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A low-altitude aerial view of a section of the holes.

Were the Mysterious Band of Holes in Peru Used for Inca Tax Collection?

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A new hypothesis has come forward to try to explain the mysterious band of shallow holes found in the Pisco Valley in southern Peru. Researchers have been stumped for years by their purpose and their creators, but the answer may have finally arrived– Inca taxes.

Archaeology magazine says that Charles Stanish, an expert on Andean cultures at the University of California, Los Angeles and his colleague Henry Tantaleán had their interest in the Band of Holes (also known as the site of Monte Sierpe) sparked two years ago when a man from Pittsburgh questioned Stanish about possible alien involvement in the creation of the holes. Stanish was not familiar with the site, but after he and Tantaleán took a look at it via Google Earth, they decided it was an area of interest.

The Band of Holes is composed of some 7000 holes in a band about 20 meters (65 feet) wide that extend for several miles in straight lines and curved rows over uneven mountain surfaces in the Nazca Plateau. Individual holes measure on average a half a meter (25 inches) in diameter and depth varies from less than a foot to two to three meters (six to seven feet) deep. A row has between nine to 12 pits. The best way the Band of Holes can be seen is with an aerial view.

The Band of Holes, in the Pisco Valley, Southern Peru

The Band of Holes, in the Pisco Valley, Southern Peru. (Facebook/Archaeology Magazine)

Ars Technica.UK states that the first modern-day record of the Band of Holes comes from an aerial photograph taken in 1931. Local people have obviously been aware of the site for much longer, but archaeologists have taken less interest in the Band of Holes than its famous neighbor on the Nazca Plateau – the iconic Nazca Lines. Nonetheless, the increasing use of satellite imagery has recently increased attention to the Band of Lines as well.

A 1931 aerial photograph is the first known documentation of Monte Sierpe, aka the “Band of Holes.”

A 1931 aerial photograph is the first known documentation of Monte Sierpe, aka the “Band of Holes.” (American Museum of Natural History)

In Stanish and Tantaleán’s report for Backdirt, The Strange Site of Monte Sierpe (“Band of Holes”) in the Pisco Valley, Peru, they propose their hypothesis for the holes. At first they saw a possibility for the holes being linked to mining, however they later found a connection between the holes and the Inca civilization. Evidence came in the form of a small amount of Late Horizon pottery and a gully they saw alongside the band – which they associated with an Inca-style roadbed. They also noted an Inca storeroom known as a colca, which is what led them to suggest that the holes were used as “a dropoff point for Inca food tributes.”

The mysterious holes of Pisco Valley, Peru.

The mysterious holes of Pisco Valley, Peru. (CC BY 3.0)

As Ars Technica.UK says:

“While ancient cities in other empires had dramatic marketplaces at their centers, Inca cities had vast colcas. Food and textiles were provided to members of the Inca state from these storehouses. The floors of many colcas look like graph paper—they've been carefully divided into mathematically precise boxes for measuring tribute brought from all over the empire.”

Apparently Stanish saw a strong resemblance between the colca floor patterns and the Band of Holes. Stanish and Tantaleán write:

“The curious nature of the different kinds of construction of the holes is now understandable as a means of accounting for different groups and possibly different kinds of goods. Each segment, we suggest, belonged to different tax-paying groups, most likely kin and territorial groups called ayllu.”

A close-up of a segmented section of the band, illustrating the patterning in the hole placements.

A close-up of a segmented section of the band, illustrating the patterning in the hole placements. (Luis Jaime Castillo)

Furthermore, Stanish and Tantaleán suggest that young men working for the Inca empire could have been those responsible for the digging of the holes, they believe that the process would not have been that difficult:

“With a pre-Hispanic technology of stone picks and foot plows, one young man could dig or construct one of these holes easily in about two or three hours on average. Digging holes into the mounded surfaces would have gone even faster.”

A close-up look at one of the pits in the Band of Holes.

A close-up look at one of the pits in the Band of Holes. (Charles Stanish)

However, this new hypothesis is not the only reason that has been provided for the Band of Holes. Some of the other hypotheses have included: standing burials, grain storage, defense, trail marking, water collection, and messages to the gods (or from aliens/ancient astronauts). However, the lack of artifacts that have been found near the site has made it extremely difficult to pinpoint the exact purpose. As William James Veall wrote in August 2015: “To date the site has revealed no real artifactual evidence whatsoever—just a path of empty holes excavated into a limestone escarpment for no apparent rhyme or reason.”

Certainly, Stanish and Tantaleán’s discovery of some pottery may be able to help in understanding the Band of Holes and positive results for plants in soil testing may be able to further bolster their hypotheses. However, their proposal for the pits’ use in tax/tribute collection is currently just one of many possible explanations, as researchers continue to try to decipher the hidden meaning of the Band of Holes.

Featured Image: A low-altitude aerial view of a section of the holes. Source: Luis Jaime Castillo

By Alicia McDermott



hhehn's picture

In the Canary Islands they build holes that are exactly the same for horticultural purposes – specifically viniculture. They plant their vines in them. These holes protect the vines from wind and preserve precious water as well. The Island of Lanzarote has a substantial wine industry.

Alicia McDermott's picture

Hi Tom,

This report on khipus (quipus) has an image of a qullqa floor at Inkawasi in the Cañete Valley: The picture is on page 525 and information describing it is from 524-526.



If anyone has a link to a photo of the graphlike floor of one of these colca storerooms, please post it.  I have tried the google, but just get Colca Valley and no images of store rooms.  Thanks.

Sounds like the checkered floor of the freemasons.

Tom Carberry

Alicia McDermott's picture


Alicia McDermott holds degrees in Anthropology, Psychology, and International Development Studies and has worked in various fields such as education, anthropology, and tourism. Traveling throughout Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, and Ecuador, Alicia has focused much of her research on Andean cultures... Read More

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