Chapter 7 - Were There Giants Then?

Just after six in the morning the little train jerked into motion and began its slow climb up the steep sides of the valley of Cuzco. The narrow-gauge tracks were laid out in a series of Z shapes. We chugged along the lower horizontal of the first Z, then shunted and went backwards up the oblique, shunted again and went forward along the upper horizontal— and so on, with numerous stops and starts, following a route that eventually took us high above the ancient city.


The Inca walls and colonial palaces, the narrow streets, the cathedral of Santo Domingo squatting atop the ruins of Viracocha’s temple, all looked spectral and surreal in the pearl-grey light of a dawn sky. A fairy pattern of electric lamps still decorated the streets, a thin mist seeped across the ground, and the smoke of domestic fires rose from the chimneys over the tiled roofs of countless small houses.

Eventually the train turned its back on Cuzco and we proceeded for a while in a straight north-westerly direction towards our destination: Machu Picchu, the lost city of the Incas, some three hours and 130 kilometers away. I had intended to read, but lulled by the rocking motion of the carriage, I dropped off to sleep instead. Fifty minutes later I awoke to find that we were passing through a painting. The foreground, brightly sunlit, consisted of flat green meadows sprinkled with little patches of thawing frost, distributed on either side of a stream across a long, wide valley.

In the middle of my view, dotted with bushes, was a large field on which a handful of black and white dairy cows grazed. Nearby was a scattered settlement of houses outside which stood small, dark-skinned Quechua Indians dressed in ponchos, balaclavas and colourful woollen hats. More distant were slopes canopied in fir trees and exotic eucalyptus. My eye followed the rising contours of a pair of high green mountains, which then parted to reveal folded and even more lofty uplands. Beyond these soared a far horizon surmounted by a jagged range of radiant and snowy peaks.

Casting down the giants
It was with understandable reluctance that I turned at last to my reading. I wanted to look more closely at some of the curious links I thought I had identified connecting the sudden appearance of Viracocha to the deluge legends of the Incas and other Andean peoples.

Before me was a passage from Fr. Jose de Acosta’s Natural and Moral History of the Indies, in which the learned priest set out ‘what the Indians themselves report of their beginning’:

They make great mention of a deluge, which happened in their country ... The Indians say that all men were drowned in the deluge, and they report that out of Lake Titicaca came one Viracocha, who stayed in Tiahuanaco, where at this day there are to be seen the ruins of ancient and very strange buildings, and from thence came to Cuzco, and so began mankind to multiply ...1

Making a mental note to find out more about Lake Titicaca, and the mysterious Tiahuanaco, I read the following passage summarizing a legend from the Cuzco area:

For some crime unstated the people who lived in the most ancient times were destroyed by the creator ... in a deluge. After the deluge the creator appeared in human form from Lake Titicaca. He then created the sun and moon and stars. After that he renewed the human population of the earth ...2

In another myth

The great Creator God, Viracocha, decided to make a world for men to live in. First he made the earth and sky. Then he began to make people to live in it, carving great stone figures of giants which he brought to life. At first all went well but after a time the giants began to fight among themselves and refused to work. Viracocha decided that he must destroy them. Some he turned back into stone ... the rest he overwhelmed with a great flood.3

Very similar notions were, of course, found in other, quite unconnected, sources, such as the Jewish Old Testament. In Chapter six of the Book of Genesis, for example, which describes the Hebrew God ’s displeasure with his creation and his decision to destroy it, I had long been intrigued by one of the few descriptive statements made about the forgotten era before the Flood.


According to the enigmatic language of that statement, ‘There were giants in the earth in those days ...’.4


1 José de Acosta, The Natural and Moral History of the Indies, Book I, Chapter four, in South American Mythology, p. 61.

2 Ibid., p. 82.
3 D. Gifford and J. Sibbick, Warriors, Gods and Spirits from South American Mythology, Eurobook Limited, 1983, p. 54.

4 Genesis 6:4.


Could the ‘giants’ buried in the biblical sands of the Middle East be connected in some unseen way to the ‘giants woven into the fabric of pre-Colombian native American legends? Adding considerably to the mystery was the fact that the Jewish and Peruvian sources both went on, with many further details in common, to depict an angry deity unleashing a catastrophic flood upon a wicked and disobedient world.

On the next page of the sheaf of documents I had assembled was this Inca account of the deluge handed down by a certain Father Molina in his Relacion de las fabulas y ritos de los Yngas:

In the life of Manco Capac, who was the first Inca, and from whom they began to boast themselves children of the Sun and from whom they derived their idolatrous worship of the Sun, they had an ample account of the deluge. They say that in it perished all races of men and created things insomuch that the waters rose above the highest mountain peaks in the world.


No living thing survived except a man and a woman who remained in a box and, when the waters subsided, the wind carried them ... to Tiahuanaco [where] the creator began to raise up the people and the nations that are in that region ...5

Garcilaso de la Vega, the son of a Spanish nobleman and an Inca royal woman, was already familiar to me from his Royal Commentaries of the Incas. He was regarded as one of the most reliable chroniclers of the traditions of his mother’s people and had done his work in the sixteenth century, soon after the conquest, when those traditions had not yet been contaminated by foreign influences.


He, too, confirmed what had obviously been a universal and deeply impressed belief:

‘After the waters of the deluge had subsided, a certain man appeared in the country of Tiahuanaco ...’6

5 Fr.. Molina, 'Relacion de las fabulas y ritos de los Yngas', in South American Mythology, p. 61.
6 Royal Commentaries of the Incas.

That man had been Viracocha. Wrapped in his cloak, he was strong and august of countenance’ and walked with unassailable confidence through the most dangerous badlands. He worked miracles of healing and could call down fire from heaven. To the Indians it must have seemed that he had materialized from nowhere.

Ancient traditions
We were now more than two hours into our journey to Machu Picchu and the panorama had changed. Huge black mountains, upon which not a trace of snow remained to reflect the sunlight, towered darkly above us and we seemed to be running through a rocky defile at the end of a narrow valley filled with somber shadows. The air was cold and so were my feet. I shivered and resumed reading.

One thing was obvious amid the confused web of legends I had reviewed, legends which supplemented one another but also at times conflicted. All the scholars agreed that the Incas had borrowed, absorbed and passed on the traditions of many of the different civilized peoples over whom they had extended their control during the centuries of expansion of their vast empire. In this sense, whatever the outcome of the historical debate over the antiquity of the Incas themselves, nobody could seriously dispute their role as transmitters of the ancient belief systems of all the great archaic cultures—coastal and highland, known and unknown—that had preceded them in this land.

And who could say just what civilizations might have existed in Peru in the unexplored regions of the past? Every year archaeologists come up with new finds which extend the horizons further and further back in time. So why shouldn’t they one day discover evidence of the penetration into the Andes, in remote antiquity, of a race of civilizers who had come from overseas and gone away again after completing their work?


That was what the legends seemed to me to be suggesting, legends that most of all, and most clearly, had immortalized the memory of the man/god Viracocha striding the high windswept byways of the Andes working miracles wherever he went:

Viracocha himself, with his two assistants, journeyed north ... He travelled up the cordillera, one assistant went along the coast, and the other up the edge of the eastern forests ... The Creator proceeded to Urcos, near Cuzco, where he commanded the future population to emerge from a mountain. He visited Cuzco, and then continued north to Ecuador. There, in the coastal province of Manta, he took leave of his people and, walking on the waves, disappeared across the 7 ocean.

There was always this poignant moment of goodbye at the end of every folk memory featuring the remarkable stranger whose name meant ‘Foam of the Sea’:

Viracocha went on his way, calling forth the races of men ... When he came to the district of Puerto Viejo he was joined by his followers whom he had sent on before, and when they had joined him he put to sea in their company and they say that he and his people went by water as easily as they had traversed the land.8

Always this poignant goodbye ... and often a hint of science or magic.


7 The Ancient Civilizations of Peru, p. 237.

8 Juan de Batanzos, 'Suma y Narracion de los Incas', in South American Mythology, p. 79.

Time capsule
Outside the window of the train things were happening. To my left, swollen with dark water, I could see the Urubamba, a tributary of the Amazon and a river sacred to the Incas. The air temperature had warmed-up noticeably: we had descended into a relatively low-lying valley with its own tropical micro-climate.


The mountain slopes rising on either side of the tracks were densely covered in green forests and I was reminded that this was truly a region of vast and virtually insuperable obstacles. Whoever had ventured all this way into the middle of nowhere to build Machu Picchu must have had a very strong motive for doing so.

Whatever the reason had been, the choice of such a remote location had at least one beneficial side-effect: Machu Picchu was never found by the conquistadores and friars during their days of destructive zeal. Indeed, it was not until 1911, when the fabulous heritage of older races was beginning to be treated with greater respect, that a young American explorer, Hiram Bingham, revealed Machu Picchu to the world.


It was realized at once that this incredible site opened a unique window on pre Colombian civilization; in consequence the ruins were protected from looters and souvenir hunters and an important chunk of the enigmatic past was preserved to amaze future generations.

