By Dave Truman | GrahamHancock.com
In the 1970s the Dutch-Peruvian mathematician, Maria Sholten D’Ebneth wrote a book in which she claimed to have discovered, or rediscovered, an alignment of pre-Columbian sacred sites stretching from the ancient city of Tiwanaku (Tiahuanaco) in Bolivia to north of the city of Cajamarca in northern Peru. The alignment appeared to be on a celestial scale and covered a distance of around 1,000 miles (1,600 km), cutting across some of the highest mountains and steepest gradients in the entire world. The mathematician found that the alignment had a precise orientation of exactly 45° west from True North, following the twin parallel lines of the Andean peaks that lie to the north of the 18th parallel.
Published only in Spanish, and now out of print even in that language, Sholten D’Ebneth’s, La Ruta de Wiracocha (The Way of Viracocha)icontains a wealth of information hardly known to the English-speaking world. The alignment’s association with Viracocha, the great Andean creator god, teacher and civiliser of humankind, is a highly significant one. Many legends concerning the feats of Viracocha speak of his undertaking a journey, from the city of Tiwanaku towards the Northwest, eventually to leave the shores of South America’s Pacific coast around the present day border between Peru and Ecuador. Viracocha’s legendary journey, Sholten D’Ebneth revealed, corresponded with her own geometrical discovery of the alignment of many of the most ancient and sacred sites in the Andes, including the famous ones at Cusco (Cuzco), Ollantaytambo and, of course, the great and mysterious complex of Tiwanaku (Tiahuanaco).
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Andean landscape and geometry
The many megalithic sites along the Way of Viracocha have long given rise to theories and speculations about who built them and to controversies about when they were built. At this juncture, it is perhaps worth pondering the sheer technical challenge of surveying this vast alignment across some of the most rugged, remote and mountainous terrain on earth. Indeed, my own research and that of others, indicate that the alignment could extend beyond Tiwanaku.
When I plotted the Route of Viracocha, I had the benefit of using software such as Google Earth® and Marble. These programs enabled me to employ a spherical projection of the whole globe, rather than the “flat” Mercator Projection apparently used in previous decades. As we will see later, using this map projection yielded rather different results from those of some earlier researchers. This became evident when I extended Sholten D’Ebneth’s alignment beyond Tiwanaku towards the Southeast. If my findings are correct, it implies that whoever surveyed the Way of Viracocha, not only had an understanding of the earth’s curvature, but also understood the principles of spherical trigonometry.iiIt is equally likely that those who undertook this work knew the dimensions of the Earth. The question then arose in my mind: could it be that Viracocha, the great teacher and restorer of civilisation in the Andes, in some way embodied the scientific knowledge of a sophisticated, but long forgotten high culture?
Some geological considerations
Another curiosity struck me as I pondered various maps of South America. The very topography of the Andes seems to coincide with the 45° geometry of Sholten D’Ebneth’s rediscovery. It is almost as if whoever first conceived of the alignment had wanted to emphasise the 45° NW orientation of the stupendous panorama of summits and high plateaux that lie to the north of the Andean 18th parallel. At the southern end of the great alignment, the direction of the two chains of rugged peaks changes dramatically. This is the Andes’ widest point and, from following a diagonal from northwest to southeast, the mountains veer sharply due south. This latitude – almost exactly 18° south of the Equator – marks the northernmost edge of what is known as El Cono Sur; South America’s great continental cone that tapers southwards towards Antarctica.
South of the 18° latitude the chemical composition of the high plateau, or altiplano separating the parallel chains of mountains, is extremely salty. Southern Bolivia’s mountain plateau is speckled with saline lakes and salt flats that stretch down as far as the provinces of Salta and Córdoba in northern Argentina. They are the lingering and still evaporating vestiges of the vast Lake Tauca that had once covered the entire length of the Andean plateau at the end of the last Ice Age. Geological convention has it that the lakes and salt flats are simply the remnants of glaciers that melted gradually in the transition to our modern era, known to geologists as the Holocene. However, glacier melt-water alone cannot explain the presence of such high levels of salt on the altiplano’s southernmost reaches.
The marked differences in the concentrations of salt present in the various pockets of water on the Andes also interested the great Austrian-Bolivian researcher Arthur Posnansky. He spent almost fifty years systematically studying the geology and archaeology of Tiwanaku and its surrounding landscape. He took samples from numerous lakes on the altiplano and compared them with the waters trapped in the lakes of the high peaks, or Cordilleras, running along either side. Curiously, he found that the water from lakes in the higher mountains generally contained relatively little salt, whereas many of those from the Altiplano below had much higher concentrations. Posnansky came to the view that there had been several floods at the end of the last Ice Age in the Andes. Perhaps most significantly, he concluded that the earlier inundations had been of seawater; followed later by fresh water floods when the glaciers melted some time afterwards.iii
As we shall see later, further clues as to what really happened at the end of the last Ice Age may be found in the legends of the Aymará people living in the remote villages dotted around the southern altiplano in the Bolivian province of Oruro. Of course, in order to accept these legends as evidence, we must first accept that there has been some degree of cultural continuity between some 12,800 years ago and the present time. Intriguingly, some Aymará legends tell of a far more catastrophic and complex sequence of events in those remote times than the slow and steady melting of glaciers. A deeper understanding of such legends could help us to fathom why there is just so much salt present on one of the world’s highest mountain plateaux, at around two and a half miles (4 kilometres) above the level of the neighbouring Pacific Ocean.
