire. The Yangshan quarry became the main source of stone for the major construction projects that changed the face of Nanjing. In 1405, Hongwu’s son, the Yongle Emperor, ordered the cutting of a giant stele in this quarry, for use in the Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum of his deceased father.
In accordance with the usual design of a Chinese memorial stele, three separate pieces were being cut: the rectangular stele base (pedestal), the stele body, and the stele head (crown, to be decorated with a dragon design).
After most of the stone-cutting work had been done, the architects realized that moving stones that big from Yangshan to Ming Xiaoling, let alone installing them there in a proper way, would not be physically possible. As a result, the project was abandoned.
In place of the stele, a much smaller tablet (still, the largest in the Nanjing area), known as the Shengong Shengde (“Divine Merits and Godly Virtues”) Stele was installed in Ming Xiaoling’s “Square Pavilion” (Sifangcheng) in 1413.
The three unfinished stele components remain in Yangshan Quarry to this day, only partially separated from the living rock of the mountain. The present dimensions and the usual weight estimates of the steles are as follows:
The Stele Base (32°04?03?N 119°00?00?E), 30.35 m long, 13 m thick, 16 m tall, 16,250 metric tons.
The Stele Body (32°04?07?N 119°00?02?E), 49.4 m long (this would be the height, if the stele were to be properly installed), 10.7 m wide, 4.4 m thick, 8,799 tons.
The Stele Head (32°04?06?N 119°00?02?E), 10.7 m tall, 20.3 m wide, 8.4 m thick, 6,118 tons.
According to experts, if the stele had been finished and put together, by installing the stele body installed vertically on the base, and topping with the stele head, then it would have stood 73 meters tall. For comparison, the Shengong Shengde Stele actually installed in Ming Xiaoling is 8.78 m tall (6.7 m body + crown, on top of a 2.8 m tall tortoise pedestal).
The Song-Dynasty (early 12th century) Wan Ren Chou (“Ten Thousand Men’s Sorrow”) Stele in Qufu, which is thought to be one of the tallest in China, is 16.95 m tall, 3.75 m wide, 1.14 m thick.
In the centuries since the giant stele project was abandoned, a number of Ming, Qing, and modern authors visited the site and left accounts of it. The poet Yuan Mei (1716 – 1797) expressed his feelings in “The Song of Hongwu’s Great Stone Tablet”, which concludes with “ten thousand camels could not move it!” . The poem is published in his collection Xiao Cangshan Fang Wenji.
Monoliths are categorized by being stone structures, usually man-crafted and weighing at least ten tons. Many monoliths remaining today puzzle archaeologists as to how they were shaped, moved, and the purpose they served
As the title suggests, Unfinished Obelisk is an incomplete work, located in Aswan, Egypt. Discovered in 2005, If completed it would have been the largest Egyptian obelisk ever finished. It is carved from bedrock with an estimated weight of 1,200 tons. If finished, this obelisk would have measured around 42 m (approximately 137 feet).
At the southern entrance of Baalbeck is a quarry where the stones used in the temples were cut. A huge block, considered the largest hewn stone in the world, still sits where it was cut almost 2,000 years ago. Called the “Stone of the Pregnant Woman”, it is 21.5m x 4.8m x 4.2meters in size and weighs an estimated 1,000 tons.
Giant walls of Sacsayhuaman
There are three parallel walls built in different levels with lime-stones of enormous sizes. Zigzagging walls are made of boulders used for the first or lower levels are the biggest; there is one that is 8.5 m high (28 ft.) and weights about 140 metric tons. Those boulders classify the walls as being of cyclopean or megalithic architecture. There are no other walls like these. They are different from Stonehenge, different from the Pyramids of the Egyptians and the Maya, different from any of the other ancient monolithic stone-works. Scientists are not certain how these huge stones were transported and processed to fit so perfectly that no blade of grass or steel can slide between them. There is no mortar. The stones often join in complex and irregular surfaces that would appear to be a nightmare for the stonemason.
Most Inca buildings were made out of fieldstones or semi-worked stones set in mortar, while others had adobe walls, usually with stone foundations. But some of the buildings attributed to the Incas use precisely cut and shaped stones closely fitted without mortar – yet not even a knife blade can be inserted between them. Sometimes more or less rectangular (ashlar) blocks were used, but instead of being straight, each side is usually wavy, yet fits snugly with the neighbouring block. The most advanced stonework makes use of polygonal blocks, with as many as 12 angles or more, which interlock perfectly with all neighbouring blocks; some of the polygonal blocks are truly cyclopean, sometimes weighing at least 100 tonnes. Such stonework staggers the imagination. As regards lateral joints between blocks, the close fit observed from the front of the wall is sometimes only a few centimetres deep and the interior of the joint is filled with rubble. But in many instances, the snug lateral fit extends through the entire thickness of the wall, just as the bedding (horizontal) joints do. Such walls are essentially earthquake-proof. The fact that ‘Inca’ walls tend to incline inwards by 3° to 5° also contributes to their stability.
Fig. 5.1 Wall in in Hatunrumiyoc street, Cuzco. Polygonal stones
usually have pillowed (convex) faces and bevelled, sunken joints.
Sa Sedda ‘e Sos Carros, Sardinia
Yang Shang Site China
Not only in south america and egypt we see the knobs but also in China in particular site, the Yangshan quarry. A seperate blog post is on this blog.
Other sites in Peru, Olyantambo and Nusta Hispania Show similar masonry and knobs.
How? A foolish explanation by main stream Archeology.
To cut, shape and dress stone blocks the Incas are believed to have used hammer stones such as river cobbles, mostly made of quartzite, weighing up to 10 kg. The masons allegedly achieved a perfect fit between adjacent stones mainly by trial and error: first they shaped a block on the ground, then they placed it in the wall to check the fit, then lowered it again to chip off more rock. This process was repeated again and again until a perfect fit was achieved. Other researchers argue that once the first block had been carved and fitted in place, the masons somehow suspended the second boulder on scaffolding next to the first one, and traced the shape of the first onto it so that it wouldn’t need to be repeatedly lifted into place and lowered again; this technique is known as ‘scribing and coping’.
Jean-Pierre Protzen conducted experiments that convinced him that the trial-and-error method was the most likely method used for shaping stones.1 He took a rough, rectangular block of andesite, measuring 25 by 25 by 30 cm, then pounded it into a more regular shape. He also pounded out a concave depression in a larger stone, into which the bottom of the small stone he had already shaped fitted snugly. The hammers he used had a hardness of about 5.5 on the Mohs scale, roughly the same as the andesite block, but the hammer stones were tougher than the andesite, which fragmented easily.
Fig. 5.2 The Protzen method.
The welded rhyolite stones used at the ‘Inca’ site of Ollantaytambo had a hardness of between 6 and 7 on the Mohs scale. Protzen does not mention performing experiments with that type of rock. Nor did he try to shape many-angled, interlocking stones. Nor did he experiment with multi-tonne blocks. A. Hyatt Verrill writes:
No sane man can believe that a twenty-ton stone was pecked here and there, dropped into position, hoisted out and trued and cut over and over again, until a perfect fit was obtained. Even if we can imagine such endless herculean labor being performed, it would have been impossible in many cases owing to the fact that the stones are locked or dovetailed together. Although some of the stones are fairly square or rectangular and with six faces, many are irregular in form, and some have as many as thirty-two angles. The only way in which such complex forms could have been fitted with such incredible accuracy was by cutting each block to extremely fine measurements, or by means of a template, a process which would indicate that these prehistoric people possessed a most thorough and advanced knowledge of engineering and the higher mathematics.2
Pounding a block with a hammer stone leaves scars, or pit marks, and in the case of limestone, it produces whitish discolouration in or around the scar. Protzen sees the fact that the stones used in Inca walls bear similar scars as proof that only his own method had been used. He cites several writers from the time of the conquest in support of his view. Garcilaso de la Vega wrote in 1609 that the Incas ‘had no other tools to work the stones than some black stones … with which they dressed the stone by pounding rather than cutting’. Jose de Acosta, a Jesuit priest travelling with the conquistadors, wrote in 1589: ‘All this was done with much manpower and much suffering in the work, for to fit one stone to the other, until they were adjusted, it was necessary to try the fit many times.’3 There is no doubt that such techniques were used during Inca times. But was that the only method the Incas used?
There are also storys that they used a plant to make the rock soft.
More importantly, were all ‘Inca’-style buildings really constructed by the Incas? Or was the polygonal, cyclopean masonry the work of a far earlier culture?
Fig. 5.3 Blocks are covered with small scars, which are finer at the edges than in
the centre of the face, suggesting that different sized hammer stones were used.4
Even Dubai (great tomb at Hili) has polygonic masonry like the Oseirion and the valley temple and the flag stones in front of the great pyramid.
The Kachiqhata quarry is located about 5 km from Ollantaytambo, in a ravine on the opposite side of the Urubamba river and 400 to 900 m above the valley floor. It supplied the rose rhyolite (also known as porphyry or red granite) for the Sun Temple at Ollantaytambo. The Rumiqolqa quarry is located 35 km southwest of Cuzco and supplied much of the andesite used in the imperial capital. Both quarries have networks of access roads leading to the points where the building stones were retrieved. At least 40,000 cubic metres of dirt and rocks had to be moved to build the elaborate network of roads, ramps, and slides connecting the Kachiqhata quarries with the main building areas. At Kachiqhata, stones seem to have been selected from rockfalls, while at Rumiqolqa rock was broken off the face with metre-long bronze pry bars or wooden sticks, according to Protzen.
Protzen says that the polish and striations on some of the block faces at Ollantaytambo show that they have been dragged most of the way from the quarries along ramps and roads. The megalithic blocks at Kachiqhata had to be launched down a slide with an incredible 40° slope ending in a 250 m vertical drop. They then had to be transported across the river and up to the fortress. Protzen wonders how this was done with blocks weighing up to 140 tonnes. To drag a 140-tonne block up the ramp at Ollantaytambo, which has a 10° slope, would require 2400 men, and Protzen says it is difficult to see where they could have stood as the ramps are only 6 to 8 m wide. Other unsolved problems, he says, are the techniques for tying ropes to the blocks and the methods for manoeuvring and lifting the huge stones into place. He also points out that, unlike the blocks from Kachiqhata, the blocks quarried at the Rumiqolqa quarry were fine-dressed at the quarry but show no drag marks at all; he has no idea how the dressed blocks were transported.
Garcilaso de la Vega tells of a disaster that occurred while the Incas were transporting a large stone from a quarry to Ollantaytambo. The stone is known as ‘sayccusca rumi’ (‘tired stone’) and measures 6.2 m (20’4″) long, 4.6 m (15’2″) broad, and 1.1 m (3’6″) thick. It was brought across the river but abandoned 780 yards from the ascent to the ruins. He writes:
The historical truth, as related by the Ynca Amautas, who were the wise philosophers and doctors in the time of their idolatry, is that more than twenty thousand Indians dragged the stone with stout cables. They proceeded with great difficulty, as the road was very rough, and passed up and down many steep mountains. Half the people hauled upon the cables in front, while the other half held on behind … In one of these steep places (where, through carelessness, they were not all hauling with equal force) the weight of the stone overcame the force of those who held it, and it slipped down the hill, killing three or four thousand Indians who were guiding it. Notwithstanding this disaster, they raised it up, and brought it to the place where it now lies.5
Many unfinished blocks display ‘work marks’ or ‘cutting marks’. There are three distinct patterns: roughly circular cups; approximately square-shaped pans; and parallel troughs. Similar marks are found on blocks at Tiwanaku in Bolivia, and also on parts of the unfinished granite obelisk (and surrounding rock) at Aswan in Egypt, which is believed to have been shaped with balls of dolerite.