Having passed through a one-horse town named Aguas Calientes (Hot Waters), where a few broken-down restaurants and cheap bars leered at travellers from beside the tracks, we reached Machu Picchu Puentas Ruinas station at ten minutes past nine in the morning. From here a half-hour bus ride on a winding dirt road up the side of a steep and forbidding mountain brought us to Machu Picchu itself, to the ruins, and to a bad hotel which charged us a nonsensical amount of money for a not very clean room. We were the only guests. Though it had been years since the local guerrilla movement had last bombed the Machu Picchu train, not many foreigners were keen to come here any more.

Machu Picchu dreaming
It was two in the afternoon. I stood on a high point at the southern end of the site. The ruins stretched out northwards in lichen-enshrouded terraces before me. Thick clouds were wrapped in a ring around the mountain tops but the sunlight still occasionally burst through here and there.

Way down on the valley floor I could see the sacred river curled in a hairpin loop right around the central formation on which Machu Picchu was based, like a moat surrounding a giant castle. The river showed deep green from this vantage point, reflecting the greenness of the steep jungle slopes. And there were patches of white water and wonderful sparkling gleams of light.

I gazed across the ruins towards the dominant peak. Its name is Huayna Picchu and it used to feature in all the classic travel agency posters of this site. To my astonishment I now observed that for a hundred meters or so below its summit it had been neatly terraced and sculpted: somebody had been up there and had carefully raked the near-vertical cliffs into a graceful hanging garden which had perhaps in ancient times been planted with bright flowers.

It seemed to me that the entire site, together with its setting, was a monumental work of sculpture composed in part of mountains, in part of rock, in part of trees, in part of stones—and also in part of water. It was a heart-achingly beautiful place, certainly one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.

Despite its luminous brilliance, however, I felt that I was gazing down on to a city of ghosts. It was like the wreck of the Marie Celeste, deserted and restless. The houses were arranged in long terraces. Each house was tiny, with just one room fronting directly on to the narrow street, and the architecture was solid and functional but by no means ornate.


By way of contrast certain ceremonial areas were engineered to an infinitely higher standard and incorporated giant blocks similar to those I had seen at Sacsayhuaman. One smoothly polished polygonal monolith was around twelve feet long by five feet wide by five feet thick and could not have weighed less than 200 tons. How had the ancient builders managed to get it up here?

Machu Picchu.

There were dozens of others like it too, and they were all arranged in the familiar jigsaw puzzle walls of interlocking angles. On one block I was able to count a total of thirty-three angles, every one intermeshed faultlessly with a matching angle on an adjoining block. There were massive polygons and perfect ashlars with razor-sharp edges. There were also natural, unhewn boulders integrated into the overall design at a number of points.


And there were strange and unusual devices such as the Intihuatana, the ‘hitching post of the sun’. This remarkable artifact consisted of an elemental chunk of bedrock, grey and crystalline, carved into a complex geometrical form of curves and angles, incised niches and external buttresses, surmounted at the centre by a stubby vertical prong.

Jigsaw puzzle
How old is Machu Picchu? The academic consensus is that the city could not have been built much earlier than the fifteenth century AD.9 Dissenting opinions, however, have from time to time been expressed by a number of more daring but respectable scholars. In the 1930s, for example, Rolf Muller, professor of Astronomy at the University of Potsdam, found convincing evidence to suggest that the most important features of Machu Picchu possessed significant astronomical alignments.


From these, through the use of detailed mathematical computations concerning star positions in the sky in previous millennia (which gradually alter down the epochs as the result of a phenomenon known as precession of the equinoxes), Muller concluded that the original layout of the site could only have been accomplished during ‘the era of 4000 BC to 2000 BC’.10

In terms of orthodox history, this was a heresy of audacious proportions. If Muller was right, Machu Picchu was not a mere 500 but could be as much as 6000 years old. This would make it significantly older than the Great Pyramid of Egypt (assuming, of course, that one accepted the Great Pyramid’s own orthodox dating of around 2500 BC).

There were other dissenting voices concerning the antiquity of Machu Picchu, and most, like Muller, were convinced that parts of the site were thousands of years older than the date favoured by orthodox historians.11


9 The Ancient Civilizations of Peru, p. 163.

10 Cited in Zecharia Sitchin, The Lost Realms, Avon Books, New York, 1990, p. 164.
11 Another scholar, Maria Schulten de D'Ebneth, also worked with mathematical methods (as opposed to historical methods which are heavily speculative and interpretive). Her objective was to rediscover the ancient grid used to determine Machu Picchu's layout in relation to the cardinal points. She did this after first establishing the existence of a central 45° line. In the process she stumbled across something else: ‘The sub-angles that she calculated between the central 45° line and sites located away from it ... indicated to her that the earth's tilt ("obliquity") at the time this grid was laid out was close to 24° 0’. This means that the grid was planned (according to her) 5125 years before her measurements were done in 1953; in other words in 3172 BC.’ The Lost Realms, pp. 204-5.

Like the big polygonal blocks that made up the walls, this was a notion that looked as though it might fit with other pieces of a jigsaw puzzle—in this case the jigsaw puzzle of a past that didn’t quite make sense any more. Viracocha was part of that same puzzle. All the legends said his capital had been at Tiahuanaco. The ruins of this great and ancient city lay across the border in Bolivia, in an area known as the Collao, twelve miles south of Lake Titicaca.

We could get there, I calculated, in a couple of days, via Lima and La Paz.

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Chapter 8 - The Lake at the Roof of the World

La Paz, the capital city of Bolivia, nestles in the uneven bottom of a spectacular hole in the ground more than two miles above sea level. This plunging ravine, thousands of feet deep, was carved in some primeval age by a tremendous downrush of water that carried with it an abrasive tide of loose rocks and rubble.

Provided by nature with such an apocalyptic setting, La Paz possesses a unique though slightly sleazy charm. With its narrow streets, dark-walled tenements, imposing cathedrals, garish cinemas and hamburger bars open till late, it generates an atmosphere of quirky intrigue which is oddly intoxicating. It’s hard going for the pedestrian, however, unless equipped with lungs like bellows, because the whole of the central district is built up and down the sides of precipitous hills.

La Paz airport is almost 5000 feet higher than the city itself on the edge of the Altiplano—the cold, rolling uplands that are the dominant topographical feature of this region. Santha and I landed there well after midnight on a delayed flight from Lima. In the draughty arrivals hall we were offered coca tea in little plastic cups as a prophylactic against altitude sickness.


After considerable delay and exertion, we extracted our luggage from customs, hailed an ancient American-made taxi, and clanked and rattled down towards the dim yellow lights of the city far below.

Lake Titicaca.


Rumours of a cataclysm
Around four o’clock the next afternoon we set off for Lake Titicaca in a rented jeep, fought our way through the capital’s incomprehensible permanent rush-hour traffic-jams, then drove up out of the skyscrapers and slums into the wide, clear horizons of the Altiplano.

At first, still close to the city, our route took us through a zone of bleak suburbs and sprawling shantytowns where the sidewalks were lined with auto-repair shops and scrap yards. The more distance we put between ourselves and La Paz, however, the more attenuated the settlements became, until almost all signs of human habitation ceased.


The empty, treeless, undulating savannahs, distantly bordered by the snow-covered peaks of the Cordillera Real, created an unforgettable spectacle of natural beauty and power. But there was also a feeling of otherworldliness about this place, which seemed to float above the clouds like an enchanted kingdom.

Although our ultimate destination was Tiahuanaco, we were aiming that night for the town of Copacabana on a promontory near the southern end of Lake Titicaca. To reach it we had to cross a neck of water by improvised car ferry at the fishing town of Tiquine. Then, with dusk descending, we followed the main highway, now little more than a narrow and uneven track, up a series of steep hairpin bends and on to the shoulder of a mountain spur.


From this point a contrasting panorama unfolded: the dark, dark waters of the lake below appeared to lie at the edge of a limitless ocean drowned in sombre shadows, and yet the jagged peaks of the snowcapped mountains in the distance were still drenched in dazzling sunlight.

From the very beginning Lake Titicaca seemed to me a special place. I knew that it lay some 12,500 feet above sea level, that the frontier between Peru and Bolivia passed through it, that it covered an area of 3200 square miles and was 138 miles long by about 70 miles wide. I also knew it was deep, reaching almost 1000 feet in places, and had a puzzling geological history.

