Puma Punku, The doorway of the puma.

Puma Punku  

The name translates to “The doorway of the puma” This amazing site in Western Bolivia is only about a ten minute walk to another equally breath taking site of Tiwanaku and is considered to be part of the same complex.

Tiwanaka 

 

 

 

 

Tiwanaku positioned in the Titicaca Basin, is about 6 miles away from the great Lake Titicaca. The Titicaca Basin is about 12,500 feet above sea level and sits on the border with Peru, half is in Peru and the other half in Bolivia This is a vast region of the Andes Mountains called the Altiplano, or “high plain”, the largest plain of this type outside of the Himalayas. The Tiwanaku culture predated the Inca, and their history is known largely from archaeological research. They had no written language and first signs of habitation have been estimated to date from about 400 BC. There is evidence that the culture began to flourish around 500 AD. It seems that at its peak 400,000 people lived in and around the Tiwanaku site, centering around Puma Punku and other sites in the area. Trade and farming flourished during this period. Agriculture was very well organised and complex irrigation systems were used to supply water to the neatly arranged raised fields. It is assumed that decades of drought around the period of 1000 AD brought about the demise of this once great empire, and the city of Tiwanaku was abandoned, its heritage lost and it’s people migrated into the surrounding mountains. It would be another 500 years until the Inca culture developed.

The Puma Punku site has been dated by archaeologists to about AD 536 and later. Amazingly just like many other megalithic sites on earth it is aligned with incredible prescision to the cardinal points. Little is known about its construction but some of the sand stone blocks that go to make up the stone terrace (Plataforma Lítica) situated on the eastern edge of the site, are of megalithic proportions.

 Platform Blocks showing key cuts 

This platform is over 22 feet wide and 127 feet long and is constructed from accurately cut and placed red sandstone blocks that were quarried from about 6 miles away. Each of the huge sand stone slabs were tied together with bronze locking keys which were either cast or hammered into place. The largest of these blocks measures 25 feet 7 inches wide by 17.0 feet long and has a thickness of 3 feet 6 inches. Using specific gravity calculations for red sandstone this block would weigh in at around 130 tons! This poses an interesting question, how was this block along with its smaller counterparts cut with such incredible accuracy and moved into place with such precision? Old theories about using tree trunks as rollers seem highly unlikely since the altitude of the site is well above the tree line.

The other interesting feature of the site is the H blocks, these appear to have been made in a prefabricated fashion and some theories have been put forward that they were cast using some form of concrete. Closer inspection however disproves this theory, the stone is igneous andesite which was quarried from the shore of lake Titicaca. The site of the quarry is about 56 miles from Puma Punku so it is possible that the stones could have been shipped across the lake but would have had to be moved overland about 6 miles to their final positions.

Igneous andesite is a very hard stone to work yet close inspection of the H blocks shows clear evidence of intricate machining including precision straight cuts and rows of symmetrically placed tiny holes drilled deep into the stone. If accurate measurements are taken of the remaining H blocks, (there are nine in view at the site), although they appear very much the same, there are variations meaning that no two stones are identical. Some of the H blocks appear unfinished on close inspection.

Brien Foerster has spent a great deal of time carrying out research into the site. Interestingly most of the excavations at Puna Punku have been confined to the top three feet of soil. There have been a number of ultra sound scans of the site and there appears to be clear evidence of buried masonry and subterranean chambers as yet unexplored. The H blocks also demonstrate some very strange magnetic anomalies if a compass is held close to them.

Take a look at one of Brien Foerster’s recent You-tube videos for more details!

The Mysterious Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum of Malta

Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum

The Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum is a subteranian prehistoric burial site. First discovered in 1902 during construction work.  The site was excavated by Fr Emmanuel Magri between 1904 and 1906. Shortly after this Fr Magri died in Tunisia and his excavation notes were lost.  New excavations were taken over by Sir Themistocles Zammit, who continued works until 1911.

The Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum is a complex made up of interconnecting rock-cut chambers set on three different levels. Earliest remains at the site appear to date back to about 4000BC, and there is evidence that the complex was in use over many centuries until about  2500 BC.

The top  level comprises of a large hollow with burial chambers on its sides. This chamber was probably originally exposed to the sky and excavations in the early 1990s suggest that there might also have been a monumental structure marking the entrance. A doorway leads to the Middle Level, which contains some of the best known features of the Hypogeum such as the intricate red ochre wall paintings and the beautifully carved features similar to other Megalithic Temples of this era. The deepest of the three levels is referred to as the Lower Level, this can be accessed down seven steps in the chamber known as the ‘Holy of Holies’.

