Road – news    December 27, 2004

Ancient Peru site older, much larger Caral, the oldest city in the Americas, is actually a much larger complex of as many as 20 cities with huge pyramids and sunken plazas sprawled over three river valleys. The society and its people — known only as the Andeans — persisted in virtually the same form for 1,200 years before they were overrun by more warlike neighbours. That is the longest time any known ancient civilization survived, according to archaeologist Jonathan Haas, who led the expedition.

Haas said people always have thought the Americas were behind Europe, Africa and Asia in terms of developing civilizations. The new dates for the region show that the two worlds developed more or less simultaneously. There are, nevertheless, major differences. They lacked pottery, which preceded stone monuments in the Middle East. They also lacked writing, art and sculpture, so they left no attractive artifacts to attract the attention of early archaeologists or looters.

The findings are also overturning the previous belief that South American civilization was based in coastal cities supported by fishing. Instead, Andean society seems to have been built primarily on cotton farming and trade, supported by fishing villages. Refuse shows that inland residents had a diet heavy in small fish such as anchovies, which were abundant along the coast, while the cotton provided the nets needed to catch them.

When Haas began his research of Caral three years ago, radiocarbon dates indicated that the site was built about 2600 BC, much earlier than thought possible. A new series of dates from the Supe River Valley, as well as the nearby Pativilca and Fortaleza valleys, show construction began even earlier, about 3000 BC. December 12, 2004

Visiting Chinese pyramids After reporting on Hausdorf’s discovery of pyramids in China in 1995, Unexplained Earth have gone to China, logging a report on their activities and updates on the many pyramids they have seen there. The discovery of the terracotta army in Xi’an has made tourism skyrocket in the area. This means that the pyramids are now also part of the tourist trail. The largest pyramid is the Maoling Mausoleum, which became known as the “White Pyramid” in a photograph appearing in the New York Sunday News on March 30, 1947. Unlike the pyramids of Egypt with their carefully carved and fitted stones, Maoling Mausoleum is composed of densely packed earth. The Mausoleum stands as the largest and most impressive of 11 Western-Han imperial mausoleums and is the final resting place of Emperor Liu Che (also known as Wu Di), who reigned from 157-87 BC.

Some of the artefacts buried with the Emperor are now on display in a nearby museum, whereas this and some of the other burial mounds (or pyramids), are open to the public… and any tourist who wishes to go to China. December 10, 2004

More early Southern American discoveries The frontiers of civilisation in Southern America are rapidly being pushed back in time. After the pyramids of Caral, recent discoveries in Uruguay, in the La Plata basin, have uncovered evidence of a complex farming society, present there between 2800 and 2200 BC. Previously, it was assumed that the large rivers system was inhabited by simple groups of hunters and gatherers, but now a mound complex, called Los Ajos, has changed this assumption.

The complex consists of a circular community of households arranged around a central public plaza. Paleobotanical analyses of preserved starch grains and phytoliths – tiny plant fossils – show that Los Ajos’ farmers adopted the earliest cultivars known in southern South America, including maize, squash, beans and tubers.

Around 1000 BC, the mound complex architectural plan of Los Ajos exhibited sophisticated levels of engineering, planning, and cooperation revealing an earlier, new, and independent architectural tradition previously unknown from this region of southern South America. The formal and compact layout of the central part of the site (Inner Precinct) consists of seven imposing platform mounds surrounding a central plaza area.

In the ten square kilometers surrounding Los Ajos alone there are ten other large and spatially complex mound sites. These were thriving societies that probably were integrated into regional networks of towns and villages. December 3, 2004

New light on Perillos… and Notre-Dame-de-Marceille During the weekend of November 20-21, Opoul hosted a conference by the Société Perillos, “New Light on Perillos”, on the subject of its history and its mysteries. The conference was well-attended, with members of the local council, the mayor and the local French police present. Other members of the audience were Roger-Michel Erasmy, the biographer of Salvador Dali, Pierre Jarnac and George Kiess.

It was the first time I gave a talk in French. As I got many questions on the subject (of the voyage of Ramon de Perillos to St Patrick’s Purgatory in Ireland), it suggests I was understandable to the 80-odd people in the audience – a minor miracle.