Here are the mysteries, and some of the solutions that have been proposed:

1 - Though now more than two miles above sea level, the area around Lake Titicaca is littered with millions upon millions of fossilized sea shells. This suggests that at some stage the whole of the Altiplano was forced upwards from the sea-bed, perhaps as part of the general terrestrial rising that formed South America as a whole. In the process great quantities of ocean water, together with countless myriads of living marine creatures, were scooped up and suspended among the Andean ranges.1 This is thought to have happened not more recently than about 100 million years ago.2


2 - Paradoxically, despite the mighty antiquity of this event, Lake Titicaca has retained, until the present day, ‘a marine icthyofauna’3, in other words, though now located hundreds of miles from any ocean, its fish and crustacea feature many oceanic (rather than freshwater) types. Surprising creatures brought to the surface in fishermen’s nets have included examples of Hippocampus (the seahorse).4


In addition, as one authority has pointed out,

‘The various species of Allorquestes (hyalella inermis, etc.) and other examples of marine fauna leave no doubt that this lake in other periods was much saltier than today, or, more accurately, that the water which formed it was from the sea and that it was damned up and locked in the Andes when the continent rose.’5

3 - So much, then, for the events which may have created Lake Titicaca in the first place. Since its formation this great ‘interior sea’, and the Altiplano itself, has undergone several other drastic and dramatic changes. Of these by far the most notable is that the lake’s extent appears to have fluctuated enormously, indicated by the existence of an ancient strandline visible on much of the surrounding terrain. Puzzlingly, this strandline is not level but slopes markedly from north to south over a considerable horizontal distance.


At the northernmost point surveyed it is as much as 295 feet higher than Titicaca; some 400 miles farther south, it is 274 feet lower than the present level of the lake.6 From this, and much other evidence, geologists have deduced that the Altiplano is still gradually rising, but in an unbalanced manner with greater altitudes being attained in the northern part and lesser in the southern. The process involved here is thought to have less to do with changes in the level of Titicaca’s waters themselves (although such changes have certainly occurred) than with changes in the level of the whole terrain in which the lake is situated.7

4 - Much harder to explain in such terms, however, given the very long time periods major geological transformations are supposed to require, is irrefutable evidence that the city of Tiahuanaco was once a port, complete with extensive docks, positioned right on the shore of Lake Titicaca.8 The problem is that Tiahuanaco’s ruins are now marooned about twelve miles south of the lake and more than 100 feet higher than the present shoreline.9 In the period since the city was built, it therefore follows that one of two things must have happened: either the level of lake has fallen greatly or the land on which Tiahuanaco stands has risen comparably.


5 - Either way it is obvious that there have been massive and traumatic physical changes. Some of these, such as the rise of the Altiplano from the floor of the ocean, certainly took place in remote geological ages, before the advent of human civilization. Others are not nearly so ancient and must have occurred after the construction of Tiahuanaco.10 The question, therefore, is this: when was Tiahuanaco built?

The orthodox historical view is that the ruins cannot possibly be dated much earlier than AD 500.11 An alternative chronology also exists, however, which, although not accepted by the majority of scholars, seems more in tune with the scale of the geological upheavals that have occurred in this region. Based on the mathematical/astronomical calculations of Professor Arthur Posnansky of the University of La Paz, and of Professor Rolf Muller (who also challenged the official dating of Machu Picchu), it pushes the main phase of construction at Tiahuanaco back to 15,000 BC.


This chronology also indicates that the city later suffered immense destruction in a phenomenal natural catastrophe around the eleventh millennium BC, and thereafter rapidly became separated from the lakeshore.12


1 Professor Arthur Posnansky, Tiahuanacu: The Cradle of American Man, Ministry of Education, La Paz, Bolivia, 1957, volume III p. 192. See also Immanuel Velikovsky, Earth in Upheaval, Pocket Books, New York, 1977, pp. 77-8: ‘Investigation into the topography of the Andes and the fauna of Lake Titicaca, together with a chemical analysis of this lake and others on the same plateau, has established that the plateau was at one time at sea level, 12,500 feet lower than it is today ... and that its lakes were originally part of a sea-gulf ... Sometime in the past the entire Altiplano, with its lakes, rose from the bottom of the ocean ...’
2 Personal communication with Richard Ellison of the British Geological Survey, 17 September 1993. Ellison is the author of the BGS Overseas Geology and Mineral Resources Paper (No. 65) entitled The Geology of the Western Corriera and Altiplano.

3 Tiahuanacu, III, p. 192.

4 Tiahuanacu, J. J. Augustin, New York, 1945, volume I, p. 28.

5 Ibid.
6 See, for example, H.S. Bellamy, Built Before the Flood: The Problem of the Tiahuanaco Ruins, Faber & Faber, London, 1943, p. 57.
7 Ibid., p. 59.
8 Tiahuanacu, III, pp. 192-6. See also Bolivia, Lonely Planet Publications, Hawthorne, Australia, 1992, p. 156.
9 Ibid. See also Harold Osborne, Indians of the Andes: Aymaras and Quechuas, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1952, p. 55.

10 Earth In Upheaval, p. 76: ‘The conservative view among evolutionists and geologists is that mountain-making is a slow process, observable in minute changes, and that because it is a continuous process there never could have been spontaneous upliftings on a large scale. In the case of Tiahuanaco, however, the change in altitude apparently occurred after the city was built, and this could not have been the result of a slow process ...’
11 See, for example, Ian Cameron, Kingdom of the Sun God: A History of the Andes and Their People, Guild Publishing, London, 1990, pp. 48-9.

12 Tiahuanacu II, p. 91 and I, p. 39.

We shall be reviewing Posnansky’s and Muller’s findings in Chapter Eleven, findings which suggest that the great Andean city of Tiahuanaco flourished during the last Ice Age in the deep, dark, moonless midnight of prehistory.


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Chapter 9 - Once and Future King

During my travels in the Andes I had several times re-read a curious variant of the mainstream tradition of Viracocha. In this variant, which was from the area around Lake Titicaca known as the Collao, the deity civilizing-hero had been named Thunupa:

Thunupa appeared on the Altiplano in ancient times, coming from the north with five disciples. A white man of august presence, blue-eyed, and bearded, he was sober, puritanical and preached against drunkenness, polygamy and war.1

After travelling great distances through the Andes, where he created a peaceful kingdom and taught men all the arts of civilization,2 Thunupa was struck down and grievously wounded by a group of jealous conspirators:

They put his blessed body in a boat of totora rush and set it adrift on Lake Titicaca. There ... he sailed away with such speed that those who had tried so cruelly to kill him were left behind in terror and astonishment—for this lake has no current ...


The boat came to the shore at Cochamarca, where today is the river Desaguadero. Indian tradition asserts that the boat struck the land with such force it created the river Desaguadero, which before then did not exist. And on the water so released the holy body was carried many leagues away to the sea coast at Africa 3 ...

1 South American Mythology, p. 87.

2 Ibid., p. 44.
3 Antonio de la Calancha, Cronica Moralizada del Orden de San Augustin en el Peru, 1638, in South American Mythology, p. 87.


Boats, water and salvation
There are curious parallels here to the story of Osiris, the ancient Egyptian high god of death and resurrection. The fullest account of the original myth defining this mysterious figure is given by Plutarch4 and says that, after bringing the gifts of civilization to his people, teaching them all manner of useful skills, abolishing cannibalism and human sacrifice, and providing them with their first legal code, Osiris left Egypt and travelled about the world to spread the benefits of civilization to other nations as well.


He never forced the barbarians he encountered to accept his laws, preferring instead to argue with them and to appeal to their reason. It is also recorded that he passed on his teachings to them by means of hymns and songs accompanied by musical instruments.

4 Good summaries of the Plutarch account are given in M. V. Seton-Williams, Egyptian Legends and Stories, Rubicon Press, London, 1990, pp. 24-9; and in E. A. Wallis Budge, From Fetish to God in Ancient Egypt, Oxford University Press, 1934, pp. 178-83.

While he was gone, however, he was plotted against by seventy-two members of his court, led by his brother-in-law Set. On his return the conspirators invited him to a banquet where a splendid coffer of wood and gold was offered as a prize to any guest who could fit into it exactly. Osiris did not know that the coffer had been constructed precisely to his body measurements.


As a result, when the assembled guests tried one by one to get into it they failed. Osiris lay down comfortably inside. Before he had time to get out the conspirators rushed forward, nailed the lid tightly closed and sealed even the cracks with molten lead so that there would be no air. The coffer was then thrown into the Nile. It had been intended that it should sink, but it floated rapidly away, drifting for a considerable distance until it reached the sea coast.

At this point the goddess Isis, wife of Osiris, intervened. Using all the great magic for which she was renowned, she found the coffer and concealed it in a secret place. However, her evil brother Set, out hunting in the marshes, discovered the coffer, opened it and, in a mad fury, cut the royal corpse into fourteen pieces which he scattered throughout the land.

Once more Isis set off to save her husband. She made a small boat of papyrus reeds, coated with pitch, and embarked on the Nile in search of the remains. When she had found them she worked powerful spells to reunite the dismembered parts of the body so that it resumed its old form. Thereafter, in an intact and perfect state, Osiris went through a process of stellar rebirth to become god of the dead and king of the underworld—from which place, legend had it, he occasionally returned to earth in the guise of a mortal man.5


5 From Fetish to God in Ancient Egypt, p. 180.

Although there are huge differences between the traditions it is bizarre that Osiris in Egypt and Thunupa-Viracocha in South America should have had all of the following points in common:

  • both were great civilizers

  • both were conspired against

  • both were struck down

  • both were sealed inside a container or vessel of some kind

  • both were then cast into water

  • both drifted away on a river

  • both eventually reached the sea

Are such parallels to be dismissed as coincidences? or could there be some underlying connection?