The minds of Ice Age people: “primitive,” or just very different from our own?
The possibility that people in the Andes as far back as the last Ice Age were skilled in surveying, knew the dimensions of the Earth and could employ spherical trigonometry is intriguing enough in itself. For me, it raises questions as to whether humanity’s existence in the Pleistocene (Ice Age) really did consist exclusively of small very isolated bands of hunter-gatherers who were clinging on for dear life against all odds, and who developed sophisticated achievements only after the slow and steady transition to warmer times. The standard view of human endeavours in this period allows no time or inclination on the part of our ancestors to cultivate what we may now think of as higher learning. Still less does it admit to the possibility that people could travel long distances around the world, conceive of complex ideas collectively, or undertake projects on a vast scale. What if life in most of the last Ice Age, at least for some people, was very different from what we’ve been led to think? There is now mounting geological evidence of two catastrophic punctuations at the very end of the last period glaciation. These were on such a scale that they could quite easily have obliterated most of any human achievements that may have existed prior to their impact.
Yet the question remained as to why anyone should even want to exert so much effort and energy in constructing megalithic sites that aligned over such a vast distance. If this was higher learning, it was not produced by anything like our modern western education system – that is for certain. I am starting to realise that we in the modern West invariably stick our own cultural labels of “religion,” “progress,” “function,” “survival” or of whatever else on to the remnants of the past in order to fashion ancient peoples into our own image. We have almost no idea if our Pleistocene ancestors thought the way we do, but we readily assume this to be the case. I started to realise just how much their minds may have been different from ours when I considered the geometry of the Way of Viracocha. What is distinct about this great alignment is that its features correspond, geometrically speaking, to those of its mountainous environment. Equally, as we have just seen, it displays a close relationship to the orientation of the Andes lying to the north of the 18th parallel.
I found another clue to this different mode of thinking when I noticed how the Milky Way seems to shift its position across the sky throughout the Andean year from our earthly perspective. Put simply, the great celestial river is not fixed rigidly in the heavens; its angle and position appear to change, as and when the Earth’s seasons down below do. In the season culminating in the December southern summer solstice, the Galaxy traces the exact same NW-SE path through the heavens as does the Way of Viracocha and, of course, as do the Andes. Without doubt, the December solstice was an important time in the high mountains and plateaux, marking as it did – and still does – the cardinal point of the rainy season. This was so necessary for the growth of crops and the stimulation of new life. We would be mistaken, however, if we confined our thoughts about this deliberate synchronisation of Heaven and Earth to agriculture alone. The sheer effort involved in constructing the Way of Viracocha, which must have been undertaken over many years, argues strongly against this. At this stage in my investigation, I needed to keep in mind questions as to why these people should have made all of this effort, as much as to how they had set about the task.
It seemed that the Hermetic dictum of As Above, So Below applied equally to the world-view of those who conceived of this great enterprise as it did in Egypt, Arizona, Southeast Asia, or in a plethora of other places across the world. There are, in fact, tangible relics that attest to the ancient Andean shaman-astronomers’ profound understanding of the symmetry of Heaven and Earth, but they are rarely recognised as such by the adherents of conventional archaeology. The builders of ancient Tiwanaku employed an architectural convention known as anticefalo(literally “head against head”). You would be hard put to find examples of this if you visit its ruins today, but specimens do exist in the Archaeological Museum in the city of La Paz. Anticefalos usually depict a stylised relief carving of a human form on the bottom part of a stone column. Immediately above this is carved an identical figure, but inverted. The net result is a kind of mirror image of the human form, so that the tops of the heads of the two figures create the meeting point between them. The standard archaeological interpretation is that this is merely a stylistic device, but I think that it encodes a profound metaphysical principle.
