The Mysterious Holes of Peru: A Pre-Columbian Domestic Water Source for Trans-Oceanic Travelers? Part I
No really serious attention has been paid by scientists to resolve the mystery of nearly 7000 'pits' that snake their way for almost one mile across the rugged Cajamarquilla Plain bordering the Pisco Valley of Peru, South America.
Just as with their near neighbour the famous Nasca Lines , this curiously patterned stream of cavities (pits) now attracts a plethora of theories concerning its original purpose: silos for grain storage, for water, local tribal defenses, vertical tombs in a mass graveyard - or even a coded message to the Sky Gods! 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. No tools have been found, no skeletons or bones, no potsherds or textiles—nothing.
However, the ‘pits’ are extremely interesting. Around 7000 have been excavated into a band some 20 meters wide (65 feet), each hole averaging half a meter in diameter (25 inches). Some pits are set in near perfect straight lines, some in curved rows. Each row averages between nine and 12 cavities. Again, as with the Nasca Lines, only from aerial photographs can you truly observe the unique and deliberately precise nature of the elaboration.
Screenshot from Google Maps showing long band of holes.
There are very distinct types of indent. The larger have a deliberate brick-like construction some two to three meters (six to seven feet) depth. Others are quite shallow 'scoops'; wide rimmed and generally not more than a foot deep. Where the band terminates at its southern end there are two, 24 meter diameter (70 feet) pits, now filled with debris. I am given to understand there are at least another half a dozen of similar size close by.
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The mysterious holes of Pisco Valley, Peru. (CC BY 3.0)
I first became aware of the "Peruvian Holes" shortly after I discovered the Temple of the Sacred Lamb in the High Andes Mountains. I believed that whoever constructed the huge temple complex might have chosen the Pisco River Valley as a natural route to the mountainous retreat from the Pacific Ocean.
My curiosity was also aroused by a local report that a huge bull's head effigy, which according to local legend, “had been there forever,” was to be found high up on a cliff-side, just 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) east of Pisco town.
If absolutely genuine and of great age, I hoped to reconstruct a chronological time frame based upon the bull effigy, the Temple of the Sacred Lamb , and the huge, third to fourth century BC Phoenician inscription I had uncovered within the Nasca Lines.
The mysterious band of holes are on the exact Pisco Valley route to the interior. Was there any connection? Little did I realize at the time just how strong this connection would be.
The maritime nation of Minoans worshipped the bull. Likewise, the Phoenicians worshipped the goddess Astarte, who was often symbolized in the form of a bull. The Phoenician god, El Baal, was also depicted in the image of a bull. Later, bull worship was continued by the Greeks. Bull worship was in fact traditional among many ancient civilizations.
My immediate thoughts compared the ‘holes’ scenario with the desertification that had confronted the Nasca Region circa AD 690. The local Chincha region, also part of the Atacama Desert, must have suffered the same hardships as the Nasca due to lack of a regular water supply. At Chincha even occasional, heavy, high-altitude storms, interspersed with local light rains, would have only provided a short term solution.
A water collection, filtration, storage and supply system, to provide large quantities of fresh clean water which could be stored over the long term for domestic and agricultural purposes, was essential. One may never know the original carrying capacity of this mile-long reservoir, or the rate of seepage. As an estimate, if a cell held a minimum average of 5 liters (1.3 gallons) of water; 7000 cells would furnish around 35,000 liters (7700 gallons) of water per filling. Also, until a hydrological survey is carried out, we do not know if the 24 meter (79 feet) diameter pit at the southern end of the chain was intended as a spring driven reservoir or if it operated as a normal Puquio, typical of those widespread across the nearby Rio Grande de Nasca Basin.
Pre-Columbian Water Collection, Filtration, Storage and Supply System. The author's hypothetical solution for the chain of ' Mysterious Holes' located near Pisco, Peru, South America. (© William James Veall. October 2010)
There are a number of important issues associated with the water supply facility.
To operate as an efficient water collection/filtration device, cavities must have been cleansed of superficial debris on a regular basis, hence the reason scientists have never found any artifactual evidence. By the same token, a local labor force must have been recruited and supervised for construction and cleansing duties. In short, my humble opinion is that 'Humay' became a "Pit Stop" whereby inbound traffic, (e.g. trans-oceanic seafarers) and outward bound traffic could replenish their stocks of water. It also served to cater for local domestic and agricultural demand. With an enclave of numerous ruined buildings a little east of the holes I suspect that Humay was a thriving 'port of call' in ancient times.
So, here we have what I believe was a major consideration in constructing the massive water collection and filtration system just inland of the Pacific Coast. I believe the Pisco Valley was one of the major transit routes into and out of mainland Peru from the Pacific Ocean. The bull effigy (El Baal?) high up at the Valley entrance not only bid welcome and godspeed to the Oceanic Traders to and from their Mediterranean homeland, but the effigy was equally a typical Phoenician 'New Kingdom' frontier marker—such as at Tel Dan and the Bethel Kingdom of Israel.
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Further, at what point in time did all hydraulic activity cease, and why? This would make for an interesting project for students of ancient hydrology and geomatics. Although a water filtration, storage and supply system is my claim for the primary purpose of the band of holes, this still does not answer the question; why the elegant elaboration? To perform the function intended, holes could be in any chosen order, neat parallel rows or simply randomly disposed. With a chain of material stretching over a mile long to study, I believe I have uncovered a very logical reason for the embellishment.
In Part 2, with the aid of aerial pictures and explanatory diagrams I will demonstrate the reason behind the seemingly random disposition of the holes. I will also expose the ancients’ incredible knowledge and expertise in manipulating the effects of light and shadow to ground based petroglyphs; thus permitting imagery and inscriptions to be clearly visible at a low angular viewing distance under favorable solar and lunar light conditions. There must have been a very powerful motive to go to such lengths of artistic elegance.
William James Veall examines a large, debris filled, 'pit' at the southern end of the chain of indents known as the 'Mysterious Holes of Peru'. (© William James Veall.)
Featured image: Mile long band of mysterious and unexplained holes in Pisco Valley – Peru. (CC BY 3.0)