Reed boats of Suriqui
The air was Alpine cold and I was sitting on the front of a motor launch doing about twenty knots across the icy waters of Lake Titicaca. The sky above was clear blue, reflecting aquamarine and turquoise tints inshore, and the vast body of the lake, glinting in copper and silver tones, seemed to stretch away for ever ...

The passages in the legends that spoke of vessels made of reeds needed to be followed up because I knew that ‘boats of totora rush’ were a traditional form of transport on this lake. However, the ancient skills required to build craft of this type had atrophied in recent years and we were now headed towards Suriqui, the one place where they were still properly made.

On Suriqui Island, in a small village close to the lakeshore, I found two elderly Indians making a boat from bundled totora rushes. The elegant craft, which appeared to be nearly complete, was approximately fifteen feet long. It was wide amidships, but narrow at either end with a high curving prow and stern.

I sat down for a while to watch. The more senior of the two builders, who wore a brown felt hat over a curious peaked woollen cap, repeatedly braced his bare left foot against the side of the vessel to give additional leverage as he pulled and tightened the cords that held the bundles of reeds in place. From time to time I noticed that he rubbed a length of cord against his own perspiring brow—thus moistening it to increase its adhesion.

The boat, surrounded by chickens and occasionally investigated by a shy, browsing alpaca, stood amid a litter of discarded rushes in the backyard of a ramshackle farmhouse. It was one of several I was able to study over the next few hours and, though the setting was unmistakably Andean, I found myself repeatedly overtaken by a sense of déjà vu from another place and another time.


The reason was that the totora vessels of Suriqui were virtually identical, both in the method of construction and in finished appearance, to the beautiful craft fashioned from papyrus reeds in which the Pharaohs had sailed the Nile thousands of years previously. In my travels in Egypt I had examined the images of many such vessels painted on the walls of ancient tombs. It sent a tingle down my spine to see them now so colourfully brought to life on an obscure island on Lake Titicaca—even though my research had partially prepared me for this coincidence.


I knew that no satisfactory explanation had ever been given for how such close and richly detailed similarities of boat design could occur in two such widely separated places. Nevertheless, in the words of one authority in ancient navigation who had addressed himself to this conundrum:

Here was the same compact shape, peaked and raised at both ends with rope lashings running from the deck right round the bottom of the boat all in one piece ... Each straw was placed with maximum precision to achieve perfect symmetry and streamlined elegance, while the bundles were so tightly lashed that they looked like ... gilded logs bent into a clog-shaped peak fore and aft.6

The reed boats of the ancient Nile, and the reed boats of Lake Titicaca (the original design of which, local Indians insisted, had been given to them by ‘the Viracocha people7), had other points in common. Both, for example, were equipped with sails mounted on peculiar two-legged straddled masts.8 Both had also been used for the long-distance transport of exceptionally heavy building materials: obelisks and gargantuan blocks of stone bound for the temples at Giza and Luxor and Abydos on the one hand and for the mysterious edifices of Tiahuanaco on the other.


6 Thor Heyerdahl, The Ra Expeditions, Book Club Associates, London, 1972, pp. 43, 295.

7 Ibid., p. 43.
8 Ibid., p. 295.

In those far-off days, before Lake Titicaca became more than one hundred feet shallower, Tiahuanaco had stood at the water’s edge overlooking a vista of awesome and sacred beauty. Now the great port, capital city of Viracocha himself, lay lost amid eroded hills and empty windswept plains.

Road to Tiahuanaco ...
After returning from Suriqui to the mainland we drove our hired jeep across those plains, raising a cloud of dust. Our route took us through the towns of Puccarani and Laha, populated by stolid Aymara Indians who walked slowly in the narrow cobbled streets and sat placidly in the little sunlit plazas.

Were these people the descendants of the builders of Tiahuanaco, as the scholars insisted? Or were the legends right? Had the ancient city been the work of foreigners with godlike powers who had settled here, long ages ago?

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Chapter 10 - The City at the Gate of the Sun

The early Spanish travellers who visited the ruined Bolivian city of Tiahuanaco at around the time of the conquest were impressed by the sheer size of its buildings and by the atmosphere of mystery that clung to them.

‘I asked the natives whether these edifices were built in the time of the Inca,’ wrote the chronicler Pedro Cieza de Leon, ‘They laughed at the question, affirming that they were made long before the Inca reign and ... that they had heard from their forebears that everything to be seen there appeared suddenly in the course of a single night ...’1

Meanwhile another Spanish visitor of the same period recorded a tradition which said that the stones had been lifted miraculously off the ground,

‘They were carried through the air to the sound of a trumpet.’2

Not long after the conquest a detailed description of the city was written by the historian Garcilaso de la Vega. No looting for treasure or for building materials had yet taken place and, though ravaged by the tooth of time, the site was still magnificent enough to take his breath away:

We must now say something about the large and almost incredible buildings of Tiahuanaco. There is an artificial hill, of great height, built on stone foundations so that the earth will not slide. There are gigantic figures carved in stone ... these are much worn which shows their great antiquity. There are walls, the stones of which are so enormous it is difficult to imagine what human force could have put them in place.


And there are the remains of strange buildings, the most remarkable being stone portals, hewn out of solid rock; these stand on bases anything up to 30 feet long, 15 feet wide and 6 feet thick, base and portal being all of one piece ... How, and with the use of what tools or implements, massive works of such size could be achieved are questions which we are unable to answer ... Nor can it be imagined how such enormous stones could have been brought here ...3

1 Pedro Cieza de Leon, Chronicle of Peru, Hakluyt Society, London, 1864 and 1883, Part I, Chapter 87.
2 Indians of the Andes: Aymaras and Quechuas, p. 64. See also Feats and Wisdom of the Ancients, Time-Life Books, Alexandria, Virginia, 1990, p. 55.
3 Royal Commentaries of the Incas, Book Three, Chapter one. See, for example, version published by Orion Press, New York, 1961 (translated by Maria Jolas from the critical annotated French edition of Alain Gheerbrant), pp. 49-50.


That was in the sixteenth century. More than 400 years later, at the end of the twentieth century, I shared Garcilaso’s puzzlement. Scattered around Tiahuanaco, in defiance of the looters who had robbed the site of so much in recent years, were monoliths so big and cumbersome yet so well cut that they almost seemed to be the work of super-beings.

Sunken temple
Like a disciple at the feet of his master, I sat on the floor of the sunken temple and looked up at the enigmatic face which all the scholars of Tiahuanaco believed was intended to represent Viracocha. Untold centuries ago, unknown hands had carved this likeness into a tall pillar of red rock. Though now much eroded, it was the likeness of a man at peace with himself. It was the likeness of a man of power ...

He had a high forehead, and large, round eyes. His nose was straight, narrow at the bridge but flaring towards the nostrils. His lips were full. His distinguishing feature, however, was his stylish and imposing beard, which had the effect of making his face broader at the jaws than at the temples. Looking more closely, I could see that the sculptor had portrayed a man whose skin was shaved all around his lips with the result that his moustache began high on his cheeks, roughly parallel with the end of his nose. From there it curved extravagantly down beside the corners of his mouth, forming an exaggerated goatee at the chin, and then followed his jawline back to his ears.

Above and below the ears, on the side of the head, were carved odd representations of animals. Or perhaps it would be better to describe these carvings as representations of odd animals, because they looked like big, clumsy, prehistoric mammals with fat tails and club feet.

There were other points of interest. For example, the stone figure of Viracocha had been sculpted with the hands and arms folded, one below the other, over the front of a long, flowing robe. On each side of this robe appeared the sinuous form of a snake coiling upwards from ground to shoulder level. And as I looked at this beautiful design (the original of which had perhaps been embroidered on rich cloth) the picture that came into my mind was of Viracocha as a wizard or a sorcerer, a bearded, Merlin-like figure dressed in weird and wonderful clothes, calling down fire from heaven.

The ‘temple’ in which the Viracocha pillar stood was open to the sky and consisted of a large, rectangular pit, like a swimming pool, dug out six feet below ground level. Its floor, about 40 feet long by 30 feet wide, was composed of hard, flat gravel. Its strong vertical walls were formed from precisely dressed ashlar blocks of varying sizes laid closely against one another without mortar in the joints and interspersed with taller, rough-hewn stelae. A set of steps was let into the southern wall and it was down these I had come when I had entered the structure.

I walked several times around the figure of Viracocha, resting my fingers on the sun-warmed stone pillar, trying to guess its purpose. It was perhaps seven feet tall and it faced south, with its back to the old shoreline of Lake Titicaca (originally less than six hundred feet away).4 Ranged out behind this central obelisk, furthermore, there were two others, of smaller stature, possibly intended to represent Viracocha’s legendary companions. All three figures, being severely, functionally vertical, cast clean-edged shadows as I gazed at them, for the sun was past its zenith.