Fig. 5.4 Work marks: cups, pans and troughs.6
Fig. 5.5 Unfinished obelisk at Aswan. It would have weighed 1168 tons and
stood 41.75 m high, but was left unfinished because of a flaw in the rock.7
Fig. 5.6 Hatunrumiyoc street, Cuzco.8
Fig. 5.7 A common ancient method of splitting stones was to make a series of small holes and then insert saturated wooden wedges which expanded and cracked the rock. Left: Machu Picchu quarry. Right: Aswan quarry.9
Many stones in ‘Inca’ walls have strange protuberances or bosses, of several shapes and sizes, which appear to mar the beauty of the masonry. They are generally found on the lower part of blocks that have been fitted. It is commonly assumed that they were used in handling the blocks, perhaps by attaching ropes to them or applying levers against them. Blocks at the quarries tend to have large protuberances whereas blocks that have been fitted, or are found lying around at Inca construction sites, or were abandoned along the route from the quarry have much smaller protuberances. The latter could not have had ropes tied to them; what’s more, the positioning of the protuberances seems rather random. Since they were clearly not needed for transportation or for handling the blocks at the building sites, and were not always removed once the blocks were in place, they may have had some symbolic function. Similar protuberances can be seen on blocks in the Osireion temple at Abydos, Egypt, and on some of the granite casing stones used on the lower part of the Third (‘Menkaure’) Pyramid at Giza.
Similar style to the flagstones on the ground in front of the great pyramid, the wals of the oseirion and the valley temple and the pre-inca stonework in South America.
The holes, depressions, cuts and clamps
Protzen draws attention to certain blocks with saw cuts and drilled holes, pointing out that no Inca tools have yet been found that are capable of making them.
Fig. 5.10 A saw cut 8 mm wide and 10 mm deep, and a rhyolite
block drilled with a hole 4 cm in diameter and 7 cm deep.11
Fig. 5.11 A drilled block at the Coricancha in Cuzco.
At Ollantaytambo and other Inca sites blocks were sometimes connected by I-shaped copper clamps or ties. Protzen expresses amazement at the fact that the insides of the T-sockets in the blocks to be joined are as highly polished as the surfaces into which they were carved. Metal clamps were also used at Tiwanaku and Puma Punku in Bolivia, and it is generally believed that a copper alloy was poured molten into the carved indentations in the blocks; the blocks would therefore have had to be lying flat on the ground, with the surfaces to be joined facing upwards. It is often said that the purpose of the ties was to strengthen the structure. Maurice Cotterell says that if enormous stones weighing 10 tonnes or more were to topple, soft copper straps would tear apart, and proposes that the straps were designed to electrically earth-bond the stone blocks.12
Clamps were widely used in the Old World. For instance, the Egyptians clamped together most of their ashlar masonry, usually with wooden dovetail clamps. The Greeks too systematically clamped or dowelled together ashlars and other building elements; the clamps were made of iron packed in lead.13 Clamps were also used in India and Iran, and at Angor Wat in Cambodia.14
Fig. 5.12 Stones with clamp sockets at: Ollantaytambo, Puma Punku, Dendera (Egypt), and Angor Wat (Cambodia).
Fig. 5.13 U-shaped sockets in blocks at the Coricancha.
Hiram Bingham roamed South America in the early 1900s and is credited with rediscovering Machu Picchu in 1911. He relates the following:
The modern Peruvians are very fond of speculating as to the method which the Incas employed to make their stones fit so perfectly. One of the favorite stories is that the Incas knew of a plant whose juices rendered the surface of a block so soft that the marvellous fitting was accomplished by rubbing the stones together for a few moments with this magical plant juice!1
Similar tales were heard by another explorer, Percy Fawcett, who disappeared with his older son in 1925 during an expedition to find an ancient lost city in the uncharted jungles of Brazil:
[A]ll through the Peruvian and Bolivian Montaña is to be found a small bird like a kingfisher, which makes its nest in neat round holes in the rocky escarpments above the river. These holes can plainly be seen, but are not usually accessible, and strangely enough they are found only where the birds are present. I once expressed surprise that they were lucky enough to find nesting-holes conveniently placed for them, and so neatly hollowed out as though with a drill.
‘They make the holes themselves.’ The words were spoken by a man who had spent a quarter of a century in the forests. ‘I’ve seen how they do it, many a time. I’ve watched, I have, and seen the birds come to the cliff with leaves of some sort in their beaks, and cling to the rock like woodpeckers to a tree while they rubbed the leaves in a circular motion over the surface. Then they would fly off, and come back with more leaves, and carry on with the rubbing process. After three or four repetitions they dropped the leaves and started pecking at the place with their sharp beaks, and – here’s the marvellous part – they would soon open out a round hole in the stone. Then off they’d go again, and go through the rubbing process with leaves several times before continuing to peck. It took several days, but finally they had opened out holes deep enough to contain their nests. I’ve climbed up and taken a look at them, and, believe me, a man couldn’t drill a neater hole!’
‘Do you mean to say that the bird’s beak can penetrate solid rock?’
‘A woodpecker’s beak penetrates solid wood, doesn’t it?… No, I don’t think the bird can get through solid rock. I believe, as everyone who has watched them believes, that those birds know of a leaf with juice that can soften up rock till it’s like wet clay.’
I put this down as a tall tale – and then, after I had heard similar accounts from others all over the country, as a popular tradition. Some time later an Englishman, whose reliability I cannot doubt, told me a story that may throw some light on it.
‘My nephew was down in the Chuncho country on the Pyrene River in Peru, and his horse going lame one day he left it at a neighbouring chacra, about five miles away from his own, and walked home. Next day he walked over to get his horse, and took a short cut through a strip of forest he had never before penetrated. He was wearing riding breeches, top boots, and big spurs – not the little English kind, but the great Mexican spurs four inches long, with rowels bigger than a half-crown piece – and these spurs were almost new. When he got to the chacra after a hot and difficult walk through thick bush he was amazed to find that his beautiful spurs were gone – eaten away somehow, till they were no more than black spikes projecting an eighth of an inch. He couldn’t understand it, till the owner of the chacra asked him if by any chance he had walked through a certain plant about a foot high, with dark reddish leaves. My nephew at once remembered that he came through a wide area where the ground was thickly covered with such a plant. ‘That’s it!’ said the chacarero. ‘That’s what’s eaten your spurs away! That’s the stuff the Incas used for shaping stones. The juice will soften rock up till it’s like paste. You must show me where you found the plants.’ When they came to look for the place they couldn’t find it. It’s not easy to retrace your steps in jungle where no trails exist.’2
Percy Fawcett’s younger son, Brian Fawcett, reports the following story, told to him by a friend:
Some years ago, when I was working in the mining camp at Cerro de Pasco (a place 14,000 feet up in the Andes of Central Peru), I went out one Sunday with some other Gringos to visit some old Inca or Pre-Inca graves – to see if we could find anything worth while. We took our grub with us, and, of course, a few bottles of pisco and beer; and a peon – a cholo – to help dig.
Well, we had our lunch when we got to the burial place, and afterwards started to open up some graves that seemed to be untouched. We worked hard, and knocked off every now and again for a drink. I don’t drink myself, but others did, especially one chap who poured too much pisco into himself and was inclined to be noisy. When we knocked off, all we found was an earthenware jar of about a quart capacity, and with liquid inside it.
‘I bet its chicha!’ said the noisy one. ‘Let’s try it and see what sort of stuff the Incas drank!
‘Probably poison us if we do,’ observed another.
‘Tell you what, then – let’s try it out on the peon!’
They dug the seal and stopper out of the jar’s mouth, sniffed at the contents and called the peon over to them.
‘Take a drink of this chicha,’ ordered the drunk. The peon took the jar, hesitated and then with an expression of fear spreading over his face thrust it into the drunk’s hands and backed away.
‘No, no, senor,’ he murmured. ‘Not that. That’s not chicha!’ He turned and made off.
The drunk put the jar down on a flat-topped rock and set off in pursuit. ‘Come on boys – catch him!’ he yelled. They caught the wretched man, dragged him back, and ordered him to drink the contents of the jar. The peon struggled madly, his eyes popping. There was a bit of a scrimmage, and the jar was knocked over and broken, its contents forming a puddle on the top of the rock. Then the peon broke free and took to his heels.
Everyone laughed. It was a huge joke. But the exercise had made them thirsty and they went over to the sack where the beer-bottles lay.
About ten minutes later I bent over the rock and casually examined the pool of spilled liquid. It was no longer liquid; the whole patch where it had been, and the rock under it, were as soft as wet cement! It was as though the stone had melted, like wax under the influence of heat.3
In an interview in 1983, Jorge A. Lira, a Catholic priest who was an expert in Andean folklore, said that he had rediscovered the ancient method of softening stone. According to a pre-Columbian legend the gods had given the Indians two gifts to enable them to build colossal architectural works such as Sacsayhuaman and Machu Picchu. The gifts were two plants with amazing properties. One of them was the coca plant, whose leaves enabled the workers to sustain the tremendous effort required. The other was a plant which, when mixed with other ingredients, turned hard stone into a malleable paste. Padre Lira said he had spent 14 years studying the legend and finally succeeded in identifying the plant in question, which he called ‘jotcha’. He carried out several experiments and, although he managed to soften solid rock, he could not reharden it, and therefore considered his experiments a failure.4
Aukanaw, an Argentine anthropologist of Mapuche origin, who died in 1994, related a tradition about a species of woodpecker known locally by such names as pitiwe, pite, and pitio; its scientific name is probably Colaptes pitius (Chilean flicker), which is found in Chile and Argentina, or Colaptes rupicola (Andean flicker), which is found in southern Ecuador, Peru, western Bolivia, and northern Argentina and Chile. If someone blocks the entrance to its nest with a piece of rock or iron it will fetch a rare plant, known as pito or pitu, and rub it against the obstacle, causing it to become weaker or dissolve. In Peru, above 4500 m, there is said to be a plant called kechuca which turns stone to jelly, and which the jakkacllopito bird uses to make its nest. A plant with similar properties that grows at even higher altitudes is known, among other things, as punco-punco; this may be Ephedra andina, which the Mapuche consider a medicinal plant.5
Fig. 5.14 Colaptes rupicola.
Fig. 5.15 Ephedra andina.
There is an ancient tradition that the buildings at Great Zimbabwe in Africa were constructed ‘when the stones were soft’. This expression is also found among the Maoris.6 One possible interpretation is that it refers to a method of temporarily softening the stone.
Modern ‘experts’ scoff at anecdotes and traditions such as these. They argue that the quarries where the Incas cut their stones are known, and stones can be found there in all stages of preparation. However, the fact that some stones were cut with ordinary tools does not necessarily mean that they all were. A variety of techniques may have been used. The proper scientific attitude would be to put these traditions to the test instead of mindlessly dismissing them. After all, it is no secret that certain plants (e.g. in the Alps) that are ecologically adapted to life in rock crevices secrete acids to soften the rock.
In the 1930s, while studying mining and construction techniques, engineer J.L. Outwater examined a temple at Mitla, in Oaxaca, Mexico. This temple is ornamented by about 30,000 thin, flat pieces of stone. These tile-like pieces were derived from trachyte, a dense, durable rock that does not split easily like slate. He discovered a huge stone cauldron near a quarry and wondered whether the Maya had soaked stones in some chemical to soften them before making their tiles.7
Researcher Maurice Cotterell, too, believes that pre-Inca and Inca stonemasons possessed the technology to soften and pour stone.
We can do this today but only in one direction, from soft to hard; we call it concrete. It seems that the Incas and the Tiahuanacos could take the process one step further, from hard to soft again, using igneous rocks. At first this seems incomprehensible, but given the molecular structure of matter it is simply a question of overcoming the covalent bonds that bind atoms together. We can do this to ice, when we turn it to water, and we do it again when we turn water into steam. This explains how the Incas and Tiahuanacos assembled stones with such perfect precision. Close examination of the rounded edges of the stones suggests that the stone material has been ‘poured’, as though it were once contained within a sack or bag which had long since rotted and disappeared.8
If softened stone had been placed in ‘bags’ that were left to rot, some trace of them would surely have been found.
Fig. 5.16 Part of a wall in Cuzco, not far from the Coricancha.9
One of the stones has 14 angles.
Fig. 5.17 Niches carved into the solid rock at Ollantaytambo, as though the mountain was made of clay.
Fig. 5.18 Pre-Inca carved rock face known as the Doorway of
Amaru Muru (or Aramu Muru), Vilca Uta, Lake Titicaca.
Many researchers have commented on how ‘Inca’ stones look as though they have been cut like butter to produce perfect fits. Some see the fact that certain stones fit into a concave depression in the rock beneath as a sign that they did not have the same hardness during construction. The faces of many stones, particularly at Sacsayhuaman, show strange circular or rectangular indentations and ‘scrape marks’ that might have been made when the rock was softer.10 Charles Casale has said that on some very large stone blocks there appear to be traces of medium-sized stones hidden just beneath the surface, which seem to have been ‘plastered’ over with a stone layer.11 It has also been suggested that the cup-shaped, square-shaped and trough-shaped ‘work marks’ mentioned earlier were made after the surface had been softened.