The weekend had an add-on on Monday, when a selected few went to Notre-Dame-de-Marceille, both to see the basilica, as well as see the underground vault. Getting to the latter was no easy task and it took the combined efforts of André Douzet and myself to relocate a location which in 1995 was an easy stroll. Today, it is close to a stroll in the Amazonian jungle – tarantulas and bullet ants missing.

The amount of people present meant a descent was not on the cards. However, a member of the Société Perillos had made the descent a few weeks earlier and reported that the bottom entrance has now partially collapsed. Access to the second room is only via the top opening, meaning that only the very fit will be able to make it there.

Almost 15 years after the discovery of the vault, it is clear that some of the mysteries of Notre-Dame-de-Marceille are now answered – and it is hoped that The Secret Vault, out soon, will place the site properly within the mystery of Berenger Saunière –and associates, as it has done to many who are able to understand Dutch. November 17, 2004

Lake Titicaca begins to unveil its past Archaeologists from Helsinki University have discovered well-preserved ceramic remnants on a ritual site on Pariti Island in Bolivia. The finds pre-date the Incas and confirm the ritual importance of Lake Titicaca. The civilisation itself is enigmatic, as it left no writings and their culture died out in the 11th century, after settling there around 400 BC.

Surveys of the island, which took place over the summer, uncovered a cache of about 300 kilograms of deliberately broken ritual ceramics that had been buried between 900-1050 AD. “Some twenty vessels have been preserved intact,” says Antti Korpisaari. “The objects can be compared with the best china of a royal household or sacramental communion vessels.” “The discovery demonstrates that the Tiwanakus made the highest quality ceramics in the Andean region, with very naturalistic portraits,” professor Martti Paerssinen, the leader of the dig, is quoted as saying. November 14, 2004

Birthday party in Amsterdam Late October 1994 was the time when Herman Hegge, Theo Paijmans and Philip Coppens decided to create Frontier Sciences Foundation. The 10th birthday party was held in the place where it all started: Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky, in the middle of Amsterdam.

In front of a capacity audience of 500 people, a twelve-hour programme ranging from crop circle art via the Mayas to the mystery of Rennes-le-Château brought everyone to the edge of their seats. The prestigious Frontier Award, given to a Dutch or Belgian personality who has furthered the cause of frontier sciences in the past year, was given to the Dutch artist Bram Vermeulen, who had unfortunately died earlier this year. An in memoriam was also held to other former speakers at Frontier Symposia, specifically Willem Oltmans (2002) and John Mack (1995).

The organisation also brought over its first ever non-Dutch speaker, André Douzet, whose lecture on Saunière’s model held two world premieres: the public showing of two photographs of the locations of the tombs, as indicated on that model. Both André Douzet and
by Philip Coppens are speakers at next week’s conference in Perillos, where the story will continue… November 12, 2004

Incan capital looked to heavenly puma We reported that the Incan capital at Cusco was built to look like a puma. According to tradition the city was conceived as a puma incorporating a nearby hill as its head and the main temple of the capital as its genitals. The tail of the puma is formed where the Tullumayo and Huatanay rivers join.

Cusco was built based on the alignment of buildings with astronomical events. All sunrises throughout the year can be seen from the plaza at Cusco and he said two nearby mountains mark the December and June solstices.

Professor Giulio Magli from the maths department at Milan’s technical university has now concluded that it actually resembles a dark puma-shaped constellation. This constellation is not formed of stars but the dark spaces between the stars, as is more customary in the Incan and Mayan world. Magli says the constellation was likely to lie within a dark region of space between the Northern Hemisphere constellations of Cygnus, the Swan, and Vulpecula, the Fox. This dark region sits between two bright bands of sky, which may represent the two rivers that meet at Cusco, he believes. November 7, 2004

Valley of the Kings stops tourists A plan to control tourism, limit traffic, deflect flash floods, reduce theft and vandalism could soon begin to change the face of the Valley of the Kings, one of the world’s most sacred valleys.