4 Bolivia, p. 156 (map).

I sat down on the ground again and looked slowly all around the temple. Viracocha dominated it, like the conductor of an orchestra, and yet its most striking feature undoubtedly lay elsewhere: lining the walls, at various points and heights, were dozens and dozens of human heads sculpted in stone. These were complete heads, protruding three dimensionally out of the walls. There were several different (and contradictory) scholarly opinions as to their function.

From the floor of the sunken temple, looking west, I could see an immense wall into which was set an impressive geometrical gateway made of large stone slabs. Silhouetted in this gateway by the afternoon sun was the figure of a giant. The wall, I knew, enclosed a parade-ground sized area called the Kalasasaya (a word in the local Aymara language meaning simply ‘Place of the Upright Standing Stones5). And the giant was one of the huge time-worn pieces of sculpture referred to by Garcilaso de la Vega.

I was eager to take a look at it, but for the moment my attention was diverted southwards towards an artificial hill, 50 feet high, which lay almost directly ahead of me as I climbed the steps out of the sunken temple. The hill, which had also been mentioned by Garcilaso, was known as the Akapana Pyramid. Like the pyramids at Giza in Egypt, it was oriented with surprising precision towards the cardinal points. Unlike those pyramids its ground-plan was somewhat irregular. Nonetheless, it measured roughly 690 feet on each side which meant that it was a hulking piece of architecture and the dominant edifice of Tiahuanaco.

I walked towards it now, and spent some time strolling around it and clambering over it. Originally it had been a clean-sided step-pyramid of earth faced with large andesite blocks. In the centuries since the conquest, however, it had been used as a quarry by builders from as far away as La Paz, with the result that only about ten per cent of its superb facing blocks now remained.

What clues, what evidence, had those nameless thieves carried off with them? As I climbed up the broken sides and around the deep grassy troughs in the top of the Akapana, I realized that the true function of the pyramid was probably never going to be understood. All that was certain was that it had not been merely decorative or ceremonial. On the contrary, it seemed almost as though it might have functioned as some kind of arcane ‘device’ or machine.


Deep within its bowels, archaeologists had discovered a complex network of zig-zagging stone channels, lined with fine ashlars. These had been meticulously angled and jointed (to a tolerance of one-fiftieth of an inch), and had served to sluice water down from a large reservoir at the top of the structure, through a series of descending levels, to a moat that encircled the entire site, washing against the pyramid’s base on its southern side.6


5 H. S. Bellamy and P. Allan, The Calendar of Tiahuanaco: The Measuring System of the Oldest Civilization, Faber & Faber, London, 1956, p. 16.
6 For a detailed discussion of the hydraulic system of the Akapana see Tiahuanacu: II, pp. 69-79.

So much care and attention had been lavished on all this plumbing, so many man-hours of highly skilled and patient labour, that the Akapana made no sense unless it had been endowed with a significant purpose. A number of archaeologists, I knew, had speculated that this purpose might have been connected with a rain or river cult involving a primitive veneration of the powers and attributes of fast-flowing water.

One sinister suggestion, which implied that the unknown ‘technology’ of the pyramid might have had a lethal purpose, was derived from the meaning of the words Hake and Apana in the ancient Aymara language still spoken hereabouts:

‘Hake means “people” or “men”; Apana means “to perish” (probably by water). Thus Akapana is a place where people perish ...’7

Another commentator, however, after making a careful assessment of all the characteristics of the hydraulic system, proposed a different solution, namely that the sluices had most probably been part of ‘a processing technique—the use of flowing water for washing ores, perhaps?’8

7 Ibid., I, p. 78.
8 The Lost Realms, p. 215. 9 Tiahuanacu, II, pp. 44-105. 10 The Calendar of Tiahuanaco, pp. 17-18.


Gateway of the Sun
Leaving the western side of the enigmatic pyramid, I made my way towards the south-west corner of the enclosure known as the Kalassaya. I could now see why it had been called the Place of the Upright Standing Stones for this was precisely what it was. At regular intervals in a wall composed of bulky trapezoidal blocks, huge dagger-like monoliths more than twelve feet high had been sunk hilt-first into the red earth of the Altiplano. The effect was of a giant stockade, almost 500 feet square, rising about twice as far above the ground as the sunken temple had been interred beneath it.

Had the Kalasasaya been a fortress then? Apparently not. Scholars now generally accept that it functioned as a sophisticated celestial observatory. Rather than keeping enemies at bay, its purpose had been to fix the equinoxes and the solstices and to predict, with mathematical precision, the various seasons of the year.


Certain structures within its walls, (and, indeed, the walls themselves), appeared to have been lined up to particular star groups and designed to facilitate measurement of the amplitude of the sun in summer, winter, autumn and spring.9 In addition, the famous ‘Gateway of the Sun’, which stood in the north-west corner of the enclosure, was not only a world-class work of art but was thought by those who had studied it to be a complex and accurate calendar carved in stone:

The more one gets acquainted with the sculpture the greater becomes one’s conviction that the peculiar lay-out and pictorialism of this Calendar cannot possibly have been the result merely of the ultimately unfathomable whim of an artist, but that its glyphs, deeply senseful, constitute the eloquent record of the observations and calculations of a scientist ... The Calendar could not have been drawn up and laid out in any other way than this.10

My background research had made me especially curious about the Gateway of the Sun and, indeed, about the Kalasasaya as a whole. This was so because certain astronomical and solar alignments which we review in the next chapter had made it possible to calculate the approximate period when the Kalasasaya must originally have been laid out. These alignments suggested the controversial date of 15,000 BC— about seventeen thousand years ago.

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Chapter 11 - Intimations of Antiquity

In his voluminous work Tiahuanacu: the Cradle of American Man, the late Professor Arthur Posnansky (a formidable German-Bolivian scholar whose investigations at the ruins lasted for almost fifty years) explains the archaeo-astronomical calculations which led to his controversial re-dating of Tiahuanaco. These, he says, were based ‘solely and exclusively on the difference in the obliquity of the ecliptic of the period in which the Kalasasaya was built and that which it is today’.1

What exactly is ‘the obliquity of the ecliptic’, and why does it make Tiahuanaco 17,000 years old?

According to the dictionary definition it is ‘the angle between the plane of the earth’s orbit and that of the celestial equator, equal to approximately 23° 27’ at present’.2


1 Tiahuanacu, II, p. 89.

2 Collins English Dictionary, London, 1982, p. 1015. In addition, Dr John Mason of the British Astronomical Association defined obliquity of the ecliptic in a telephone interview on 7 October 1993: ‘The earth spins about an axis which goes through its centre and its north and south poles. This axis is inclined to the plane of the earth's orbit around the sun. This tilt is called the obliquity of the ecliptic. The current value for the obliquity of the ecliptic is 23.44 degrees.’

To clarify this obscure astronomical notion, it helps to picture the earth as a ship, sailing on the vast ocean of the heavens. Like all such vessels (be they planets or schooners), it rolls slightly with the swell that flows beneath it. Picture yourself on board that ship as it rolls, standing on the deck, gazing out to sea. You rise up on the crest of a wave and your visible horizon increases; you fall back into a trough and it decreases. The process is regular, mathematical, like the tick-tock of a great metronome: a constant, almost imperceptible, nodding, perpetually changing the angle between yourself and the horizon.

Now picture the earth again. Floating in space, as every schoolchild knows, the axis of daily rotation of our beautiful blue planet lies slightly tilted away from the vertical in its orbit around the sun. From this it follows that the terrestrial equator, and hence the ‘celestial equator’ (which is merely an imaginary extension of the earth’s equator into the celestial sphere) must also lie at an angle to the orbital plane. That angle, at any one time, is the obliquity of the ecliptic. But because the earth is a ship that rolls, its obliquity changes in a cyclical manner over very long periods.


During each cycle of 41,000 years the obliquity varies, with the precision and predictability of a Swiss chronograph, between 22.1° and 24.5°.3 The sequence in which one angle will follow another, as well as the sequence of all previous angles (at any period of history) can be calculated by means of a few straightforward equations. These have been expressed as a curve on a graph (originally plotted out in Paris in 1911 by the International Conference of Ephemerids) and from this graph it is possible to match angles and precise historical dates with confidence and accuracy.

Posnansky was able to date the Kalasasaya because the obliquity cycle gradually alters the azimuth position of sunrise and sunset from century to century.4 By establishing the solar alignments of certain key structures that now looked ‘out of true’, he convincingly demonstrated that the obliquity of the ecliptic at the time of the building of the Kalasasaya had been 23° 8’ 48”. When that angle was plotted on the graph drawn up by the International Conference of Ephemerids it was found to correspond to a date of 15,000 BC.5

Of course, not a single orthodox historian or archaeologist was prepared to accept such an early origin for Tiahuanaco preferring, as noted in Chapter Eight, to agree on the safe estimate of AD 500. During the years 1927-30, however, several scientists from other disciplines checked carefully Posnansky’s ‘astronomic-archaeological investigations’.