Fig. 5.19 Wall at Sacsayhuaman.
Regarding the copper ties that link certain stones together, the official view is that the copper was smelted locally and poured into ready-made grooves in the blocks. If the straps had been poured in situ, the top of the strap should be slightly convex due to surface tension experienced in the casting process, and the bottom would have adopted the contours of the fissure between the two stone blocks being joined. According to Maurice Cotterell, straps found at Ollantaytambo have a flat top and bottom, and he suggests that ready-made copper strips were pushed into the surface of the blocks after the surface had been softened.12 Protzen, however, says no metal ties have been found at Ollantaytambo, though many have been found at Tiwanaku.
The work of geopolymer expert Joseph Davidovits is relevant to the discussion of stone softening. He has put forward compelling arguments that the ancient Egyptians built some of their major pyramids and temples using reagglomerated stone. Soft limestone was soaked in water to turn it into a slurry and was then mixed with ingredients such as kaolin, natron salt and lime. The mixture was then poured and compacted into moulds, where it hardened into synthetic stone blocks, 95% of whose weight consisted of natural limestone. But whereas fossil shells in natural limestone tend to lie flat, in reconstituted limestone they are randomly oriented. Synthetic limestone blocks show varying densities, with the topmost layer being the least dense. They sometimes contain air bubbles and organic fibres as well. Samples of pyramid blocks examined under an optical microscope appear to be natural rock; it is only under an electron microscope or during X-ray analysis that evidence of synthetic constituents emerges.13
A 2006 study by materials engineer Michel Barsoum and his colleagues supported Davidovits’ claims that some of the blocks used in the pyramids were made from a limestone-based form of concrete. Using scanning and transmission electron microscopy, they found that pyramid samples had mineral ratios that did not exist in any known limestone sources.14 However, that didn’t stop the head of Egypt’s Antiquities Department, Zahi Hawass, from dismissing the hypothesis as ‘plain stupid, idiotic and insulting’.
Davidovits has also argued that the disaggregation of stone materials with organic acids from plant extracts was a universal technique in antiquity. Pliny mentions the use of vinegar (acetic acid) in the disaggregation of limestone rocks, and Hannibal (219 BC) used the technique to bore holes in and burst open rocks obstructing his path through the Alps in his attempt to conquer Rome. Davidovits and his coworkers have demonstrated that a solution containing acetic, oxalic, and citric acid (obtained from plants) can disaggregate rocks containing calcium carbonate (e.g. limestone and calcite). He draws attention to the extraordinary skill in fabricating stone objects displayed by the pre-Inca Huanka (or Wanka) civilization. Some contemporary shamans belonging to the Huanka tradition do not use tools to make their small stone objects, but use plant extracts to dissolve the stone material (which contains calcite) and then pour the slurry into a mould where it hardens. He believes the same technique was used to make the earlier statues.15
Davidovits is therefore proposing a process in which limestone, calcite and related rocks are disaggregated and then hardened in a mould after a ‘geological glue’ is added, rather than a process in which only the surface of natural blocks is softened and then rehardened. Water and plant acids cannot be used to disaggregate hard igneous rock such as granite and basalt. So either some other agent would have to be used for this purpose, or sufficient quantities of naturally disaggregated granite etc. would have to be found, or natural stone was cut, shaped and hollowed out using manual tools or machine tools. There is strong evidence that advanced machine tools must have been used to make certain ancient Egyptian artefacts.16
Fig. 5.20 Precision-machined granite block next to Khafre’s Valley Temple, Giza.
At present we do not know exactly how all the ‘Inca-style’ structures were built. The use of stone-softening agents for softening the surface of stone blocks or for softening or disaggregating entire blocks prior to pouring or compacting the material into moulds cannot be ruled out. The use of advanced tools is also a possibility. The only thing that is beyond doubt is that the primitive manual techniques favoured by mainstream researchers cannot explain everything.
Inca or pre-Inca?
The Incas acknowledged that the extensive ruins at Tiwanaku not far from the shores of Lake Titicaca predated their own rise to power. There is a story that it was after seeing the amazing megalithic stonework at Tiwanaku that the Inca emperor Pachacuti (1438-1471) ordered his stonemasons to use polygonal, cyclopean masonry techniques elsewhere in the empire. However, Tiwanaku masonry differs significantly from ‘Inca’ masonry, and does not include the use of polygonal blocks.1 Given the very short life of the Inca empire, many have wondered how the Incas managed to undertake such a vast construction programme. This is based on the assumption that all ‘Inca-style’ architecture was the work of the Incas. But it is quite possible that the Incas took over older sites and repaired, rebuilt and added to existing structures made by earlier cultures.
Percy Fawcett put it this way:
The Incas inherited fortresses and cities built by a previous race and restored from a state of ruin without much difficulty. Where they themselves built with stone – in the regions where stone was the most convenient material, for in the coastal belt they generally used adobe – they adopted the same incredible mortarless joints that are characteristic of the older megalithic edifices, but made no attempts to use the huge stone masses favoured by their predecessors. I have heard it said that they fitted their stones together by means of a liquid that softened the surfaces to be joined to the consistency of clay.2
David Hatcher Childress writes:
That the Incas actually found these megalithic ruins and then built on top of them, claiming them as their own, is not a particularly alarming theory. … It was a common practice in ancient Egypt …
There are numerous legends in the Andes that Sacsayhuaman, Machu Picchu, Tiahuanaco, and other megalithic remains were built by a race of giants.3
Commenting on the different architectural styles in and around Cuzco he writes:
The most recent style is Spanish. Perhaps the most primitive of all, it is characterized by the masonry and tiled roofs so common throughout colonial South America. The Incan construction of 500 to 1000 years ago is evident on top of the larger, more perfect, more ancient works. This Incan technique is easily recognized by its square or rectangular blocks, typically weighing from 200- to 1000-pounds [90 to 450 kg]. Beneath it we find the megalithic construction of odd-angled blocks weighing from 20- to 200-tons, all perfectly fitted together.4
He thinks the latter construction may date back to between 7000 and 3000 BC. But some of it could be far older.
Referring to the polygonal, cyclopean style of masonry, archaeologist A. Hyatt Verrill commented:
Ordinarily all of these walls and buildings are referred to as Incan, but in reality the true Incan masonry was of an inferior type. The stones used were much smaller than those used by the pre-Incans, they were more carelessly and loosely fitted together, and not infrequently mortar or cement was used between them. In many places the later Incans’ work covers the ancient masonry of their predecessors, and in such cases, where a portion of the more recent masonry has been removed, the contrast between the two types is very striking.5
A genuine Inca wall once covered the ancient polygonal-style wall on the eastern side of Hatunrumiyoc Palace (now an art museum) in Cuzco (fig. 5.21). In the 1950s archaeologists, in a wanton act of vandalism, destroyed the entire remains of the Inca wall. Some Cuzco archaeologists believed that the cyclopean wall was pre-Inca, but nowadays it is officially attributed to the Incas. The Inca wall may once have covered the entire palace, probably to preserve the ancient wall for posterity, or protect it from desecration at a time when the city was threatened with invasion. At Ollantaytambo there were once cyclopean walls covered on both sides with a ‘plaster’ of broken rocks and clay.6
Fig. 5.21Above: Inca cellular-style wall, 5.4 m long, 3.7 m high and 90 cm thick, made of rough, small, mostly hexagonal stones, covering an ancient wall of massive polygonal stones.7Below: How the wall, in Hatunrumiyoc street, looks today (courtesy of Enrico Mattievich).
Polygonal and/or cyclopean masonry can also be found in the ancient Mediterranean region. H.P. Blavatsky says that the cyclopean buildings in Peru, clearly the relics of a great civilization, bear a startling resemblance to the architecture of archaic European nations, such as that of the ‘Pelasgians’ in Italy and Greece (nowadays attributed to the Mycenaeans8). She says that the stocks who devised these structures derived from ‘a common centre in an Atlantic continent’.9
Fig. 5.22 Polygonal retaining wall at Delphi, Greece, said to have been built in the 6th century BC.10
Fig. 5.23 Polygonal walls at the Nekromanteion (‘oracle of death’), Ephyra, Greece (courtesy of Coen Vonk). None of the ruins visible today are allegedly older than the 3rd century BC.
Fig. 5.24 Trapezoidal entrance of Mycenaean tholos tomb at Orchomenos, c. 1250 BC. Compare trapezoidal entrance at Sacsayhuaman (fig. 6.B7).11
Jean-Pierre Protzen, ‘Inca stonemasonry’, Scientific American, v. 254, no. 2, Feb. 1986, pp. 80-8; Jean-Pierre Protzen, Inca Architecture and Construction at Ollantaytambo, New York: Oxford University Press, 1993; W.R. Corliss (comp.), Ancient Structures: Remarkable pyramids, forts, towers, stone chambers, cities, complexes, Glen Arm, MD: Sourcebook Project, 2001, pp. 44-51.
A. Hyatt Verrill, Old Civilizations of the New World, New York: New Home Library, 1942 (1929), p. 301.
Quoted in ‘Inca stonemasonry’, pp. 85-7.
Inca Architecture and Construction at Ollantaytambo, p. 187.
Garcilasso de la Vega, First Part of the Royal Commentaries of the Yncas (2 vols.), New York: Burt Franklin, 1869-71, 2:305-6, 315-17.
Inca Architecture and Construction at Ollantaytambo, pp. 170-1.
Inca Architecture and Construction at Ollantaytambo, p. 189.
Maurice Cotterell, The Lost Tomb of Viracocha: Unlocking the secrets of the Peruvian pyramids, London: Headline, 2001, pp. 60-8.
Jean-Pierre Protzen & Stella Nair, ‘Who taught the Inca stonemasons their skills? A comparison of Tiahuanaco and Inca cut-stone masonry’, Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, v. 56, no. 2, 1997, pp. 146-67 (pp. 161-2).
Graeme R. Kearsley, Inca Origins: Asian influences in early South America in myth, migration and history, London: Yelsraek Publishing, 2003, pp. 292, 580.
Hiram Bingham, Across South America; an account of a journey from Buenos Aires to Lima by way of Potosí, Boston, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1911, p. 277, www.archive.org/details/acrosssouthamer00bing.
Col. P.H. Fawcett, Exploration Fawcett, London: Century, 1988 (1953), pp. 75-7.
Graeme R. Kearsley, Asian Origins of African Culture: Asian migrations through Africa to the Americas, London: Yelsraek Publishing, 2010, p. 281; Lost civilizations of the Andes, fig. 2.22, http://davidpratt.info.
W.R. Corliss (comp.), Archeological Anomalies: Small artifacts – bone, stone, metal artifacts, prints, high-technology, Glen Arm, MD: Sourcebook Project, 2003, pp. 245-6; Corliss, Ancient Structures, p. 51.
Maurice Cotterell, The Lost Tomb of Viracocha: Unlocking the secrets of the Peruvian pyramids, London: Headline, 2001, p. 67.
Joseph Davidovits, They Built the Pyramids, Saint-Quentin: Institut Géopolymère, 2008, www.geopolymer.org, www.davidovits.info; Margaret Morris, The Egyptian Pyramid Mystery Is Solved. Vol. 1: The Mysteries, Detroit, MI: Scribal Arts, 2004.
Christopher Dunn, Lost Technologies of Ancient Egypt: Advanced engineering in the temples of the pharaohs, Rochester, VE: Bear & Company, 2010; Christopher Dunn, The Giza Power Plant: Technologies of ancient Egypt, Santa Fe, NM: Bear & Company, 1998, chs. 3-5; Christopher Dunn, Advanced machining in ancient Egypt, 2004, www.gizapower.com/Advanced/Advanced%20Machining.html; Christopher Dunn, Prehistoric machined artifacts, 2006, www.gizapower.com/pma/index.htm.
Inca or pre-Inca?
Protzen & Nair, ‘Who taught the Inca stonemasons their skills?’
Exploration Fawcett, pp. 251-2.
