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An Overlooked Inca Wonder

Thousands of aligned holes in Peru’s Pisco Valley have attracted the attention of archaeologists

By ERIC A. POWELL

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Peru Band of Holes 1Members of the public regularly get in touch with Charles Stanish, an expert on Andean cultures at the University of California, Los Angeles. Two years ago, Stanish received a call from a man in Pittsburgh who had just seen a program claiming that aliens played a large role in the lives of ancient people. He was interested in getting Stanish’s take on a particular Peruvian site purported to be the handiwork of extraterrestrials. “I always try to be nice to people like that,” says Stanish. “For whatever reason, they are interested in the ancient past, and I share with them what archaeologists know about the subject.” In this case, the man asked Stanish what he thought about the idea of aliens constructing a strange alignment of pits, known popularly as the “Band of Holes,” in Peru’s Pisco Valley. Though he has worked in the area for more than 30 years, Stanish had never heard of the site. He and his colleague Henry Tantaleán took a look at its coordinates on Google Earth for themselves, and were surprised by satellite imagery showing that the Band of Holes is indeed a highly unusual artificial feature. It seemed to be made up of thousands of small depressions running upslope. “I’d never seen anything like it,” says Stanish. “It really seemed unique.” It was also only 10 miles from Stanish and Tantaleán’s own excavations in the nearby Chincha Valley. Intrigued, they decided to try to understand the curious site.

 

Together, Stanish and Tantaleán speculated as to what the Band of Holes might have been. They reasoned it could have been part of a defensive structure, or served as a marker for a trail, or might even be a geoglyph in the tradition of the nearby Nazca lines. In searching the archaeological literature, they found that the site had first been documented in 1931 by aerial photographer and geographer Robert Shippee. Since then, a few archaeologists had visited and described it as being made up of segments of shallow holes running a mile up a hill known as Monte Sierpe. The consensus seemed to be that the holes were made to store something, but exactly what remained unclear. Despite the fact that previous generations of archaeologists knew about the site, no excavations had been conducted, and no obvious artifacts had been found near the holes. There was no agreement on when it was built or by what culture. For Stanish and Tantaleán, the mystery was deepening.

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In the 2015 field season, Stanish set up his team in the Chincha Valley and then drove with Tantaleán to Monte Sierpe. From below, the row upon row of holes creeping up the slope made for an imposing view. “Really, it is very impressive,” says Tantaleán. “I’d never seen anything like it in my entire career.” They quickly found a small amount of pottery dating to just before the time the Spanish invaded Peru, when the Inca ruled this part of it. There were also other signs it could be an Inca site. “I began to suspect it dated to the Inca period because at the base of the site there are tombs similar to those in the Chincha Valley that date to the time of the Incas,” says Tantaleán.