These scientists, members of a high-powered team which also studied many other archaeological sites in the Andes, were Dr Hans Ludendorff (then director of the Astronomical Observatory of Potsdam), Dr Friedrich Becker of the Specula Vaticanica, and two other astronomers: Professor Dr Arnold Kohlschutter of the University of Bonn and Dr Rolf Muller of the Astrophysical Institute of Potsdam.6

At the end of their three years of work the scientists concluded that Posnansky was basically right. They didn’t concern themselves with the implications of their findings for the prevailing paradigm of history; they simply stated the observable facts about the astronomical alignments of various structures at Tiahuanaco. Of these, the most important by far was that the Kalasasaya had been laid out to conform with observations of the heavens made a very long time ago—much, much further back than AD 500. Posnansky’s figure of 15,000 BC was pronounced to be well within the bounds of possibility.7

If Tiahuanaco had indeed flourished so long before the dawn of history, what sort of people had built it, and for what purpose?

3 J. D. Hays, John Imbrie, N. J. Shackleton, ‘Variations in the Earth's Orbit: Pacemaker of the Ice Ages’, in Science, vol. 194, No. 4270, 10 December 1976, p. 1125.
4 Anthony F. Aveni, Skywatchers of Ancient Mexico, University of Texas Press, lago, p. 103.
5 Tiahuanacu, II, p. 90-1.

6 Tiahuanacu, II, p. 47.

7 Ibid., p. 91.

Fish-garbed figures
There were two massive pieces of statuary inside the Kalasasaya. One, a figure nicknamed El Fraile (The Friar) stood in the south-west corner; the other, towards the centre of the eastern end of the enclosure, was the giant that I had observed from the sunken temple.

Carved in red sandstone, worn and ancient beyond reckoning, El Fraile stood about six feet high, and portrayed a humanoid, androgynous being with massive eyes and lips. In its right hand it clutched something resembling a knife with a wavy blade like an Indonesian kris. In its left hand was an object like a hinged and case-bound book. From the top of this ‘book’, however, protruded a device which had been inserted into it as though into a sheath.

From the waist down the figure appeared to be clad in a garment of fish scales, and, as though to confirm this perception, the sculptor had formed the individual scales out of rows and rows of small, highly-stylized fish-heads. This sign had been persuasively interpreted by Posnansky as meaning fish in general.8


It seemed, therefore, that El Fraile was a portrayal of an imaginary or symbolic ‘fish man’. The figure was also equipped with a belt sculpted with the images of several large crustaceans, so this notion seemed all the more probable. What had been intended?

I had learned of one local tradition I thought might shed light on the matter. It was very ancient and spoke of ‘gods of the lake, with fish tails, called Chullua and Umantua’.9 In this, and in the fish-garbed figures, it seemed that there was a curious out-of-place echo of Mesopotamian myths, which spoke strangely, and at length, about amphibious beings, ‘endowed with reason’ who had visited the land of Sumer in remote prehistory. The leader of these beings was named Oannes (or Uan).10


According to the Chaldean scribe, Berosus:

The whole body of [Oannes] was like that of a fish; and had under a fish’s head another head, and also feet below, similar to those of a man, subjoined to the fish’s tail. His voice too, and language, was articulate and human; and a representation of him is preserved even to this day ... When the sun set, it was the custom of this Being to plunge again into the sea, and abide all night in the deep; for he was amphibious.11

8 Ibid., I, p. 119.

9 Ibid., II, p. 183.
10 Myths from Mesopotamia, (trans, and ed. Stephanie Dalley), Oxford University Press, 1990, p. 326.
11 Fragments of Berossus, from Alexander Polyhistor, reprinted as Appendix 2 in Robert K. G. Temple, The Sirius Mystery, Destiny Books, Rochester, Vermont, 1987, pp. 250-1.

According to the traditions reported by Berosus, Oannes was, above all, a civilizer:

In the day-time he used to converse with men; but took no food at that season; and he gave them an insight into letters and sciences, and every kind of art. He taught them to construct houses, to found temples, to compile laws, and explained to them the principles of geometrical knowledge.


He made them distinguish the seeds of the earth, and showed them how to collect fruits; in short, he instructed them in every thing which could tend to soften manners and to humanise mankind. From that time, so universal were his instructions, nothing has been added materially by way of improvement ...12

Surviving images of the Oannes creatures I had seen on Babylonian and Assyrian reliefs clearly portrayed fish-garbed men. Fish-scales formed the dominant motif on their garments, just as they did on those worn by El Fraile. Another similarity was that the Babylonian figures held unidentified objects in both their hands. If my memory served me right (and I later confirmed that it did) these objects were by no means identical to those carried by El Fraile. They were, however, similar enough to be worthy of note.13


12 Ibid.
13 Jeremy Black and Anthony Green, Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia,British Museum Press, 1992, pp. 46, 82-3.

The other great ‘idol’ of the Kalasasaya was positioned towards the eastern end of the platform, facing the main gateway, and was an imposing monolith of grey andesite, hugely thick and standing about nine feet tall. Its broad head rose straight up out of its hulking shoulders and its slab-like face stared expressionlessly into the distance. It was wearing a crown, or head-band of some kind, and its hair was braided into orderly rows of long vertical ringlets which were most clearly visible at the back.

The figure was also intricately carved and decorated across much of its surface almost as though it were tattooed. Like El Fraile, it was clad below the waist in a garment composed offish-scales and fish symbols. And, also like El Fraile, it held two unidentifiable objects in its hands. This time the left-hand object looked more like a sheath than a case-bound book, and from it protruded a forked handle.


The right-hand object was roughly cylindrical, narrow in the centre where it was held, wider at the shoulders and at the base, and then narrowing again towards the top. It appeared to have several different sections, or parts, fitted over and into one another, but it was impossible to guess what it might represent.

Assyrian relief of fish-garbed figure.


Images of extinct species
Leaving the fish-garbed figures, I came at last to the Gateway of the Sun, located in the north-west corner of the Kalasasaya.

It proved to be a freestanding monolith of grey-green andesite about 12½ feet wide, 10 feet high and 18 inches thick, weighing an estimated 10 tons.14 Perhaps best envisaged as a sort of Arc de Triomphe, though on a much smaller scale, it looked in this setting like a door connecting two invisible dimensions—a door between nowhere and nothing. The stonework was of exceptionally high quality and authorities agreed that it was ‘one of the archaeological wonders of the Americas’.15 Its most enigmatic feature was the so-called ‘calendar frieze’ carved into its eastern façade along the top of the portal.

At its centre, in an elevated position, this frieze was dominated by what scholars took to be another representation of Viracocha,16 but this time in his more terrifying aspect as the god-king who could call down fire from heaven. His gentle, fatherly side was still expressed: tears of compassion were running down his cheeks. But his face was set stern and hard, his tiara was regal and imposing, and in either hand he grasped a thunderbolt.17

In the interpretation given by Joseph Campbell, one of the twentieth century’s best-known students of myth,

‘The meaning is that the grace that pours into the universe through the sun door is the same as the energy of the bolt that annihilates and is itself indestructible ...’18

I turned my head to right and left, slowly studying the remainder of the frieze. It was a beautifully balanced piece of sculpture with three rows of eight figures, twenty-four in all, lined up on either side of the elevated central image. Many attempts, none of them particularly convincing, have been made to explain the assumed calendrical function of these figures.19


All that could really be said for sure was that they had a peculiar, bloodless, cartoon-like quality, and that there was something coldly mathematical, almost machinelike, about the way they seemed to march in regimented lines towards Viracocha. Some apparently wore bird masks, others had sharply pointed noses, and each had in his hand an implement of the type the high god was himself carrying.

The base of the frieze was filled with a design known as the ‘Meander’—a geometrical series of step-pyramid forms set in a continuous line, and arranged alternately upside down and right side up, which was also thought to have had a calendrical function. On the third column from the right-hand side (and, more faintly, on the third column from the left-hand side too) I could make out a clear carving of an elephant’s head, ears, tusks and trunk.


This was unexpected since there are no elephants anywhere in the New World. There had been, however, in prehistoric times, as I was able to confirm much later. Particularly numerous in the southern Andes, until their sudden extinction around 10,000 BC,20 had been the members of a species called Cuvieronius, an elephant-like proboscid complete with tusks and a trunk, uncannily similar in appearance to the ‘elephants’ of the Gateway of the Sun.21

14 Figures and measurements from The Ancient Civilizations of Peru, p. 92.

15 Ibid.

16 Ibid.
17 See Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Paladin Books, London, 1988, p. 145.

18 Ibid., p. 146.
19 The calendrical function of the Gateway of the Sun is fully described and analysed by Posnansky in Tiahuanacu: The Cradle of American Man, volumes I-IV.
20 Quaternary Extinctions: A Prehistoric Revolution, Paul S. Martin, Richard G. Klein, eds. The University of Arizona Press, 1984, p. 85.
21 Ibid.

I stepped forward a few paces to take a closer look at these elephants. Each turned out to be composed of the heads of two crested condors, placed throat to throat (the crests constituting the ‘ears’ and the upper part of the necks the ‘tusks’). The creatures thus formed still looked like elephants to me, perhaps because a characteristic visual trick the sculptors of Tiahuanaco had employed again and again in their subtle and otherworldly art had been to use one thing to depict another. Thus an apparently human ear on an apparently human face might turn out to be a bird’s wing.