David Hatcher Childress, Lost Cities and Ancient Mysteries of South America, Kempton, IL: Adventures Unlimited, 1986, p. 71.
Ibid., p. 77.
Hyatt Verrill, Old Civilizations of the New World, p. 302.
Enrico Mattievich, Journey to the Mythological Inferno: America’s discovery by the ancient Greeks, Denver, CO: Rogem Press, 2010, pp. 140-2; Luis A. Pardo, Historia y Arqueología del Cuzco, vol. 1, Cuzco: Imprenta Colegio Militar Leoncio Prado, 1957, pp. 185-208.
Old Civilizations of the New World, 1929 edition, p. 298; Journey to the Mythological Inferno, p. 142.
The word Cuzco (also spelled: Cusco, or in Quechua: Qosqo), the name of the Inca capital, is usually said to mean ‘navel of the world’, though ‘placenta of the world’ would be more accurate.1 Situated at an altitude of 3300 m, the city was laid out in the form of a puma, the animal that symbolized the Inca dynasty. Its body lies between the canalized Tullumayo and Saphimayo rivers, and its tail is formed by the confluence of the two; this area is called Pumaqchupan (puma’s tail). There is also a street called Pumakurko (puma’s spinal column). Huacaypata, a ceremonial square from which four main roads radiated to each corner of the empire, marks the belly of the puma. Its head is the hill of Sacsayhuaman, with the three zigzag walls of the ‘fortress’ outlining its profile (and not its teeth, as is often asserted). However, the name Sacsayhuaman is usually interpreted to mean ‘speckled falcon’ or ‘satisfied falcon’, and has nothing to do with a puma. Moreover, the long profile is more like a dog’s than a puma’s.2 This is consistent with the idea that Sacsayhuaman was not built by the Incas and that Cuzco was adapted to a preexisting structure.
Fig. 6.A1 Cuzco as a puma.3
When the Spaniards arrived in Cuzco they were dazzled by its beauty, and especially by the Temple of the Sun, originally called Inti Kancha, and nowadays Coricancha (also spelled: Koricancha, or in Quechua: Qoriqancha, meaning ‘golden enclosure’). Consisting of four small sanctuaries and a larger temple set around a central courtyard, it was the most important temple in the Inca empire, and was built on an earlier sacred site. It was dedicated primarily to Viracocha, the creator god, and Inti, the sun god, and had subsidiary shrines to the Moon, Venus, the Pleiades, and various weather deities.
The wonderfully carved granite walls of the temple were covered with more than 700 sheets of pure gold, weighing around two kilograms each; the spacious courtyard was filled with life-size sculptures of animals and a field of corn, all fashioned from pure gold; the floors of the temple were themselves covered in solid gold; and facing the rising sun was a massive golden image of the sun encrusted with emeralds and other precious stones. All of this golden artwork was quickly stolen and melted down by the Spaniards, who then built a church of Santo Domingo on the foundations of the temple. At the center of the Coricancha, marking a place known as Cuzco Cara Urumi (the ‘Uncovered Navel Stone’) is an octagonal stone coffer which at one time was covered with 55 kilograms of pure gold.4
The Coricancha was largely destroyed by the Spanish in the 17th century. The church they built over it has been severely damaged by earthquakes, while the superbly built Inca stone walls are still standing.
Fig. 6.A2 The Coricancha.
Fig. 6.A3 Note the tiny stone the size of a thumbnail (the area has become blackened by being touched so much). The stone maintains its trapezoidal shape all the way through the 2-foot-thick outer wall.5
Fig. 6.A4 Stonework in the Coricancha.
Fig. 6.A5 Famous 12-angled stone, Hatunrumiyoc street, Cuzco.
Fig. 6.A6 Detail of a wall in Cuzco.
Sacsayhuaman (Saqsaywaman) is one of the wonders of ancient South America. In fact, it is one of the most magnificent edifices ever constructed anywhere in the world. Perched on top of a high hill, one side of the complex runs along a cliff with a commanding view of Cuzco. On the opposite side are three terraces supported by three imposing megalithic walls up to 6 metres tall, made of cyclopean, perfectly fitting, polygonal blocks, which zigzag across the plateau for nearly 400 metres. The total volume of stone is put at over 6000 cubic metres, and every block has a different shape. The walls contain the most monumental stones ever used in ancient Peru. The outermost of the three walls contains the largest stones. Some of the biggest measure: 3.1 m high by 1.8 broad (10 ft x 6 ft), 5.0 by 1.9 m (16’6″ x 6’1″), 4.3 by 3.7 m (14′ x 12′), and 4.3 by 2.4 m (14′ x 8′). Some of the blocks are 2.7 m (9′) thick, and some have 12 angles. The heaviest blocks weigh up to 150 tonnes, and there is even an 8.5-m-high block weighing an estimated 355 tonnes.1 The Spaniards destroyed most of the inner buildings, but only managed to demolish the uppermost 3 metres of the zigzag walls, where smaller blocks were used. The giant blocks in the lower tiers are essentially unmovable.
Some authors say that the zigzag outer walls imitate the distant mountain chain, or that they symbolize Illapa, the deity of thunder and lightning. They are also said to represent the three levels of the Andean cosmos: the underworld, earth’s surface, and sky, which are identified with three sacred animals: the snake, puma, and condor respectively.2
Various types of rock were used, including massive diorite blocks from nearby for the outer walls, Yucay limestone from more than 15 km away for the foundations, and a dark andesite, some from over 30 km away, for the inner buildings. Although the gigantic stones are fitted together with an almost ridiculous degree of accuracy, their faces have been deliberately left rough and many bear odd impressions and ‘scrape marks’, so that they look unfinished. There is therefore a stark contrast between the perfectly shaped (hidden) sides, which fit together seamlessly, and the crude, rough outer faces – perhaps symbolizing spirit and matter respectively.
The chronicler Garcilaso de la Vega described the ‘fortress’ of Sacsayhuaman as ‘the grandest and most superb work’ built by the Incas.
Its magnificence would be incredible to those who have not seen it, and even those who have gazed upon it with attention, are induced to imagine, and even to believe, that such works must have been completed by enchantment, and that they were made by demons rather than by men. For the multitude of stones, so many and of such size, that are placed on the three circling lines (being more like rocks than stones), excite astonishment and wonder as to how they could have been cut from the quarries whence they were bought. For these Indians had neither iron nor steel for cutting and working the stones.3
In view of the many sacred and ritual objects excavated at Sacsayhuaman, it is now generally regarded as more of a ceremonial centre than a fortress. Garcilaso de la Vega said that only royalty could enter the sacrosanct complex, because it was a house of the sun. He also said that it was begun by Pachacutec (who died around 1471) or his son, Yupanqui, and that it took 50 years to complete.4 But the conquistador Pedro Sancho de la Hoz said it was built by the man who founded Cuzco and that he came from Contisuyu, the southwestern region of the empire, in the direction of the Pacific Ocean.5 Cieza de León thought that some 20,000 men had been involved in its construction: 4000 cutting blocks in the quarries, 6000 dragging them on wooden rollers to the site, and 10,000 finishing the blocks and fitting them into position.
The idea that the entire temple complex of Sacsayhuaman was built just a few hundred years ago using nothing but primitive tools is so utterly idiotic that only an orthodox archaeologist could dream it up! No records have been left describing when and how it was built – there is only guesswork by later writers. For all anybody knows, the outer walls could be hundreds of thousands of years old. The Incas may merely have repaired the upper sections of the zigzag walls and built the lesser structures within the walls.
Carlos Fernández-Baca Tupayachi believes the megalithic walls date from a bygone era. He suggests that the blocks were made by filling moulds with softened pieces of rock, and that the moulds consisted of wooden frames with animal skins stretched over them. In his view, circular and rectangular marks in the stone faces were made when the blocks were still in a plastic state. He also draws attention to signs that air bubbles were trapped in blocks during the manufacturing process, and to a block with a cavity in which a smaller stone is located.6
Fig. 6.B9 A smaller stone within a larger one.
On the flattened hilltop within the walls were various fine ashlar buildings, including the circular tower of Muyu Marca and two rectangular towers, but today only the foundations remain. Muyu Marca was over 30 m tall, with three concentric walls, the outer one being about 24 m in diameter. It was an imperial residence, and is said to have been covered with golden plates. It had a constant supply of fresh water carried up through an elaborate system of finely cut stone channels from a subterranean aqueduct leading to a spring 2 miles away. According to Garcilaso, the various towers were connected to one another by underground tunnels (chincanas).
Fig. 6.B10 Top: Foundations of Muyu Marca. Bottom: Layout of the capital of Poseidonis
(Plato’s Atlantis). Some writers think the resemblance may be significant.
Opposite the three walls of Sacsayhuaman is a large outcrop of volcanic diorite known as the Rodadero (‘sliding place’). Part of it is scarred with deep glacial striations, which nowadays serve as slides, and some of it is intricately carved into stairs, ‘benches’ and ‘thrones’.
Fig. 6.B11 The Rodadero.
Fig. 6.B12 ‘Benches’ carefully gouged out of the solid rock. It would be interesting to see
Jean-Pierre Protzen try to emulate this extraordinary work with his pounding technique.
Fig. 6.B13 Slides.
Qenko (or Kenko, from a Quechua word meaning ‘labyrinth’ or ‘zigzag’), is located 1.5 km east of Sacsayhuaman, and consists of heavily eroded limestone formations carved with an assortment of steps and terraces, narrow zigzag channels, and figures of animals such as a puma, a condor and a llama. It also contains caves, tunnels, steps and niches. At the base, encircled by a low elliptical wall, is a jagged monolith nearly 4 m high, somewhat resembling the ‘heelstone’ at Stonehenge.
In Inca times, an annual festival was held at which priests poured sacrificial llama blood into a bowl at the serpent-like top of the main zigzag channel. If it flowed out through the left-hand bifurcation, this was a bad omen for the fertility of the year to come. But if it flowed the full length of the channel and poured onto the rocks below, this was a good omen.
Fig. 6.C4 Ritual zigzag channel.
Qenko shares some of its features with the Rodadero. Smaller-scale configured rocks in Peru include the Sayhuite monolith, a rock with more than 200 geometric and zoomorphic figures near the town of Abancay, and a carved rock at Concacha near Abancay. Similar rock-hewn structures elsewhere in the world include the carved stairs, platforms and caves at Udayagiri/Khandagiri, near Bhubaneswar, India, and the massive underwater monument off the coast of Yonaguni, the southernmost of the Japanese Ryukyu Islands.1
Fig. 6.C5 The Sayhuite monolith looks rather like a scale model.
Fig. 6.C5 Udayagiri and Khandagiri.2
Fig. 6.C6 Drawing of Yonaguni.
D. Tambo Machay
Fig. 6.D1 Tambo Machay, a site for ritual bathing, consists of massive stone walls with elegant niches,
and a series of water fountains cascading from channels hidden within the structure.
Fig. 6.D2 Closeup of the impeccable stonework.1
Fig. 6.E1 The ruined citadel of Pisac. The Temple of the Sun is built around a volcanic outcrop carved into an intihuatana, or ‘hitching post of the sun’. The angles of its base suggest that it served some astronomical function.
Ollantaytambo, located 50 km from Machu Picchu at the northern end of the Sacred Valley, comprises a town planned on a grid, a royal estate and a ceremonial centre. The ceremonial centre, commonly called the ‘fortress’, takes the form of a vast amphitheatre of terracing extending up a steep concave hillside to a flat ridge 80 m above. A series of stairways lead to the top of the terrace complex, where the site is divided into three main areas: the temple sector to the south (left); the middle sector directly in front of the terraces; and the funerary sector to the north (right).
Fig. 6.F1 The terraces of Pumatallis, enclosed by rock flanks to the south and north, form a magnificent amphitheatre.
The outstanding polygonal cut-stone masonry of the temple sector contrasts with the buildings in the other two sectors, which are made out of fieldstones and mortar. The temple sector is accessed via a stairway that ends on a terrace with the Wall of the Unfinished Gate and the Enclosure of the Ten Niches, a one-room building. Behind them there is an open space with the Platform of the Carved Seat and two unfinished monumental walls (the First and Second Walls). Higher up is the main structure of the whole sector – the Sun Temple. This unfinished building features the Wall of the Six Monoliths, which has been called ‘the jewel of Ollantaytambo’.