The Hypogeum was first opened to visitors in 1908 and has been seen by many thousands of people. Over the years this volume of traffic had a detrimental effect on the delicate microclimate of the site. This led to concerns about the preservation of the site and the unique red ochre murals. To arrest the problem and to preserve the site for the future, a conservation project was put in place which resulted in a ten year closure between 1990 and 2000.  Following the re-opening, a new system was put in place to restrict access to only 10 visitors per hour for a maximum of 8 hours a day.  To further preserve the site  an environmental control system maintains temperature and humidity at optimum levels. 

These days there is little remaining evidence of the above ground megalithic entrance to the complex, it is believed that this was destroyed in the 1800’s with development that took place at the time. Nowadays, visitors enter through the main lobby, then descend a railed walkway and move in small groups two of the site’s three levels where they can see evidence of the structure’s dual role as a worship and burial place.

The Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum, is an impressive site comprising of  an underground network of alcoves and corridors carved into soft Globigerina limestone.  It is about three three miles from the Island’s capital city of Valletta.  Excavation of the site in ancient times expanded the the passageways and chambers of existing caves and over the centuries the site grew deeper.  A temple was carved a cemetery and funeral hall that would be used throughout the Żebbuġ, Ġgantija and Tarxien periods. During the next 1,500 years,  the “Temple Period”, above-ground megalith structures were constructed  throughout the archipelago, many of which have features not dissimilar to those of the  Hypogeum.

The Hypogeum’s oldest and uppermost level comprises of a passageway, access to a cistern below, a courtyard-like space and five low-roofed burial chambers carved into the previous natural caves. Archaeologists believe this is where funerary processions began.   Heritage Malta has kept an original grave intact. The middle level is the most beautiful, this is where archaeologists believe the bulk of ritual activity took place. Next we find the “Oracle Room,” an oblong chamber measuring more than five meters long, with niches in the walls which create amplified and echoing acoustic effects, similar to those at the Oracle of Delphi. The “Holy of Holies” is carved in similar style to many of the above-ground temples. In front of its entrance there are two linked holes in the ground which may have been used to collect offerings. Visitors to the site exit via a spiral staircase before entering the Hypogeum’s most recent and deepest level. The third tier extends 10 meters into the earth and consists of five spaces, each less than five meters in diameter, these provide access to smaller rooms that served as mass graves.

Like other many other megalith structures in Malta, it is assumed that the Hypogeum fell out of use by about 2500  BC. The ancient necropolis wasn’t rediscovered until 1902, when construction workers accidentally found one of the chambers while excavating a well for a housing subdivision. Two years after this, formal excavation began and four years later the site was opened to the public.

The Hypogeum provides insights into Malta’s Temple Culture. Archaeologists have estimated that over 6,000 people were buried at the site and have found beads, amulets, intricate pottery and carved figurines alongside the bones.

The Sleeping Lady found in the main chamber.

Several chambers are still decorated with black and white checkerboards and red ochre spirals and honey-combs, the only prehistoric paintings still remaining on the island. Corbeled ceilings show how the ancient people of Malta supported roofs on the numerous above-ground buildings which sadly now lay in ruins. 

The Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum was named after the street under which it was discovered in the early 1900’s. Hypogeum is the Latin name for an underground structure. (Many experts believe it was orginally built as a temple of worship and should be recognized as the eighth wonder of the ancient world.)

Near the floor of the last chamber, in the third and last (officially recognized) sub-level of these ancient catacombs, there are a small number of so-called “burial chambers”. These are only a few feet square and situated right next to the floor. These can only be accessed on hands and knees to look into them. These “burial chambers” are just large enough to crawl through. It has been rumoured for many years that one of these “burial chambers” does not end, but continues into deeper and unexplored caverns beyond. This, according to certain sources, was the subterranean passage and chamber mentioned in an article which appeared in the 1940 August issue of the National Geographic magazine. The article stated that several people had disappeared in these catacombs without a trace:

Many subterranean passageways, including ancient catacombs, now are a part of the island’s fortifications and defense system. Supplies are kept in many tunnels; others are bomb shelters. Underneath Valletta, some of the underground areas served as homes for the poor. Prehistoric man built temples and chambers in these vaults. In a pit beside one sacrificial altar thousands of human skeletons were found. Years ago one could walk underground from one end of Malta to the other. The government closed the entrances to these tunnels after schoolchildren and their teachers became lost in the labyrinth while on a study tour and never returned.”

Part of the folklore of the island suggests however, that the National Geographic article does not mention all the details. Other sources say that about 30 children disappeared in these catacombs without trace whilst on a study tour. It is also believed that and when the “Hypogeum” was first discovered nearly 30,000 human skeletons of men, women and children (possibly victims of ancient sacrifice) were discovered as well. Amongst  the skeletons discovered are accounts of elongated skulls not dissimilar to the Paracas skulls recently researched by Brien Foerster in Peru.  Mysteriously these skulls have been lost over a period of time and none are on display in the museum.