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 Location: Samaipata, Santa Cruz, Bolivia.  Grid Reference: 18° 10' 42" S , 63° 49' 11" W.

 

      El Fuerte de Samaipata: ('Fort' Samaipata).

The carved hill of El Fuerte de Samaipata is one of Bolivia's archaeological 'Jewels'. It is also one of the largest examples of its kind in the world. For over a thousand years this site served as a ceremonial centre for various pre-Colombian cultures, ultimately including the Inca who erected great temples and turned the site into the capital of the eastern most reaching province of their empire.

In the words of UNESCO: "The huge sculptured rock, dominating the town below, is a unique testimony to pre-Hispanic and beliefs, and has no parallel anywhere in the Americas."

The site gained fame when Erik Von Daniken proposed in the 1960's that it was designed as a landing site for UFO's. To his credit, he played a major part in bringing this site to the attention of modern researchers and travellers alike.

 

   Samaipata -' The Height to Rest'

Samaipata is a Quechua word that means: 'The Height to Rest'. The Title El Fuerte, 'The Fort' is deceptive being named by the Spanish in relation to the fact that it was an Inca stronghold at the time they found it.

 

Chronology of the Site:

Archaeology of the site has revealed that several phases of occupation were present at Samaipata. Before the Spanish were the Inca, and beneath the foundations of the Inca works evidence of previous cultural works was found, proving that the site was in use a long time before the might Inca. (5) So who were the people that originally carved the hill..? The site is now generally considered to be a pre-Incan site, built by the Chané people, a pre-Inca culture of Arawak origin, (3) who migrated from Guyana approximately 2,500 years ago. (6) It is suggested that the first engravings at El Fuerte were undertaken during the Mojocoyas period (AD 200 – 800) (7). Unfortunately, the exact chronology of the site is yet to be determined for the period between the Chané and the Inca, but the evidence suggests that there is more than one building phase at Samaipata.

The site was later occupied by the Inca who used it as their most advanced post of the Empire, of which it marked the frontier from the late 15th century until its fall in 1530. It was the administrative centre in charge of maintaining the order of the Inca in the region, but its principal function was keeping at bay the frequent invasion attempts of the Guarani Indians. (1) They gave it the name of "Samaipata", which is Quechua (language of the Inca’s) and stands for 'The Height to Rest' or 'Rest in the heights', and they added several classic Inca-style masonry constructions to the complex. Around 1540 the Spanish arrived and encountered an Inca fortress. They renamed the site "El Fuerte" or "The Fortress", and deserted the site around 1629 when they founded the settlement known today as Samaipata a few Km away.

 

Features of El- Fuerte:

The site consists of two distinct areas; The carved mountain top named 'El Fuerte' (above), and the 'administrative' area below, composed of buildings and courtyards.

 

Starting at the western end, the rock has been carved to reveal the outline of three felines (jaguars). The second is out of shot (right, foreground), and is greatly eroded. The third is placed further ahead within what appears to be the zig-zag motif common in Inca and Tiahuanacan art.

This is the third of three prominent carved Jaguar emblems at the western end of the site.

The ascent along the crest of the hill invariably leads one to one of the most important feature of El Fuerte. El Cascabel, which can be translated as 'The Rattle'.

 

The two parallel lines are oriented to the eastern sky at a position of azimuth 71° and an altitude of about 6.75° .

'The orientation of the carved trail is the direction of the rise of the Pleiades at about 1AD. An observer at the top of the hill could see the rising of the Pleiades at around 500AD, and also the rising of Regulus in 600AD. The alignment of the 8 pits points to the rise of the Pleiades at 500BC and of Aldebaran at 500AD. The long rectilinear engraving near the seats complex to the East matches the rise of the Pleiades at about 500BC.

If we consider that the Pleiades cluster ('Collca' in the quechua or 'Qutu' in the aymara languages) was important in the Andean world as a celestial signal for sowing (mainly maise) or for the prediction of yields, then it is possible to think that the alignments found at Samaipata were devised for the observation of this star cluster. Accordingly, the monument should have been built between 1AD and 500 or 600AD. Perhaps the eight pits were used first and the 'cascabel' later on, as a more recent construction. Of course only the archaeological research may work out a precise dating for the monument. (2)

At the top of the stone there is a circle of 12 seats with a set of 3 seats in the middle. Locals call this the "Coro de los Sacerdotes" or "Choir of Priests".

The carved circular seating arrangement known as the Coro de los Sacerdotes (Choir of the Priests) is carved at the top pf the rocky oucrop. Here, with an most incredible panoramic view, 12 seats were deeply into the hilltop in a circle (7m in outside diameter). Within the circle of 12 is another set of seats, which are placed back-to-back and face outward toward the 12 seats. The circle includes triangular and rectangular niches cut into its walls. The structure bears vague similarities to the 'Cuzco Sundial' or the 'Eye of the Jaguar' at Cuzco.

(More about Cuzco)

 

Most of the southern face of the rock was originally dominated by a series of at least five temples or sanctuaries, of which only the niches cut into their walls survive. These niches vary widely in size, shape, and orientation, but their design indicates the temples were built in the Inca period.

It has also been suggested that the southern face shows signs of quarrying, an idea which comes from fact that the works have been left in a partial state of construction.

 

One wonders what the final design would have looked like had they been left longer to finish it.

  

An image of the Sun-god... or alternatively...

Dare I say it...A Phallus...?

 

The Chincana:

About 100m from the site is the yet unexplored Chincana. The Chincana, are tunnel systems, such as the one on Lake Titicaca, which is now exposed. The leading historians believe it was an escape route in case of attack or a tunnel that comes from within the stone complex above, while other suggestions include it being a cemetery, or a mini-version of a 'cenote' for worshipping at.

The hole is carved into the rock and is just wide enough for a person.

David Hatcher Childress Has the following to say about it:

Extract From David Hatcher Childress:

The Camino de la Chinchana was a tunnel that began as a two-meter opening to a pit that went straight down for about 6 meters. Once one had made the first descent down to the floor of the pit, something that would take a rope or a ladder, then one would find himself standing in a tunnel that was high enough and wide enough for a man to stand without stooping. This tunnel then descended downhill from the fort, apparently going in a northwest direction.


According to the caretaker of Samaipata, the tunnel had been explored once by Bolivian archaeologists who had entered the pit with a rope and had advanced some 100 meters or more into the tunnel. The air became stale and a small cave-in had blocked a portion of the tunnel. Without proper breathing gear, the team was unable to advance any farther into the earth.
(4)

 

Quenko:

The archaeological site of Quenko, close to Cuzco has several similarities to the Samaipata carvings. It was an Inca religious centre with a large semi-circular ampitheatre and seats of stone. It is thought to have been a sacred place where ceremonies to honour the sun, moon and stars were carried out.

 

(Bolivia Homepage)

(Pre-Columbian America's Homepage)

 

 

References:

1). http://bolivia-travels.com/santa-cruz-missions/amboro-park.htm
2). http://www.calion.com/archeo/samai/samaie.htm
3). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/El_Fuerte_de_Samaipata
4). David Hatcher Childress . Extract from "World Explorer", Vol. 2, No. 3.
5). http://www.bolivia-online.net/en/santa-cruz/134/samaipata
6). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chan%C3%A9_people  
7). http://www.cast.uark.edu/samaipata/intro.html

 

 

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