The unfinished structures on Temple Hill and the numerous stone blocks (some weighing over 100 tonnes) that litter the site indicate that construction was still in progress at the time the site was abandoned. Some of the blocks have clearly been removed from finished walls, showing that major reconstruction was taking place. The Incas used Ollantaytambo as a fort to guard the entrance to Cuzco from the Urubamba Valley, but there is no reason to believe that the entire complex was built by them in the 15th century. It is far more likely that, as at Sacsayhuaman, the Incas merely adopted, remodelled and added to buildings that were already in place.
Fig. 6.F2 The Wall of the Unfinished Gate adjoins the Enclosure of the Ten Niches.
Fig. 6.F3 The Enclosure of the Ten Niches.
Fig. 6.F4 Part of the Enclosure of the Ten Niches.
Fig. 6.F5 Part of the Wall of the Unfinished Gate.
Fig. 6.F6 The Wall of the Six Monoliths (southeast wall of the Sun Temple).
The largest stone in the Wall of the Six Monoliths is about 4.3 m high, 2.1 m wide, 1.8 m thick, and weighs about 50 tonnes. The six monoliths are joined with narrow fillet stones – a style found nowhere else in the Inca empire. Much of their surfaces is very finely polished, as well as showing a variety of knobs, protrusions, scrape marks and indentations. The stepped motif that appears in low relief on one of the stones is widely found at Tiwanaku, but not elsewhere in the Cuzco area. In Egypt, the same motif was used as a hieroglyph and symbol for the Benben stone, the emblem of immortal life.
Fig. 6.F7 The Sun Temple’s other walls are crudely built with recycled blocks,
the wide spaces between them being filled with rubblework.
A bewildering variety of rock types was used at Ollantaytambo: rhyolite, welded rhyolite tuff, rhyolite breccia, andesite, strongly altered andesite, limestone, and ignimbrite. Rose-coloured rhyolite (porphyry/red granite), a very hard igneous rock, was used in the Sun Temple and the First and Second Walls. Welded rhyolite tuff was used to construct the cut-stone terrace walls and the Enclosure of the Ten Niches. Rose rhyolite was brought from the quarries of Kachiqhata, some 5 km away, but sources for the other rock types have not yet been identified.
The blocks from Kachiqhata had to be brought down the steep slope from the quarry, lowered down a vertical canyon wall, and then transported across the river and up to their present position. In 1996 a group of archaeologists tried to demonstrate how it was done with a 1-ton block. This relatively puny stone slipped its ropes on the way downhill from the quarry and rolled down to the river. The team managed to drag it over the cobbles at the bottom of the shallow river, but then abandoned it in the water, declaring that they had now proved how the blocks were transported.1
As mentioned earlier, T-sockets for I-shaped metal ties are found in several stones at Ollantaytambo. Loose blocks found at the Coricancha in Cuzco have T-shaped, double-T shaped, and U-shaped sockets for metal ties, and the method was also used at Tiwanaku. Protzen points out that beneath a rustic wall at Ollantaytambo is a row of four stones of green, strongly altered andesite, with perfectly flat faces and of precisely equal height, on a foundation of similar, perfectly-dressed stones. This is unlike the normal Inca style, but bears a striking resemblance to masonry at the Akapana pyramid in Tiwanaku.2
G. Machu Picchu
The stunning citadel of Machu Picchu straddles a narrow ridge, 2450 m above sea level, between the mountains of Machu Picchu (‘old peak’) and Huayna Picchu (‘young peak’), and overlooks the Urubamba river 450 m below. It was supposedly built by the Inca ruler Pachacuti as a royal retreat and sacred centre, beginning around 1450. It was abandoned at the time of the Spanish conquest, less than 100 years later, before construction was completed. Although only about 75 km from Cuzco, the remote and inaccessible location was never discovered by the Spanish. The site lay forgotten for many centuries, known only to locals, until it was rediscovered in 1911 by the American explorer Hiram Bingham, who spent the next few years rescuing it from the jungle.
Fig. 6.G1 The citadel of Machu Picchu, with Huayna Picchu in the background.
The buildings are made out of local grey-white granite. The quality of the stonework varies considerably, and not simply because sacred buildings always displayed greater craftsmanship than residential and other mundane buildings. The largest, megalithic blocks and finest stonework are always found in the lower levels of the buildings. As at other sites, certain structures, or parts of them, undoubtedly predate the Incas.
Fig. 6.G2 Different masonry styles.
Fig. 6.G3 The exquisite mosaic of the Artisans’ Wall.
Fig. 6.G4 Cyclopean masonry.
Fig. 6.G5 A cyclopean block in the Sacristy. Another polygonal block has 32 angles.
The water management system at Machu Picchu is masterful. There is a natural spring, whose yield is enhanced by a carefully planned and built permeable stone wall set into the steep hillside. Engineers built a 749-m-long canal, typically only about 4 by 5 inches in size, able to carry about 300 litres per minute on a relatively steady gradient of about 3% into Machu Picchu. If the slope had been too steep, the water would have jumped out of the canal, and if too shallow, it would have flowed too slowly to the first of the 16 expertly-designed fountains. The drainage system is another impressive engineering feat. It is estimated that some 60% of Machu Picchu construction work was underground, including drains, and also foundations for the hundreds of walls needed to create flat, buildable spaces.1
Fig. 6.G6 The superbly-constructed uppermost (first) fountain.
Fig. 6.G7 More than 100 flights of steep stone steps, often carved from a single
block of granite, connect the palaces, temples, storehouses and terraces.
The finest stonework is found in the Sacred District. The Temple of the Sun (or Torreon) is a semi-circular tower-like building, whose carved steps and smoothly joined stone blocks fit neatly into the relief of a natural boulder that served as a kind of altar. A window provides views of both the June solstice sunrise and the constellation of the Pleiades. Below the temple is a cave known as the Royal Tomb, with more splendid stonework.
Fig. 6.G8 The Sun Temple.2
Fig. 6.G9 The ‘Royal Tomb’.
Fig. 6.G10 The Temple of the Three Windows.
Fig. 6.G11 Temple of the Three Windows. Note the inferior masonry on top of the megalithic blocks.
Fig. 6.G12 The Principal Temple. The east wall (right) has settled, causing it to tilt outward, pulling with it part of the rear wall.3
From the Principal Temple a carved stone stairway leads to the summit of the central pyramid mound, crowned by the intihuatana, or ‘hitching post of the sun’, carved out of the bedrock. Although it exhibits solar alignments to equinoxes and solstices when used as a foresight against distant peaks, it is by no means an ideal shadow-casting or sighting device. Carved at its base are depictions of the four prominent constellations believed to rule the four quarters of the Inca empire: the Southern Cross, the Summer Triangle, the bright ‘eye stars’ of the dark-cloud constellation in the Milky Way (known to the Incas as the Llama), and the Pleiades.4
Fig. 6.G14 The intihuatana. In 2000 a crane fell on it during the filming of a beer commercial and broke off a fragment of rock.
Fig. 6.G15 The Temple of the Moon, located in a grotto 400 m beneath the summit of Huayna Picchu.5
Fig. 6.H1 Temple of Viracocha at Raqchi, halfway between Cuzco and Juliaca. The central wall is 92 m long and 12 m high (but used to be several metres higher). The lower part is made of andesite and the upper part of adobe. The temple was 25.5 m wide.1
I. Sillustani and Cutimbo
Chullpas (or chulpas), commonly described as burial towers and sepulchres for nobles and their families, are found across the Altiplano in Peru and Bolivia, and most are attributed to the Aymara people.1 They may be cylindrical or rectangular, low or tall, and made of stone or adobe. The bulk of the structures is solid, and they have tiny entrances facing east, towards the reborn sun. Corpses of adults and children were found in most of the chullpas, usually in a foetal position. The towers allegedly began to be built around 1000 AD and their use continued during Inca occupation in the 1400s. Many of the tombs have been dynamited by grave robbers, while others were left unfinished. Similar structures (called tupas) are found on Easter Island.2
Fig. 6.I1 Chullpa at Macaya, Bolivia.
Fig. 6.I2 Chullpa at Sillustani, Peru.
Sillustani is a site overlooking Lake Umayo some 35 km northwest of Puno, a town on the shores of Lake Titicaca. At this site there are not only rough-looking chullpas like the one above, but also several displaying outstanding masonry. Mainstream archaeologists blindly assign all of them to the Kollas, an Aymara tribe, as the site was certainly used by them.
Fig. 6.I3 The 12-m-high Tower of the Lizard, Sillustani. A carved lizard – a symbol of regeneration – is visible on one of the stones (see the photo below).
Fig. 6.I4 Closeups of the meticulously cut andesite blocks.
Fig. 6.I5 Another tower at Sillustani.
Fig. 6.I6 East-facing entrances.3
The two chullpas below are found at Cutimbo, a site some 30 km southwest of Puno. Note the polygonal masonry.
It is interesting to make a comparison with the numerous round towers of Ireland. These are taller (18 to 40 m) and contain two or more floors, with windows. The lower portion is solid masonry, and the east-facing door is up to 5 m above ground level, often accessible only by a ladder. The towers are thought to have been built between the 9th and 12th centuries, mainly to act as a belfry for a neighbouring church or monastery.5 H.P. Blavatsky,6 on the other hand, says that, although later regarded as phallic symbols, they were originally sacred places of initiation, and that this also applies, for example, to certain towers in Asia, and to the nuraghes of Sardinia, the oldest of which is officially dated to 3500 BC.
Fig. 6.I8 Round tower and surrounding graveyard in Turlough, County Mayo, Ireland.
Fig. 6.I9 Nuraghe Losa, Sardinia.7
Fig. 6.I10 Another nuraghe.8
Speaking of the three towers that used to exist at Sacsayhuaman, Garcilaso de la Vega writes:
Below the towers there was an equal space excavated underground; and the vaults communicated from one tower to another. Great skill was shown in the construction of the subterranean passages. They were built with so many streets and lanes, crossing each other in all directions, and making so many turns, that one might easily be lost as in a labyrinth, and not know how to get out. … When I was a little boy, with others of my own age, I often went up to the fortress. All the buildings above-ground were then in ruins, and much of the subterraneous work also; but we did not enter the vaults that were left, further than the light of the sun could reach, for fear of losing ourselves …
The Indians did not know how to make an arched vault. They left corbels in the subterranean passages, on which, in place of beams, they put long stones, worked on all sides, and accurately placed, which reached from one wall to the other.1
There are various tunnel entrances at places like Sacsayhuaman and Qenko, but they tend to be blocked after 5 or 10 metres. There are old accounts about the tunnels being connected with the Coricancha and other sites, and about vast amounts of ‘Inca’ gold still lying hidden below ground. In the 17th century a team is said to have spent several days beneath Cuzco looking for treasure. Only one person allegedly came out alive; he emerged from an opening under the main altar of the church of Santo Domingo, the site of the Coricancha, carrying an ear of corn made of gold. In 2000, researchers using ground-penetrating radar located a 2-m-wide cavity about 4 or 5 m below the altar.2
There is a tradition that, after receiving the ransom from Atahualpa, Pizarro still wasn’t satisfied, as he had heard that the accumulated riches of Peru were kept in a subterranean tunnel. He threatened to murder Atahualpa unless its location was revealed. The high priest showed the queen in a magical ‘black mirror’ that her husband would be killed regardless of whether she divulged the secret. She therefore gave the order to close the entrance, which was a door cut in the rocky wall of a chasm. The chasm was then filled with masses of rock, and the surface covered to conceal the work. After her husband had been murdered, the queen committed suicide. The Incas then buried other treasure that was on its way to Pizarro, and according to Cieza de León it is ‘now lost in the bowels of the earth’.3
Fig. 6.J1 Tunnels near Sacsayhuaman.4
Fig. 6.J2 A tunnel entrance at ruins just north of Cuzco.5
There are legends from nearly every continent of networks of tunnels and caverns far underground, both natural and man-made, some of them running for hundreds of kilometres. In South America they are said to extend from Columbia in the north through Peru to Chile in the south, and to the Amazon jungle in the east. The major Lima earthquake in 1972 uncovered several tunnels beneath the city, but exploration was hampered by the fact that their roofs had collapsed.6 H.P. Blavatsky mentions an immense tunnel running from Cuzco to Lima, and then extending south into northern Chile (in her day part of Bolivia). An old Peruvian told her that a huge cache of Inca treasure was stored in a large subterranean chamber near the coastal town of Arica, which was once part of Peru but now lies in the far north of Chile. Smaller amounts of treasure are hidden in other parts of the tunnel system.7
In Ecuador in 1946, Petronio Jaramillo, then 16 years old, was shown an underground library by his uncle, who was on friendly terms with local Shuar Indians. He entered the cave system at least once after that.