Other physical relics of this ancient appreciation of the symmetry of Heaven and Earth are what I call watery star-mirrors, for want of a better term, which were used from the very earliest of times. They consisted of holes, or receptacles, that were filled with water to create a mirror image of the heavens on the water’s surface. If you are lucky enough to visit an archaeological site in the Andes possessing any of these, your tour guide will probably tell you that they were used by the ancient peoples to gaze at the stars. He or she will then promptly usher you on to look at something else. The guide’s explanation, although technically accurate, is hardly adequate and makes little sense without any cultural or functional context. In the view of the Peruvian architect and archaeo-astronomer, Carlos Millena Villena, aquatic star-mirrors were devices that enabled the Andean knowledge-keepers, known as amautas, to construct temples, geoglyphs and other sacred places in the most auspicious locations, through replicating on the earth’s surface the geometry of particular asterisms.iv They also seem to have been a technology of time as much as of astro-terrestrial geometry in that the mirrors were located facing upwards in such a way as to reflect the light of particular stars, such as Sirius, Alcyon, or the Sun, on significant dates.v
By far, most of the vast complex of Tiwanaku, which includes ruins beneath present-day Lake Titikaka – more than 12 miles (20km) from the restored part of the Metropolis – has yet to be excavated (in the 1980s, an aerial survey estimated that the ruins of the complex not currently beneath the waters of the Lake covered some 1,038 acres, or 420 hectares).vi Tiwanaku’s most recent excavations, in the little-known area called the Kantatallita, have revealed a number of immense stone slabs that look to have been cut precisely by machine tools. The workings on the face of the slabs include an array of several round and rectangular shaped recesses, which probably functioned as star-mirrors. There is no doubt that in later times the Incas used star-mirrors, but the technology was certainly employed by much earlier Andean cultures, including the unknown one that occupied the very ancient site of Pukara Grande in southern Bolivia, which features towards the end of this article.
Although its flat summit has now been scooped out by treasure hunters, Tiwanaku’s Akapana Pyramid was once the location of a large star-mirror that took the form of an Andean cross, or chakana (see below for an explanation of the significance of the chakana’s geometry). It is not beyond the bounds of reason to wonder if this, and the other star-mirrors of Tiwanaku, were used to gauge when the Milky Way overhead reached an angle of 45°, when it would have aligned with the Cordilleras that stand on each side of the great Andean Metropolis. As we know, the solstice was an important time of the year in terms of material well being, but that was just the reflection on the surface of a wider and deeper cosmological meaning. Before we examine the mirroring of the Milky Way further, it is worth mentioning a curious but related fact. The British researcher Mark Vidlervii discovered that during our present era, the heavens’ brightest star Sirius passes directly over Tiwanaku along its path in the heavens running from east to west. This could be dismissed as arbitrary and coincidental, were it not for the timing of this celestial event – at the halfway point of a precessional cycle of 25,920 years from the ending of the last Ice Age. I cannot help but wonder if those who originally surveyed and established Tiwanaku’s location were trying to tell us something about the rhythms of cataclysmic change on Earth and in the Solar System.
Again, the question arises as to why the amautas of the Andes would go to the trouble of creating star-mirrors just to study the heavens, when they could simply have looked upwards in order to do so? As we have just seen, placing star-mirrors in specific positions would have helped them to determine the timing of certain key events, but there must have been other reasons for this practice. Staring at reflective objects – such as crystal balls – for long periods of time in something known as scrying, can induce a form of autohypnosis. The fact that these watery mirrors constantly reflected the stars and planets above, by virtue of their being placed face-upwards, perhaps hints that they were used for a sophisticated form of scrying. The emerging findings of my research have led me to the view that the ancient shamans of Tiwanaku took this process a step further than this, even. In effect, star-mirrors were a kind of astro-shamanic technology that enabled human consciousness to journey beyond its physical bounds under certain special conditions.
The notion that consciousness can leave the body may seem fanciful, perhaps even preposterous, to our western post-enlightenment culture, but it is entirely consistent with how shamans believe they work. They often maintain that the non-physical world through which they journey is a mirror-image of the material one; an idea that seems to have extremely ancient roots.viii Interestingly, some modern tribal peoples, such as the Hopi of the southwestern United States, still adhere to this kind of symmetrical cosmology.ix Our contemporary western conception of the world is generally set at odds with such ideas, but they were meat and drink to those who constructed the Way of Viracocha. Indeed, these notions seem to have retained a power in the minds of those who used star-mirrors in all of the successor cultures down to the time of the Incas. For this reason alone, we should consider them with respect at the very least. Without doing so, we in the modern world cannot appreciate – let alone fully understand – the magnificence of ancient cultures beyond the bones, stones and pottery shards that they left behind them before departing to the stars.
Where the river of stars meets the wheel of time
We come now to what was probably an essential aspect of the 45° alignment, if not what all of the immense effort was principally in aid of. That the most ancient peoples, including those of the Andes, considered the soul to be immortal is something that may be thought of today as a primitive trait, especially if our values conform to the modern western materialist milieu of linear progress. For ancient peoples, however, the soul’s departure to the heavens after death was not some fable, or even a vague aspiration. Rather, it was a technical process that was associated with the Sun’s passage along the ecliptic to where it crossed the celestial river of the Milky Way. This was the heavenly spot where departed souls arrived at the junction between the realms of time (the ecliptic) and eternity (the Milky Way). Conversely, the same place was where returning discarnate souls entered into the realm of mutability and change, by re-joining the circular path of the ecliptic that marks the various cycles of time in the physical world. The solstices – as points along the annual path of the sun when it appears to stand still for a while – provided the gateways for the soul to pass between the world above to that below and vice-versa.x