Kent Weeks states that visits by 9,000 tourists every day are beginning to destroy the paintings and fabric of tombs that once housed Ramses II, Seti I and Tutankhamun. Four hundred or more tourists a day each leave behind an ounce of moisture from their breath in any one tomb. Professor Weeks: “It’s partly because the plaster itself, when it comes in contact with moisture, begins to soften, gradually weakens and can no longer support itself on a vertical wall, and falls of its own weight to the floor, dragging with it the pigments that were applied. Eventually you wind up with bare stone and a puddle of pigments and mud on the floor, and that’s it.” As the tombs were built for eternity, but not to be entered by humans, it seems that limiting visitor numbers is the only likely solution. Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities has asked the Theban Mapping Project to complete a plan for the conservation of the valley by the end of 2005. November 5, 2004

Cart-ruts under the microscope On October 23, Heritage Malta launched a project entitled “The Significance of Cart-Ruts in Ancient Landscapes” which will document and interpret two archaeological sites. One is Ghar Il-Kbir in Rabat, Malta and the other is Camino des los Molinos, Granada in Spain. These two particular sites were chosen as they are still largely untouched by present development and therefore may shed new light and clearer evidence on the real use, function and date of the cart-ruts, one of the major enigmas of the Maltese monuments. The project will be completed in a year, starting this October and finishing in September 2005. It involves a total budget of 296,906 Euro, of which 49.14 per cent shall be funded by the European Commission. November 2, 2004

More Sacred Valley magic The Peruvian government has presented ambitious plans to turn the stone fortress of Kuelap, a remote pre-Inca site in northern Peru, into one of the country’s main tourism attractions. Kuelap is located on a mountain top on the eastern ridge of the Andes, 3000m above sea level.

The site was inhabited, initially by about 500 people. During its heyday around 3000 people are believed to have lived there. In the 1470s the Chachapoyas were conquered, after fierce resistance, by the Incas, who in turn were defeated by Spanish conquistadors in the 1530s. Kuelap was abandoned around that time and only re-discovered in 1843. The original inhabitants, the Sachapuyo or Chachapoyas, were known as the “people of the clouds” because their stone cities were built on a site where the cold Andean air meets the warm tropical air from the Amazon basin, resulting in a semi-permanent layer of mist and fog.

It currently takes more than an hour to get from the floor of the Utcubamba valley up a steep zig-zagging road to the site itself – and the view is so spectacular visitors have dubbed it the Machu Picchu of the north. Though it remains to be seem whether it fits within the series of “sacred sites” in the Sacred Valley, walked by Viracocha, it will no doubt sit upon the sacred tourist trail. October 31, 2004

More Peruvian pyramids ? Recently, Peru got its own proper pyramids: Caral. But are they the only pyramids in Peru? On December 30, 1975, the Landsat II satellite photographed over the jungles of southeastern Peru (13 degrees south latitude; 71.30 degrees west longitude) in the Madre de Dios region of the Amazon. The site is known as Parotoari by the local Machiguenga Indians. The photo shows eight symmetrical structures on the edge of the Amazon jungle. Further reconnaissance by helicopter confirms these pyramid-shaped structures. The Institute of Andean Archeology in Lima estimated that each object had a height that was slightly less than the height of the Great Pyramid, which would make them sit in the same category as the pyramids of Caral.

Two enormous rectangular forms in the vegetation, as well as two other semi-circles to the south, have been identified nearby. It suggests they are linked to the pyramids. Natural or artificial? That question was asked in the 1980s by Charles Berlitz. At present, that question remains open. Some expeditions to the site were organised in the late 1970s, each of which failed. One expedition was mounted in 1996, which described the area as “amongst the most uncomfortable we’ve ever encountered”. That expedition stated that they believed the formations to be natural features.

Some have speculated that the structures show “washouts”, in which trees and shrubs “washed out” along the side of the structure, unable to get a firm hold in the ground. Suggestive of an artificial origin? Who knows. At present, it seems that Caral might still be a unique site – but will it remain so? October 29, 2004

Discovery Channel puts the Rosslyn puzzle together The Da Vinci Code has generated a major interest in Rosslyn Chapel, as the site features in the apotheosis of the novel. As a result, the Discovery Channel filmed a documentary on the novel and Rosslyn Chapel, approaching it from various perspectives. Together with professor Ian Campbell, I was asked to contribute to this documentary. Specific attention was given to the novel itself, as well as the architecture and the true history of the chapel – which is at odds with Brown’s statements. For example, there is no “Seal of Solomon” on Rosslyn’s floor and the site does not feature on the so-called “Rose line”. The programme has to be commended for their open approach: the makers call it as they see it, and allow their contributors to do the same. The broadcast is scheduled for early 2005.