On that occasion, he saw a library consisting of thousands of large, metal books stacked on shelves, each with an average weight of about 20 kilograms, each page impressed from one side with ideographs, geometric designs and written inscriptions. There was a second library, consisting of small, hard, smooth, translucent – what seemed to be crystal – tablets, grooved with parallel encrusted channels, stacked on sloping shelves of trestled units covered in gold leaf. There were zoomorphic and human statues (some on heavy column plinths), metal bars of different shapes, as well as sealed ‘doors’ – possibly tombs – covered in mixtures of coloured, semi-precious stones. There was a large sarcophagus, sculpted from hard, translucent material, containing the gold-leafed skeleton of a large human being. In short, an incredible treasure, stored away as if hidden in preparation for some upcoming disaster.8
In the decades that followed, Jaramillo spoke of the libraries to several people, but without divulging the exact location, and without producing any photographic or physical evidence to back up his claims. In 1991 Stan Hall tracked him down and they began to make plans to mount an expedition, but Jaramillo was murdered by robbers in 1998. The libraries are thought to be situated in the Tayos cave system near the river Pastaza in Ecuador. In 2005 Hall informed the Ecuadorian government of the location of the cave that best fits Jaramillo’s description: 77°47’34” W and 1°56’00” S. And there the story ends – for the moment.
Fig. 6.J3 Stan Hall near the entrance to a cave system that may include the libraries.9
Hugh Thomson, The White Rock: An exploration of the Inca heartland, Woodstock & New York: Overlook, 2001, p. 202.
Carlos Fernández-Baca Tupayachi, El Otro Saqsaywamán: La historia no contada, Lima: DFBS, 2000, pp. 61-75.
First Part of the Royal Commentaries of the Yncas, 2:305.
El Otro Saqsaywamán, pp. 166-7.
Ibid., pp. 31, 175-9, 184-6.
W.R. Corliss (comp.), Ancient Infrastructure: Remarkable roads, mines, walls, mounds, stone circles, Glen Arm, MD: Sourcebook Project, 1999, pp. 309-11; Graeme R. Kearsley, Inca Origins: Asian influences in early South America in myth, migration and history, London: Yelsraek Publishing, 2003, pp. 219-20.
Garcilasso de la Vega, First Part of the Royal Commentaries of the Yncas, 2:314.
Philip Coppens, ‘As we walked through the tunnels of gold …’, www.bibliotecapleyades.net/arqueologia/esp_akakor02.htm; Enrico Mattievich, Journey to the Mythological Inferno: America’s discovery by the ancient Greeks, Denver, CO: Rogem Press, 2010, pp. 171-2.
H.P. Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled, TUP, 1972 (1877), 1:596-7; Harold T. Wilkins, Mysteries of Ancient South America, Kempton, IL: Adventures Unlimited Press, 2005 (1947), pp. 157-61.
David Hatcher Childress, Lost Cities and Ancient Mysteries of South America, Kempton, IL: Adventures Unlimited, 1986, pp. 63-7, 72, 172-5; David Hatcher Childress, Lost Cities of North & Central America, Kempton, IL: Adventures Unlimited Press, 1992, pp. 83-4, 200-1, 213-4, 256-7, 302-3, 316-20, 390-1; David Hatcher Childress, ‘Subterranean tunnels and the hollow earth’, World Explorer, vol. 2, no. 3, 1998, www.bibliotecapleyades.net/sociopolitica/esp_sociopol_underground14.htm.
Isis Unveiled, 1:546-7, 595-8; Blavatsky Collected Writings, 2:339-43, and diagram facing p. 336; Mysteries of Ancient South America, pp. 167-73.
Lake Titicaca lies in the Altiplano basin between the eastern and western Andes, on the border of Peru and Bolivia, 3812 m above sea level. With a maximum length of 190 km, it is the largest lake in South America. Parts of the Andes were at sea level in the Cretaceous (145 to 65 million years ago*), and even until the Miocene (which began 23 million years ago*). Uplift then proceeded intermittently, with most of it occurring in the Pliocene and Pleistocene, i.e. in the last 5.3 million years*. Several hundred metres of uplift are believed to have occurred in the Pleistocene. This contradicts the mainstream theory that the Andes were uplifted by the Pacific ‘plate’ being subducted beneath the South American ‘plate’, because subduction is supposed to have been progressing uniformly for the past 200 million years.1
A couple of thousand years ago the water level of Lake Titicaca was some 30 m higher than today and extended to the edge of Tiwanaku. Over the past 100,000 years, it has been as much as 100 m above its current level, but also far lower. Various ruins and artefacts have been found in the lake at depths of up to 70 metres or more, including a 30 kg golden idol, various vessels, a 200-m-long, 50-m-wide temple, a terrace for crops, a pre-Inca road, and an 800-m-long containing wall. It is thought they might be associated with the Chiripa culture, and date back to 1500-2000 BC.2
All Andean civilizations believed Lake Titicaca to be the legendary place of creation. In one version of the legend, the creator-god Viracocha emerged from the Island of the Sun during a time of darkness, and created the sun, moon and stars. He then created humans by breathing life into stones. First he created giants to move the massive stones for many of their buildings, but later he grew unhappy with them, so he destroyed them with a flood and created a better, smaller race.3
The ruins of Tiwanaku (also spelled: Tiahuanaco) are situated 21 km northeast of Lake Titicaca, in today’s Bolivia. An earlier name for Tiwanaku was Taypikala, an Aymara term meaning ‘the stone in the centre’; the natives considered the city to be at the centre of the world and believed that from there the world was repopulated after the flood. Between 300 BC and 300 AD Tiwanaku became the main administrative and ritual centre of the Titicaca basin. Lying 3850 m above sea level, it was the highest urban settlement of the ancient world. At its peak, the city of Tiwanaku is believed to have had a population of around 30 or 40 thousand. It was governed by the warrior-elite, who held political and religious offices. Beneath them was a middle class of artisans, and a lower class of farmers, herders, and fishers. Large architectural and agrarian construction projects are believed to have been carried out at Tiwanaku from 100 to about 700 AD.
Around 400 AD, Tiwanaku became a predatory state. Its empire expanded until it covered nearly half of present-day Bolivia, the southern part of Peru, the northwest part of Argentina, and nearly half of Chile. The Tiwanaku state went into decline after 1000 AD, largely due to protracted droughts, and the metropolis collapsed shortly afterwards. Major edifices suffered serious destruction, though some were later repaired, but in a haphazard and unskilled way. The Incas took over the area around 1450, and the Spanish conquerors arrived in 1532. They brought with them the scourge of virulent diseases (e.g. smallpox and measles) to which the natives had no resistance, and sent people to work in the deadly silver mines of Potosi in southern Bolivia. In some parts of the Altiplano as much as 90% of the indigenous population was wiped out within 50 years of the Spanish conquest.
Despite its harsh, arid climate, in antiquity the Lake Titicaca region could have supported human populations 20 or 30 times larger than today thanks to the sophisticated system of raised field agriculture. The raised fields are over 1 m high, from 5 to 10 m wide, and up to 200 m long. They consist of a base layer of impermeable clay, a layer of coarse gravel, another of finer gravel, and finally the topsoil. The fields were separated by a network of canals, which provided moisture for the crops, and received enough heat by day to protect the fields from frost damage during the bitterly cold nights. A rich sludge of duck droppings, decayed algae and fish remains formed at the bottom of the canals and was used as fertilizer. The fields and canals cover nearly 50 sq km, and in creating this system the ancient engineers straightened the Catari river and moved it 1.5 km to the east. Although the Tiwanaku culture of the past 2000 years is said to have originated the raised field system, this is no more than an assumption.
Experiments have demonstrated that raised fields significantly outperform ordinary fields, including those treated with fertilizers and pesticides. For instance, potato yields were nearly twice those of traditional fields treated with chemical fertilizers and over seven times the yield of unimproved traditional cultivation. Alan Kolata comments: ‘To those who cling to cherished notions of inexorable human progress through the application of modern Western technology, the disjuncture between a distant past substantially better off in economic terms than the present represents an unanticipated and disturbing problem.’4
Examples of bustrophedonic writing, written alternately from left to right and right to left, were discovered near Tiwanaku in the late 1940s and early 50s. It looks like a simplified version of the Easter Island script (rongorongo), which in turn bears many similarities to the script used by the Indus Valley civilization on the opposite side of the world. Similar bustrophedonic writing has been found in Panama.5
The main archaeological site at Tiwanaku has five primary structures, including the Akapana pyramid and the Kalasasaya temple. Less than a kilometre to the south lies Puma Punku, with its man-made platform and megalithic ruins. For centuries the sites have been looted, vandalized and used as a quarry for stone, and all the walls now standing have been reconstructed. Many of the statues were smashed during a campaign by the Catholic church to wipe out idolatry.
Fig. 7.1 Reconstruction of the site of Tiwanaku on the back of the admission ticket.
The ceremonial core of Tiwanaku was surrounded by an immense artificial moat that Alan Kolata believes was designed ‘not to provide the Tiwanaku elite with a defensive structure’ but ‘to evoke the image of the city core as an island’, and more specifically, to create an image of the sacred islands of Lake Titicaca, which were the legendary sites of world creation and human emergence.1
The structures display impressive cyclopean masonry, usually consisting of rectangular ashlar blocks laid in regular courses. One stone is 11 m long, 2.1 m wide, and weighs 154 tonnes, while another is 7.9 m by 4.9 m by 1.8 m. Most of the andesite came from quarries 60 km away, while the red sandstone came from 15 km away.2 The green andesite stones used for the most elaborate carvings and monoliths originate from the Copacabana peninsula. According to one theory, these giant stones, weighing up to 40 tonnes, were transported some 90 km across Lake Titicaca on reed boats, then dragged another 10 km to the city. It should be borne in mind that at the altitude of Tiwanaku the air is so rarefied that lowlanders gasp for breath when merely strolling around the site.
The Akapana pyramid was originally thought to be a natural hill, but it is actually an artificial mound, made of earth, clay, gravel, and cut stone. The bulk of the clay and earth was excavated from the huge moat. Measuring about 200 m on a side, the pyramid rises in seven steps to a height of nearly 17 m. In the centre of the flat summit was a sunken courtyard; today there is a huge crater dug by treasure-hunters. The terrace walls consist of a series of pillars, between which were set beautifully cut and precisely joined andesite blocks. The two lowest walls contain the largest, cyclopean blocks. The summit and the upper terraces were covered with green gravel from the mountains.
Fig. 7.2 Reconstruction of the Akapana by Javier Escalante, viewed from the northeast.
Fig. 7.3 Excavations at the foot of the Akapana.
Excavations of the Akapana have revealed a sophisticated, monumental system of interlinked surface and subterranean water channels. Alan Kolata comments that the system, ‘although superbly functional, is over-engineered, a piece of technical stone-cutting and joinery that is pure virtuosity’.3 The channels brought water collected on the summit down and through the seven levels, and it then exited below ground level, merged into a major subterranean drain system beneath the civic/ceremonial core of Tiwanaku, and ultimately flowed into Lake Titicaca.
Fig. 7.4 A drainage hole at the base of the Akapana.
The Akapana was the sacred mountain and principal earth shrine of Tiwanaku. Kolata writes:
It partook of the spiritual essence of the Quimsachata mountain range, the image of which was evoked by Akapana’s stepped-terrace shape, by its green gravel mantle, and by its clever, constructed mimicry of the natural circulation of mountain waters in the rainy season. The course of water flow on the Akapana replicated the pattern of nature: pooling, dropping out of sight, gushing onto terraces, emerging at the foot of the mound. In a driving, altiplano storm, the large, subterranean drains inside of Akapana may even have generated an acoustic affect, a vibrating roar of rushing interior water that shook the mountain-pyramid, much like the thunder storms rumbling across the peaks of Quimsachata.4
Bert Thurlings accuses Kolata of descending into ‘bizarre fantasies’ for suggesting that the Akapana, and also Puma Punku, represented sacred mounds. ‘How did he get it into his head?!’ he wonders. Thurlings contends instead that, given the superb stonework and use of green pebbles, these mounds were probably water purification plants, built by extraterrestrials who arrived on earth in a ‘gravityless interstellar superglider’.5 Thanks, Bert!