Likewise an ornate crown might be composed of alternate fishes’ and condors’ heads, an eyebrow a bird’s neck and head, the toe of a slipper an animal’s head, and so on. Members of the elephant family formed out of condors’ heads, therefore, need not necessarily be optical illusions; on the contrary, such inventive composites would be perfectly in keeping with the overall artistic character of the frieze.

Among the riot of stylized animal figures carved into the Gateway of the Sun were a number of other extinct species as well. I knew from my research that one of these had been convincingly identified by several observers as Toxodon22—a three-toed amphibious mammal about nine feet long and five feet high at the shoulder, resembling a short, stubby cross between a rhino and a hippo.23 L


ike Cuvieronius, Toxodon had flourished in South America in the late Pliocene (1.6 million years ago) and had died out at the end of the Pleistocene, about 12,000 years ago.24

22 See The Calendar of Tiahuanaco, p. 47. Posnansky's work is also replete with references to Toxodon.

23 Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1991, 11:878.

24 Ibid., 9:516. See also Quaternary Extinctions, pp. 64-5.

Top left: Detail from Tiahuanaco’s Gateway of the Sun showing proboscid, tusked elephant-like figure.

Top right: Biological reconstruction-drawing of Cuverionius, a South American proboscid, once common in the Tiahuanaco area but extinct since approximately 10,000 BC.

Above left: Unidentified animal, possibly Toxodon, carved on the side of the Viracocha figure in the Subterranean Temple.

Above right: Another possible representation of Toxodon from Tiahuanaco.

The raised nostrils are indicative of a semi-aquatic animal,

somewhat like a modern hippopotamus in its habits, which is what Toxodon is known to have been.

Reconstruction-drawing of Toxodon, a South American species that became extinct in the eleventh millennium BC.

To my eye this looked like striking corroboration for the astroarchaeological evidence that dated Tiahuanaco to the end of the Pleistocene, and further undermined the orthodox historical chronology which made the city only 1500 years old, since Toxodon, presumably, could only have been modelled from life. It was therefore obviously a matter of some importance that no fewer that forty-six Toxodon heads had been carved into the frieze of the Gateway of the Sun.25


25 The Calendar of Tiahuanaco, pp. 47-8.

Nor was this creature’s ugly caricature confined only to the Gateway. On the contrary, Toxodon had been identified on numerous fragments of Tiahuanacan pottery. Even more convincingly, he had been portrayed in several pieces of sculpture which showed him in full three-dimensional glory.26 Moreover representations of other extinct species had been found: the species included Shelidoterium, a diurnal quadruped, and Macrauchenia, an animal somewhat larger than the modern horse, with distinctive three-toed feet.27

Such images meant that Tiahuanaco was a kind of picture-book from the past, a record of bizarre animals, now deader than the dodo, expressed in everlasting stone.

But the record-taking had come to an abrupt halt one day and darkness had descended. This, too, was recorded in stone—the Gateway of the Sun, that surpassing work of art, had never been completed. Certain unfinished aspects of the frieze made it seem probable that something sudden and dreadful had happened which had caused the sculptor, in the words of Posnansky, ‘to drop his chisel for ever’ at the moment when he was ‘putting the final touches to his work’.28

26 Tiahuanacu, III, p. 57, 133-4, and plate XCII.

27 Ibid., I, pp. 137-9; Quaternary Extinctions, pp. 64-5.

28 Tiahuanacu, II, p. 4.


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Chapter 12 - The End of the Viracochas

We saw in Chapter Ten that Tiahuanaco was originally built as a port on the shores of Lake Titicaca, when that lake was far wider and more than 100 feet deeper than it is today. Vast harbour constructions, piers and dykes (and even dumped cargoes of quarried stone at points beneath the old waterline), leave no doubt that this must have been the case.1


Indeed, according to the unorthodox estimates of Professor Posnansky, Tiahuanaco had been in active use as a port as early as 15,000 BC, the date he proposed for the construction of the Kalasasaya, and had continued to serve as such for approximately another five thousand years, during which great expanse of time its position in relation to the shore of Lake Titicaca hardly changed.2

Throughout this epoch the principal harbour of the port city was located several hundred meters south-west of the Kalasasaya at a site now known as Puma Punku (literally, the Puma Gate). Here Posnansky’s excavations revealed two artificially dredged docks on either side of:

‘a true and magnificent pier or wharf ... where hundreds of ships could at the same time take on and unload their heavy burdens’.3

One of the construction blocks from which the pier had been fashioned still lay on site and weighed an estimated 440 tons.4 Numerous others weighed between 100 and 150 tons.5 Furthermore, many of the biggest monoliths had clearly been joined to each other by I-shaped metal clamps. In the whole of South America, I knew, this masonry technique had been found only on Tiahuanacan structures.6


The last time I had seen the characteristic notched depressions which proved its use had been on ruins on the island of Elephantine in the Nile in Upper Egypt.7

1 Tiahuanacu, II, p. 156ff; III, p. 196.
2 Ibid., I, p. 39: ‘An extensive series of canals and hydraulic works, dry at present, but which are all in communication with the former lake bed, are just so many more proofs of the extension of the lake as far as Tiahuanacu in this period.’

3 Ibid., II, p. 156.

4 Bolivia, p. 158.

5 The Ancient Civilizations of Peru, p. 93.

6 Ibid.
7 For example on the paving blocks above the Nilometer at Elepantine Island, Aswan. I am indebted to US film maker Robert Gardner for pointing this similarity out to me.

12,000 years ago, when Lake Titicaca was more than 100 feet deeper than it is today,

Tiahuanaco would have been an island, as shown above.

Equally thought-provoking was the appearance of the symbol of the cross on many of these ancient blocks. Recurring again and again, particularly at the northern approach to Puma Punku, this symbol always took the same form: a double crucifix with pure clean lines, perfectly balanced and harmonious, deeply recessed into the hard grey stone.


Even according to orthodox historical chronology these crosses were not less than 1500 years old. In other words, they had been carved here, by a people with absolutely no knowledge of Christianity, a full millennium before the arrival of the first Spanish missionaries on the Altiplano.

Where, come to that, had the Christians obtained their crosses? Not only from the shape of the structure to which Jesus Christ was nailed, I thought, but from some much older source as well. Hadn’t the Ancient Egyptians, for example, used a hieroglyph very like a cross (the ankh, or crux ansata) to symbolize life ... the breath of life ... eternal life itself?8 Had that symbol originated in Egypt, or had it perhaps occurred elsewhere, earlier still?


8 The Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt ed. Margaret Burson, Facts on File, New York and Oxford, 1991, p. 23.

With such ideas chasing one another around my head, I walked slowly around Puma Punku. The extensive perimeter, which formed a rectangle several hundred feet long, outlined a low pyramidal hill, much overgrown with tall grass. Dozens and dozens of hulking blocks lay scattered in all directions, tossed like matchsticks, Posnansky argued, in the terrible natural disaster that had overtaken Tiahuanaco during the eleventh millennium BC:

This catastrophe was caused by seismic movements which resulted in an overflow of the waters of Lake Titicaca and in volcanic eruptions ... It is also possible that the temporary increase in the level of the lake may have been caused in part by the breaking of the bulwarks on some of the lakes further to the north and situated at a greater altitude ... thus releasing the waters which descended toward Lake Titicaca in onrushing and unrestrainable torrents.9

Posnansky’s evidence that a flood had been the agent of the destruction of Tiahuanaco included,

The discovery of lacustrine flora, Paludestrina culminea, and Paludestrina andecola, Ancylus titicacensis, Planorbis titicacensis, etc., mixed in the alluvia with the skeletons of human beings who perished in the cataclysm ... and the discovery of various skeletons of Orestias, fish of the family of the present bogas, in the same alluvia which contain the human remains ...10

In addition, fragments of human and animal skeletons had been found lying,

in chaotic disorder among wrought stones, utensils, tools and an endless variety of other things. All of this has been moved, broken and accumulated in a confused heap. Anyone who would dig a trench here two meters deep could not deny that the destructive force of water, in combination with brusque movements of the earth, must have accumulated those different kinds of bones, mixing them with pottery, jewels, tools and utensils ... Layers of alluvium cover the whole field of the ruins and lacustrine sand mixed with shells from Titicaca, decomposed feldspar and volcanic ashes have accumulated in the places surrounded by walls ...11

It had been a terrible catastrophe indeed that had overwhelmed Tiahuanaco. And if Posnansky was right, it took place more than 12,000 years ago. Thereafter, though the flood waters subsided,

‘the culture of the Altiplano did not again attain a high point of development but fell rather into a total and definitive decadence’.12

9 Tiahuanacu, I, p. 55.

10 Ibid., I, p. 39.
11 Ibid., III, pp. 142-3.
12 Ibid., I, p. 57.
13 Ibid., I, p. 56, and II, p. 96.

Struggle and abandonment
This process was hastened by the fact that the earthquakes which had caused Lake Titicaca to engulf Tiahuanaco were only the first of many upheavals in the area. These initially resulted in the lake swelling and overflowing its banks but they soon began to have the opposite effect, slowly reducing Titicaca’s depth and surface area. As the years passed, the lake continued to drain inch by inch, marooning the great city, remorselessly separating it from the waters which had previously played such a vital role in its economic life.

