The origin and purpose of these four lesser-known wonders of Pre-Columbian cultures continue to keep experts and enthusiasts mystified.
As international publications would have it, Peru’s history is often summed up with mention of Machu Picchu, the Inca culture and not much else. But so many preceding cultures have played a major role in making Peru the diverse nation it is today.
Here are four lesser-known pre-Columbian wonders in Peru.
Chullpas are commonly believed to be funerary towers that pre-Columbian civilizations across the Andes built in order to honor important beings across the ages. The most famous mounds are located on the shores of Lake Titicaca. This is where you’ll find the archaeological site of the Chullpas of Sillustani, where some of the largest towers, rising over 12 meters high. But there are many other chullpas, mostly located within the Altiplano of Bolivia and Peru.
But according to local lore, chullpas were built for strange and unknown Andean races that have since disappeared. One of these races is known as the Urus people. It’s said that this was an ancient race of human beings who were three or four meters tall. According to many local myths, this explains why many were built to such an enormous height.
Other local legends tell of a race of humans who, instead of being giants, were dwarfs. It’s said that these extinct beings were actually the most important wisdom-carriers from ancient times. According to the story, with the arrival of the Spanish, the last beings of this race retreated into hermitude, making the chullpas as their homes. This, according to the story, explains why so many of the chullpas have doorways that are not large enough for the average human to pass through.
2. Khipus: Pre-Columbian record keeping
Khipus were the ancient Andean way of record keeping. And, until recently, very little was known about these strange stringed devices filled with knots. But thanks to the work of researchers over the past decade, we now have a clearer idea about the primary purposes of khipus.
Gary Urton is one such researcher whose investigations have shed light on the use of the khipus. He spent more than a decade excavating and analyzing a trove of more than 200 strands that lied buried inside of tombs at the Laguna de los Condores in Chachapoyas.
These were the first preserved khipus to ever be found within the Andes and helped researchers to piece together a narrative for what these strands might have been used for. Not long after this, a new story grabbed headlines, about a US college student who successfully decoded the actual language of the khipus.
Despite these recent discoveries, there are many mysteries about the pre-Columbian khipus that we do not understand. Most people believe that within each khipu were specific messages, communicated by the styles of knots that are tied on the strings, the color, and by the thickness and type of strand.
These mysterious pre-Columbian circular terraces located in the Sacred Valley bring thousands of tourists every year. And despite the claim by many guidebooks that the mystery of these ruins are now solved, there are still many unexplained questions about these fascinating Inca constructions.
The conventional opinion is that the circles of Moray were created as an agricultural research station so that the Inca could explore the impacts that altitude had on farming. But there are many researchers who question this assertion, pointing out that it would not have been feasible to farm on the terraces. This mystery is far from solved.
4. Kotosh: The Temple of the Crossed Hands
Largely believed to be a ceremonial center and a pilgrimage site (located in Huanuco, Peru), pre-Columbian civilizations of the Americas continuously inhabited the site for almost 1,200 years. The most important feature of this site is an engraving that features two arms crossed over one another at 90-degree angles. Many people interpret the crossed hands to be a symbol connected to the chakana, or the ancient Andean cross which was inspired by the Southern Cross, a distinguishing constellation visible in the Southern hemisphere.
Since Kotosh was probably an ancient pilgrimage center and meeting point for many civilizations across the Americas, these pre-Columbian archaeological remains of this site could help us to understand more about many ancient cultures. Unfortunately, many of the ruins at this site are not well preserved. Find out more about Kotash here.
Cover photo: Arup Malakar/Flickr
This article has been updated from its original publication in 2019.
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