There was once a gateway on top of the Akapana. The underside of the lintel was cut at an angle, which matched the top of the jamb below it, requiring the bottom of the step moulding in the lintel to be carved out of the bevelled surface of the jamb. Jean-Pierre Protzen writes: ‘These details bespeak a remarkable sophistication in stereotomy, or the art of stone-cutting, presuming an understanding, if not knowledge, of descriptive geometry.’6
Fig. 7.5 Detail of the Akapana gateway.
The semi-subterranean temple is a rectangular sunken courtyard, measuring 26 by 28 m, made of sandstone masonry. 170 sculptured heads are set into the walls, with Caucasian, Black, Asian and Semitic features.7 It once contained various stone stelae and sculptures arrayed around the central 7-m-tall Bennett stela. The complex markings on the Bennett stela have been interpreted as a solar and lunar agricultural calendar more accurate than our own.8 Today the courtyard contains three stelae, one carved with the figure of a bearded man – probably Viracocha in his human form. Carved vertically on two sides of the stela are serpents – the universal symbol of wisdom (figs. 7.7 and 7.26).
Fig. 7.6 The Bennett stela, or ‘Pachamama’. The lower half of its body is covered with fish heads (looking like fish scales), and is reminiscent of the Mesopotamian man-fish deity Oannes, who brought special knowledge to mankind.9
Due west of the semi-subterranean temple lies the Kalasasaya temple, a rectangular enclosure measuring about 130 by 120 m. Towering walls of rough-cut, red-sandstone pillars alternating with sections of smaller, ashlar blocks of high-quality masonry surround a raised platform, with a central sunken court.
Fig. 7.7 The reconstructed megalithic entrance to the Kalasasaya, seen from the semi-subterranean temple. The stairway is a well-worn block of carved sandstone. The gateway frames the Ponce stela, which stands in the sunken court.10
Fig. 7.8 Carved stone heads in the walls of the Parthian palace, Hatra, Mesopotamia. Similar tenon heads are found in the shrines carved from the living rock in western India (e.g. Chaitya).11
Fig. 7.9 Drawing of the Kalasasaya by Squier, 1873.12
Fig. 7.10 A reconstructed wall of the Kalasasaya.
One of the pillars is clearly missing and is lying nearby.13
Fig. 7.11 The Ponce stela, an andesite monolith 3.7 m high.
The Gateway of the Sun is carved with extreme precision out of a single block of very hard andesite granite. It is 4.7 m long, 2.2 m tall, and weighs about 10 tonnes. The top of the monolith has been broken, perhaps by an earthquake. The gateway displays intricate carvings and four deep rectangular niches, cut to an accuracy of ½ mm.14 Above the door is a frieze consisting of four lines of sculpture in low relief and a central figure sculptured in high relief, standing on a three-tiered pyramid. The figure is widely believed to represent Viracocha, or the Aymara weather god Thunupa, and is sometimes called the ‘weeping god’ and likened to the ‘staff god’ of the Chavín culture.15 Its elaborate headdress has 19 ray-like projections ending in circles or puma heads, and it holds two staffs ending in condor heads. On either side of the central deity are a total of 48 other figures, arranged in three rows; the outermost figures are unfinished. They include 30 winged attendants, or ‘angels’, with human or avian heads, who are either kneeling or running. In addition to the central figure, there are also 11 other frontal faces with solar masks, located in the lowest row of the frieze (the ‘meander’). Some scientists believe that these figures represent a solar calendar with 12 months and 30 days in each month.16 It is thought that the Gateway of the Sun originally stood at Puma Punku, where there are similar gateways, though broken into pieces.
Fig. 7.12 The east side (probably the inside) of the Gateway of the Sun.
Fig. 7.13 Winged figures converging on the central deity.
Fig. 7.14 Arthur Posnansky’s calendric interpretation of the frieze.17
As mentioned, the Gateway of the Sun is unfinished – as are many ancient buildings in South America and elsewhere. There are two possible reasons for this: 1. conditions arose that made it impossible to finish the work; 2. the work was deliberately left unfinished for symbolic reasons – e.g. to denote that our evolution is unfinished business; according to the ancient wisdom tradition, we are barely past the halfway point of our evolutionary journey on this planet. The Great Pyramid of Egypt, for example, probably never received its capstone, and is smaller than the full design indicated by the four corner sockets.18
Not far from Tiwanaku lies Puma Punku (‘door of the puma’). The platform-pyramid measures about 150 m square and 5 m high, but none of the buildings that once stood on it are now intact. Andesite and sandstone blocks, cut with astonishing accuracy, are strewn about the site, possibly as a result of a natural disaster. Some are over 8 m long and weigh up to 120 tonnes.1 The structures that once stood at the site were clearly made using a highly advanced technology. Many of the blocks show a striking similarity to one another, both in design and in dimensions, suggesting that stones were prefabricated, and that the architects used a system of preferred measurements and proportions.2 Ornamental motifs are common, and include crosses, arrows, circles, lozenges, step mouldings, and niches. The masonry style bears little resemblance to that used at Tiwanaku.
Fig. 7.15 Megalithic ruins at Puma Punku.
Fig. 7.16 Reconstruction of Puma Punku by Javier Escalante.
Like the Akapana, Puma Punku was an emblem of the sacred mountain. A complex system of channels conducted rainwater from a sunken court on the summit into the interior of the pyramid, threading it from one terrace to the next. The water ultimately cascaded out from tunnels driven horizontally into the structure’s foundations.
Fig. 7.17 Reconstruction of one of the gateways, seen from the back.3
Fig. 7.18 Similar portals with carved architraves are found in Iran and India. Left: Palace of Darius, Persepolis, Iran. Right: Udayagiri, India.4
Fig. 7.19 Precision-made H-stones (dimensions in mm). Each has about 80 surfaces.5
Fig. 7.20 Hypothetical configuration of isolated blocks found at Puma Punku. Top: back. Bottom: front.6
Fig. 7.21 Another stone whose intricate geometry defies easy explanation.
Fig. 7.22 This stone block has a 6 mm wide groove containing drilled holes. It could not have been made with stone or copper tools. The diameter of the small holes varies by no more than 0.1 mm. Since the rock is brittle, it must have been drilled with a tool fixed on a mount, as any wobbling would have left visible traces.7
At Tiwanaku and Puma Punku selective use was made of metal clamps or ties. For instance, the side walls of the water channels in the Akapana and at Puma Punku are built with upright stone slabs held together with I-shaped clamps. Protzen thinks this was to hold the slabs in the proper alignment. Clamps also once pieced together the enormous sandstone slabs used in the construction of the four platforms at Puma Punku. A unique feature at Puma Punku is the use of recessed clamping. The clamps used had a wide range of shapes and sizes, and the fact that the clamps are level even when the channel walls and the clamp sockets are at a slope of about 12° is usually interpreted to mean that they were cast directly into the sockets.8 A spectrographic analysis of a surviving clamp showed that it was made of an unusual alloy – 95.15% copper, 2.05% arsenic, 1.70% nickel, 0.84% silicon and 0.26% iron.9 A portable smelter operating at extremely high temperatures would have been required for this purpose.
Fig. 7.23 Right-hand jamb of a gate at Puma Punku showing a variety of connecting features. A: simple T-clamp socket; B: recessed T-clamp socket in small niche; C: rectangular pocket with T-clamp sockets pointing in two different directions, suggesting the addition of building blocks parallel and perpendicular to the gates; D: cone.
Jean-Pierre Protzen points out that pit scars and patterns of cup- or trough-like depressions are found on several roughly hewn and shaped stones at Tiwanaku. This, he says, shows that hammer stones were used. He readily admits, however, that more advanced tools were also required: ‘to obtain the smooth finishes, the perfectly planar faces, and exact right interior and exterior angles on the finely dressed stones, they resorted to techniques unknown to the Incas and to us at this time’.
Perhaps the most remarkable stone carving feat at [Puma Punku] is seen on what we call arrow stones. The apexes at the base of the arrow project into the stone and under the surface design, with four planes perfectly planar, three of them meeting pair-wise at right angles, and eventually joining the fourth in one point.10
Fig. 7.24 Diagram of carving on arrow stone.
According to Protzen, the masons’ toolkit must have included the square, the straightedge, drills, and chisel- and punch-like tools. He does not say what the latter tools would have to be made of – copper tools would make no impression on granite. It is hard to see how the masons could have produced the precision work in granite that we see at Puma Punku without advanced machine tools. Another possibility is stone moulding, but that would require a method of reducing granite to a powder or slurry then hardening it with a binder, and sophisticated tools would still be required for finishing, or to produce a precision mould, which would probably have to be made of metal.
Puma Punku might have been destroyed by an earthquake, perhaps accompanied by a tidal wave from Lake Titicaca. Some of the structures on higher ground were once covered with 2 metres or so of earth.11 The official view that it was constructed between the 7th and 8th centuries AD with simple tools can in any event be consigned to the rubbish bin. The ruins could be of untold antiquity, and have been preserved by prolonged burial
There are 29 official radiocarbon dates for Tiwanaku and none of them points to any human activity before 1500 BC.1 Mainstream archaeologists believe this proves that there was no human activity at the site before that date – but this may well turn out to be wishful thinking. The conventional view is that humans first settled near Lake Titicaca some 14,000 years ago.2 In Bolivia, however, it is widely believed that the region was occupied by cultures dating back to 60,000 BC, such as the Vicachanense.3 But as shown in The Ancient Americas, there is evidence that humans have been inhabiting the Americas for millions of years.
Chronicler Cieza de León reported that when he asked local Aymara Indians if the buildings at Tiwanaku were built by the Incas, ‘they laughed at the question, repeating … that they were built before they reigned, but that they could not state or affirm who built them. However, they had heard from their forefathers that all that are there appeared overnight. [T]hey also say that bearded men were seen on the island of Titicaca and that these people constructed the building of Viñaque …’4 According to a local tradition, the Tiwanaku complex was built at the ‘beginning of time’ by the founder-god Viracocha and his followers, who caused the stones to be ‘carried through the air to the sound of a trumpet’. Another account speaks of Viracocha creating a ‘heavenly fire’ that consumed the stones and enabled large blocks to be lifted by hand ‘as if they were cork’.5
The official view today is that the structures at Tiwanaku and Puma Punku were built between the 2nd and 9th centuries AD, often in several stages. In the early 20th century Bolivian archaeologist Arthur Posnansky put forward a far more radical scenario. He assumed that the Kalasasaya was designed so that, viewed from the middle of the western wall, the sun would rise over the megaliths in the southeast and northeast corners of the temple at the summer and winter solstices respectively. For that to happen, the tilt of the earth would have to be 23°8’48” (or 23°09’54” according to a recent recalculation), whereas it is currently 23°26’21”. Based on the current scientific theory that the earth’s tilt oscillates between about 21.6° and 24.6° over a period of 41,000 years, Posnansky calculated that the solstitial alignments would have occurred around 15,000 BC, but later reduced this to 10,000 BC. More recently, Neil Steede has proposed a date of 7000 BC.6 According to theosophy, the tilt of the axis gradually moves through a complete 360° at the rate of 4° per precessional cycle of 25,920 years.7 This would put the date of the solstitial alignments at approx. 865,000 BP! But it is by no means certain that Posnansky’s basic premise is correct, or that the reconstructed Kalasasaya matches the original.
On the eastern side of the Gateway of Sun, in the lowest row of the frieze, are several designs that seem to outline the head, ears, tusks and trunk of an elephant-like creature, which some people say might represent the New World proboscid Cuvieronius, which became extinct 12,000 years ago, at the end of the last ice age. Each ‘elephant’ is actually composed of the heads of two crested condors, placed throat to throat – the crests constitute the ‘ears’, and the upper part of the necks the ‘tusks’ (the condors forming half of the two ‘elephants’ can be seen on the far left and far right of fig. 7:14; see also the figures below). Graham Hancock argues that the ‘elephant’ may nevertheless be intentional as the Tiwanaku sculptors often used one thing to depict another – e.g. an ear on an apparently human face might turn out to be a bird’s wing.8
Fig. 7.25 Top: 1904 photo of the Gateway of the Sun.9Bottom: Blow-up of the ‘elephant’ on the right-hand side.