At the same time, there was evidence that the climate of the Tihuanaco area had become colder and much less favourable for the growing of crops than had previously been the case,13 so much less favourable that today staples such as maize cannot ripen properly and even potatoes come out of the ground stunted.14

Although it was difficult to piece together all the different elements of the complex chain of events that had occurred, it seemed that ‘a period of calm had followed the critical moment of seismic disturbance’ which had temporarily flooded Tiahuanaco.15 Then, slowly but surely,

‘the climate worsened and became inclement. Finally there ensued mass emigrations of the Andean peoples towards locations where the struggle for life would not be so arduous.’16

It seems that the highly civilized inhabitants of Tiahuanaco, remembered in local traditions as ‘the Viracocha people’, had not gone without a struggle. There was puzzling evidence from all over the Altiplano that agricultural experiments of an advanced and scientific nature had been carried out, with great ingenuity and dedication, to try to compensate for the deterioration of the climate. For example, recent research has demonstrated that astonishingly sophisticated analyses of the chemical compositions of many poisonous high-altitude plants and tubers had been undertaken by somebody in this region in the furthest antiquity.


Such analyses, furthermore, had been coupled with the invention of detoxification techniques which had rendered these otherwise nutritious vegetables harmless and edible.17 There was as yet ‘no satisfactory explanation for the development of these detoxification processes’, admitted David Brow-man, associate professor of Anthropology at Washington University.18

14 Quoted in Earth in Upheaval, citing Sir Clemens Markham, pp. 75-6.

15 Tiahuanacu, III, p. 147.

16 Ibid.
17 David L. Browman, ‘New Light on Andean Tiahuanaco’, in American Scientist, volume 69, 1981, pp. 410-12.

18 Ibid., p. 410. According to Browman:

‘Plant domestication in the Altiplano required the simultaneous development of detoxifying techniques. The majority of the plants [which were in regular use in ancient Tiahuanaco] contain significant levels of toxins in an untreated state. For example, the potato species that are most resistant to frost and that grow best at high altitudes also contain the highest levels of glycoalkaloid solanine. In addition, the potato contains an inhibitor for a wide range of digestive enzymes necessary for breaking down proteins—a particularly unfortunate trait at high altitudes where differential partial oxygen pressure already impairs the chemistry of protein breakdown ...’

The detoxification technique developed at Tiahuanaco to make these potatoes edible also had a preservative effect. Indeed, each of these two important qualities was a by-product of the other.

‘Altiplano farmers’, explains Browman, ‘have, for several thousand years produced the freeze-dried potato, or ch’uno, by a process of freezing, leaching, and sun drying. The initial explanation for this process was that it produced a food product that could be stored for long periods of time ... six years or more ... But we can now suggest another rationale. Leaching and sun-drying are necessary to remove the majority of the solanine and to lower excessive nitrate levels, and the subsequent cooking of freeze-dried products destroys the inhibitors of digestive enzymes. Rather than arguing that freeze-drying was motivated only by a desire to produce a secure food base, one could hold that this technology was mandatory to make the potato available as a usable nutritive source. Both factors are clearly present.

‘The other plants identified as early domesticates at the Titicaca sites have similar levels of toxins, and all require the use of various detoxification techniques to make them suitable for human consumption. Oca has significant amounts of oxalates; quinoa and canihua have high levels of hydrocyanic acid and the alkaloid saponin; amaranth is a nitrate accumulator and has high levels of oxalates; tarwi contains the poisonous alkaloid lupinine; beans contain varying levels of the cyanogenetic glycoside phaseolunatin; and so on ... In some cases the detoxifying procedures serendipitously result in an end-product that has excellent storage features, multiplying the beneficial effects of the technology. Where the detoxification technology does not have this added effect—for example, in the case of quinoa, amaranth and tarwi—the plants generally already have excellent natural storage characteristics. There is as yet no satisfactory explanation for the development of these detoxification processes ...’

‘New Light on Andean Tiahuanaco’

Likewise, in the same ancient period, somebody as yet unidentified by scholarship went to great lengths to build raised fields on the newly exposed lands that had so recently been under the waters of the lake—a procedure which created characteristic corrugated strips of alternately high and low ground.


It was not until the 1960s that the original function of these undulating patterns of earthen platforms and shallow canals was correctly worked out. Still visible today, and known as waru waaru by the local Indians, they proved to be part of a complex agricultural design, perfected in prehistoric times, which had the ability ‘to out-perform modern farming techniques’.19


19 At the heart of the system were,

‘the earthen platforms about 3 feet high, 30-300 feet long and 10-30 feet wide. These elevated earthworks are separated by canals of similar dimensions and built out of the excavated soil. Over time the platforms were periodically fertilized with organic silt and nitrogen-rich algae scooped from the bottom of the canals during the dry season. Even today ... the sediment in the old canals is much richer in nutrients than the soil of the surrounding plains.


‘But the platform-canal system was not merely a way of enriching infertile ground. It also appears to have created a climate that both extended the high-altitude growing season and helped crops survive hard times. During the area’s frequent periods of drought, for example, the canals provided vital moisture, while the higher level of the platforms raised plants above the worst effects of the region’s frequent floods. Moreover the canal water may have acted as a kind of thermal storage battery absorbing the sun’s heat during the day and radiating it back into the freezing night, to create a blanket of relatively warm air over the growing plants.’

Feats and Wisdom of the Ancients, pp. 56-7.

In recent years some of the raised fields were reconstructed by archaeologists and agronomists. These experimental plots consistently yielded three times more potatoes than even the most productive conventional plots. Likewise, during one particularly cold spell, a severe frost ‘did little damage to the experimental fields’. The following year the crops on the elevated platforms survived an equally ruinous drought:

‘then later rode high and dry through a flood that swamped surrounding farmlands’.

Indeed this simple but effective agricultural technique, invented by a culture so ancient that no one today could even remember its name, had proved such a success in rural Bolivia that it had attracted the attention of governmental and international development agencies and was now under test in several other parts of the world as well.20


20 Ibid.


An artificial language
Another possible legacy of Tiahuanaco, and of the Viracochas, lay embedded in the language spoken by the local Aymara Indians—a language regarded by some specialists as the oldest in the world.21

In the 1980s Ivan Guzman de Rojas, a Bolivian computer scientist, accidentally demonstrated that Aymara might be not only very ancient but, significantly, that it might be a ‘made-up’ language—something deliberately and skillfully designed. Of particular note was the seemingly artificial character of its syntax, which was rigidly structured and unambiguous to an extent thought inconceivable in normal ‘organic’ speech.22


This synthetic and highly organized structure meant that Aymara could easily be transformed into a computer algorithm to be used to translate one language into another:

‘The Aymara Algorithm is used as a bridge language. The language of an original document is translated into Aymara and then into any number of other languages.’23

21 Evan Hadingham, Lines to the Mountain Gods, Harrap, London, 1987, p. 34.
22 ‘Aymara is rigorous and simple—which means that its syntactical rules always apply, and can be written out concisely in the sort of algebraic shorthand that computers understand. Indeed, such is its purity that some historians think it did not just evolve, like other languages, but was actually constructed from scratch.’ Sunday Times, London, 4 November 1984.
23 M. Belts, ‘Ancient Language may Prove Key to Translation System’, Computerworld, vol. IX, No. 8, 25 February 1985, p. 30.

  • Was it just coincidence that an apparently artificial language governed by a computer-friendly syntax should be spoken today in the environs of Tiahuanaco?

  • Or could Aymara be a legacy of the high learning that legend attributed to the Viracochas?

  • If so, what other legacies might there be?

  • What other incomplete fragments of an old and forgotten wisdom might be lying scattered around—fragments which had perhaps contributed to the richness and diversity of many of the cultures that had evolved in this region during the 10,000 years before the conquest?

  • Perhaps it was the possession of fragments like these that had made possible the drawing of the Nazca lines and enabled the predecessors of the Incas to build the ‘impossible’ stone walls at Machu Picchu and Sacsayhuaman?



The image I could not get out of my mind was of the Viracocha people leaving, ‘walking on the waters’ of the Pacific Ocean, or ‘going miraculously’ by sea as so many of the legends told.

Where had these seafarers been going? What had their objective been? And why, come to think of it, had they made such dogged efforts to stay in Tiahuanaco for so long before admitting defeat and moving on? What had they been trying to achieve there that had been so important to them?

After several weeks work on the Altiplano, travelling back and forth between La Paz and Tiahuanaco, it became clear that neither the otherworldly ruins nor the libraries of the capital were going to provide me with any further answers. Indeed, in Bolivia at least, the trail seemed to have gone cold.

It was not until I reached Mexico, 2000 miles north, that I picked up its traces again.


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