Sayhuite Monolith: Can You Solve the Mystery of the 200 Designs Carved by a Forgotten Creator?
Long ago, forgotten artists put their blood, sweat, and possibly even tears into creating more than 200 designs on a monolith in what is now Peru. They carefully engraved the forms of reptiles, felines, shellfish, and frogs and then surrounded the sacred animals with terraces, ponds, river, tunnels, and irrigation canals. The exact purpose and meaning behind these features remains a mystery.
Sayhuite is a pre-Columbian archaeological site located in Abancay, a province in the southern-central Peruvian region of Apurímac. This site has been dated to the period of the Inca Empire, which flourished between the 15th and 16th centuries AD. Compared to other Incan sites, little has been left from the time of the Incas at Sayhuite. The most noteworthy object at Sayhuite is the Sayhuite Monolith, a mysterious boulder with lots of little carvings on it.
The Sayhuite monolith. (Public Domain)
The name ‘Sayhuite’ is said to have its origins in the Quechua word ‘saywayta’, which translates as ‘place of orientation’. Located on the top of a terraced hill called Concacha, the site was once home to an enclosed sanctuary. All that remains of this sanctuary today is its raised platform, on which the Sayhuite Monolith may be found. According to some scholars, this site was one of the four sanctuary oracles of Apurimac, known also as the ‘sons’ of Pachacamac. There is, however, at present, a lack of archaeological evidence to establish the veracity of this claim.
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Sayhuite Archaeological site (overview). (AgainErick/CC BY SA 3.0)
The Sayhuite Monolith is not the only carved stone in the area. In the valley below the site, there are a group of carved boulders known collectively as Rumihuasi (which means ‘stone house’). The carvings on the Rumihuasi monolith may be described as geometric, and consists of either steps and / or canals. The Sayhuite Monolith, on the other hand, contains not only carvings that are geometric in design, but also zoomorphic ones. Therefore, whilst it is not the only carved rock in the area, it is undeniably the most unique one.
The Sayhuite Monolith measures about 2 meters () in length, and 4 meters () in width. Although the stone may be found today on the raised platform on top of Concacha, scholars are not certain as to where it might have originally been placed. As the monolith is not a natural rock outcrop, it may have been transported there. The boulder seems to have been moved, perhaps by looters, sometime in the past. Apart from the question of its original location, scholars are also unsure as to who made this object.
In any event, the Sayhuite Monolith has attracted much attention thanks to its carvings. On the upper surface of the monolith, one may observe over 200 zoomorphic and geometric figures. The majority of the former are said to represent reptiles, felines, shellfish, and frogs. Some scholars have argued that the choice of these animals has a symbolic meaning that would have been comprehended by the Incas. For example, the felines may have been a reference to the Incan capital, Cuzco, and its elite, especially Pachacuti, the ninth Sapa Inca, and the first ruler of the Inca Empire.
Drawing showing the zoomorphic and geometric figures on the Sayhuite monolith. (Maestroviejo)
Interpreting the Designs on the Monolith
Apart from zoomorphic figures, there are also geometric carvings on the monolith. These have been interpreted as representations of terraces, ponds, river, tunnels, and irrigation canals. If this were the case, then it may be said that the stone represented a scale model of the landscape. Some have even taken this interpretation further by suggesting that the Sayhuite Monolith was used as a topographic model for hydraulics. According to this theory, the monolith was used by the ancient Incan engineers as a model to experiment and observe the flow of water, which would then be implemented in public water projects. Moreover, such a model could have been used as a pedagogic tool for other engineers and technicians in this trade.
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Others, however, have suggested that the Sayhuite Monolith was used for a religious / ritualistic purpose. It has been speculated that the Sayhuite Monolith may have served as a model of the universe, or was related to a cult centered on water. There are many natural springs nearby, and it has been theorized that if rituals were conducted at the site, they may have been associated with the channeling of water, and the procurement of rains.
In any case, however, the Sayhuite Monolith remains an intriguing mystery, and no doubt people will continue to speculate about it, form its creators to its function, for years to come.
Top image: The Sayhuite Monolith. Source: AgainErick/CC BY SA 3.0
By Wu Mingren
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