Fig. 7.26 Two unidentified long-tailed animals are carved on the side of this 7-ft-tall statue found in the semi-subterranean temple in 1934 (left). Some claim they represent Toxodon (right), a large hippo-like animal that became extinct in the Tiwanaku area over 12,000 years ago. But the resemblance is far from perfect.
Toxodon is said to have been ‘identified’ on various fragments of Tiwanaku pottery and several pieces of sculpture. Posnansky mentions that some of the figures on the Gateway of the Sun are represented with three toes, perhaps to distinguish humans from gods. He thinks this is linked to knowledge of Toxodon, some species of which had three toes, or of Macrauchenia, a three-toed, long-necked, long-limbed mammal that became extinct about 20,000 years ago.10 All this is hotly contested by mainstream scientists.
Theosophical writer Fred J. Dick drew attention to the following Andean tradition, as recorded by Cieza de León:
Certain Indians relate that it was of a surety affirmed by their ancestors that there was no light for many days, and that all being in darkness and obscurity, the Sun appeared resplendent on the island of Titicaca.
… far preceding the time of the Incas, there was once a long period without seeing the Sun, and enduring great labor by reason of this deprivation, the people made great offerings and supplications to those they held as gods, begging the light they needed; and that being in this condition, there appeared on the island of Titicaca, in the midst of the great lake of Collao, the Sun most resplendent, at which all rejoiced.11
One interpretation is that this refers to a time when, as a result of the continuous change in the tilt of the earth’s axis, the earth was lying on its side. At the latitude of Tiwanaku (16.5°S) the normal alternation of day and night would have resumed some 325,000 years ago, after a period of 214,000 years during which the periods of continuous light and darkness each year would have been up to several months long.12
Giant human skeletons have been found on several continents. According to theosophical literature, humans had giant ancestors, as did many plant and animal species. Humans have been gradually declining in height since Atlantean times, and by about half a million years ago, most humans were no more than 3 to 3.7 m (10 to 12 ft) tall.13 Blavatsky says that megalithic ruins all over the world, including Stonehenge in England, Carnac in Brittany, and ruins across the Americas were the work of giants. She mentions a local American tradition that giants overran America as soon as it had risen from the waters. As already mentioned, there are legends about the earliest structures at Tiwanaku, and also the enormous pyramid of Cholula in Mexico, for instance, being built by a race of giants.14
According to Posnansky, the Kalasasaya is oriented about 1° east of true north, whereas the Akapana, semi-subterranean temple, and platforms at Puma Punku are oriented 2.8° east of north.15 He argues that the latter structures are older than the Kalasasaya, but were modified in later times. He draws attention to the extreme level of erosion displayed by some of the stones at Tiwanaku and Puma Punku. He believed they must have been exposed to the elements for many thousands of years, and since many were found entirely covered with alluvial mud, where they many have lain for long ages, they could be of extreme antiquity.16 The Gateway of the Sun was rediscovered lying ‘face’ down on the ground, and its west side (probably the outside, though often called the ‘back’) is far more eroded than the east side. Fred Dick believed it could be at least 10,000 years old, but was unlikely to be more than 80,000 years old given that the door is less than 2 m high. But other ruins at Tiwanaku and at Peruvian ‘Inca’ sites could be hundreds of thousands of years old and the work of genuine giants.17
Fig. 2.27 The west side of the Gateway of the Sun.18
All that can be said for certain is that there is still an enormous amount to be learned about the chronology, customs and construction methods of the various cultures that have occupied the Tiwanaku area.
Alan L. Kolata, The Tiwanaku: Portrait of an Andean civilization, Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1993, p. 204.
Igor Witkowski, Axis of the World: The search for the oldest American civilization, Kempton, IL: Adventures Unlimited Press, 2008, p. 186; Easter Island: land of mystery, section 7, http://davidpratt.info.
Kolata, The Tiwanaku, p. 90.
Graham Hancock & Santha Faiia, Heaven’s Mirror: Quest for the lost civilization, London: Michael Joseph, 1998, pp. 271, 304.
The Tiwanaku, p. 115.
Ibid., p. 116.
Bert Thurlings, Verborgen geheimen van de mensheid (Hidden secrets of humanity), vol. 2, Soesterberg: Aspekt, 2008, pp. 276-7.
Jean-Pierre Protzen & Stella E. Nair, ‘On reconstructing Tiwanaku architecture’, The Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, v. 59, no. 3, 2000, pp. 358-71 (p. 367).
The Tiwanaku, p. 148; Michael E. Moseley, The Incas and their Ancestors: The archaeology of Peru, London: Thames & Hudson, 2001, pp. 219-20; Arthur Posnansky, Tihuanacu: The cradle of American man, New York: J.J. Augustin Publisher, 1945, 2:3-43.
W.R. Corliss (comp.), Ancient Structures: Remarkable pyramids, forts, towers, stone chambers, cities, complexes, Glen Arm, MD: Sourcebook Project, 2001, pp. 52-60.
Jean-Pierre Protzen & Stella Nair, ‘Who taught the Inca stonemasons their skills? A comparison of Tiahuanaco and Inca cut-stone masonry’, Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, v. 56, no. 2, 1997, pp. 146-67.
Protzen & Nair, ‘On reconstructing Tiwanaku architecture’, p. 365.
Kearsley, Inca Origins, pp. 289-90.
Witkowski, Axis of the World, p. 228.
‘On reconstructing Tiwanaku architecture’, p. 370.
Axis of the World, pp. 216, 222-3.
‘Who taught the Inca stonemasons their skills?’, pp. 162-3.
Hancock & Faiia, Heaven’s Mirror, p. 304.
‘Who taught the Inca stonemasons their skills?’, pp. 156-7.
The Lost Desert Cities of Dubai: The Hidden History
Note the polygonic interlocking stone blocks like the Inca and the egypt oseirion sphinx temple.
Dubai cultivates an ultra-modern image of dazzling architecture and effortless wealth. Yet its deserts conceal forgotten cities and a hidden history which reveal how its early inhabitants adapted and overcame dramatic past climate change.
There is no question that Dubai is the ultimate 21st century city. It boasts the tallest building in the world, attracts thirteen million visitors per year, and its airport recently claimed the crown of busiest in the world, by number of international passengers.
So it’s understandable that archaeology and antiquities are not things that most people associate with Dubai and the United Arab Emirates. Yet this desert kingdom has a surprisingly rich history. Far from being empty desert, the UAE has many lost cities and archaeological sites that are only now being explored, and which reveal an unexpected story of human development in the Arabian Peninsula – from over 100,000 years ago when humans first ventured ‘out of Africa’, through millennia of a nomadic hunter-gatherer existence, to developing farming and then becoming a major centre for a world-changing technology – bronze.
Map illustration from ‘Sand Kings of Oman’ published by Methuen in 1947.
The Mysterious Land of Magan and the Earliest Cities
Five thousand years ago developments in the Hajar Mountains east of Dubai changed the world. After millennia of supporting only a meagre hunter-gatherer existence, the area near the present-day border with Oman was found to be a rare source of copper. Pretty soon men learned to mine it, extract the metal, and mix it with tin to produce bronze.
The ‘Land of Magan’ as it was known rapidly became the major supplier of bronze for tools and weapons to the entire Middle East region, and in particular to the world’s first cities which were emerging in Sumeria at that time, cities such as Ur and Uruk. Bronze helped make farming more efficient and civilization possible in these places.
Numerous buildings, tombs and sections of falaj watercourses dating from this time have been excavated over an area of about fifty acres at Hili just north of Al Ain, the UAE’s third largest city, and are the centerpiece of the UAE’s only UNESCO World Heritage site. The highlight is a beautifully restored circular tomb roughly ten metres in diameter with a decorated entranceway with two oryx carved above it, stone blocks cut so precisely that you couldn’t get a piece of dental floss between them (see featured image). They’re like a smaller version of the great Inca stone walls at Machu Picchu, except that those are relatively recent constructions at a mere 500 years old, whereas the stonework on the Hili tomb is 4,700 years old.
The Lost Cities of the Iron Age : Mleiha, Tell Abraq and Ad-Dur
Moving forwards 2,000 years, iron had replaced bronze and was revolutionizing life in the Arabian peninsula, and a key location for producing and working iron was Mleiha, a fortified town on the edge of the desert near Al Dhaid, roughly an hour’s drive from Dubai.
In its heyday at around the time of Christ, Mleiha was one of the largest settlements in the region – a city a mile wide with hundreds of houses and metal-working sites, continuously inhabited for over 500 years from the mid Iron Age until the 1st century AD, when it was abandoned and forgotten, its walls left to crumble and be covered by drifting sand.
The partly restored walls of it large square fortified iron foundry, about 200 feet square, are today housed under a metal hangar. Excavations have revealed two iron-foundries, producing both weapons and coins, protected by the fort and surrounded by many houses, indicating that a significant number of people lived and worked there.
Mleiha, once one of the largest settlements in the Emirates (Photo David Millar)
Iron ingots and finished products were transported from Mleiha north to the coast at Tell Abraq and Ad-Dur, from where they were shipped up the Persian Gulf to customers in Mesopotamia and the Levant.
Tell Abraq and Ad-Dur are remarkable sites in their own right. Tell Abraq itself was continuously inhabited for two thousand years from soon after Hili was occupied, and has been an active archaeological site for many years. Nearby Ad-Dur lies on the coast opposite modern Umm al-Quwain and is an enormous site about four miles across. It is easy to explore, the stones of its ancient houses lying undisturbed amongst the coastal sand dunes.
Julfar: the Ultimate Medieval Arabian Lost City
One of the most famous lost cities of Arabia – tantalizingly so because historians have known it existed from written records but simply could not find it – is the medieval city of Julfar. Home to the legendary Arabian seafarer Ahmed ibn Majid, as well as allegedly to the fictional Sindbad the Sailor, Julfar thrived for a thousand years before falling into ruin and disappearing from human memory for almost two centuries. Unlike the desert cities above, Julfar was a thriving port, in fact the hub of southern Gulf Arabic trade in the Middle Ages.
Julfar was known to be somewhere on the Persian Gulf coast north of Dubai, but the actual site was only found by archaeologists in the 1960s. The earliest signs of settlement found on the site date from the 6th century, by which time its inhabitants were already trading as far afield as India and the Far East on a routine basis.
The 10th to 14th centuries were a golden age for Julfar and for long-distance Arab trading and seafaring, with Arab navigators routinely traveling halfway around the world. Arabs had sailed into European waters long before Europeans succeeded in navigating through the Indian Ocean and into the Persian Gulf, for instance. As the main base for these voyages and trade, Julfar was the largest and most important city in the southern Gulf for over a thousand years. Arab merchants routinely made the mammoth eighteen month sea voyage as far as China, and traded almost everything imaginable.
Pages from the Book of Useful Information, the masterwork on navigation by Ahmed ibn Majid, Julfar’s most famous citizen (Alrahalah)
Rescue archaeology dig in progress at Julfar, April 2010 (Photo: The National)
Such a valuable commercial centre attracted constant attention from rival powers though. The Portuguese took control in the 16th century, by which time Julfar was a substantial city of around 70,000 people. A century later the Persians seized it, only to lose it in 1750 to the Qawasim tribe from Sharjah who established themselves next-door at Ras al-Khaimah, which they continue to rule to this day, leaving the old Julfar to gradually decay until its ruins became forgotten amongst the coastal sand dunes. Today most of Julfar in all likelihood remains still hidden beneath the sprawling dunes north of Ras al-Khaimah.
The desert which covers roughly 95% of the UAE undoubtedly still hides many secrets. Almost every year significant discoveries are made which fill in a few more blank spaces in the jigsaw puzzle of this most remarkable country’s past. However all of these sites plus many others (described more fully in my book Beyond Dubai: Seeking Lost Cities in the Emirates) are within an hour’s drive of Dubai and readily accessible to the public, adding a different and exotic dimension to any visit to this most modern of cities.
Featured image: The Great Tomb at Hili, Al Ain, built around 3000 BC (Photo: David Millar)