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The ‘Candelabra of the Andes’

The ‘Candelabra of the Andes’

A geoglyph (an enormous image drawn on the ground surface) at Pisco Bay (Perú) is often regarded as one of the more mysterious archaeological sites of South America. Often called the Candlestick of the Andes because of its resemblance to a three-branched candlestick, it is incised onto a hillside, enabling it to be seen from as far out to sea as 19 km (12 miles). There are conflicting estimates of its size, ranging from 181 m to 244 m (595 feet to 800 feet), although the smaller is the most popular quoted length, and it is often attributed to the Paracas Culture of the first millennium BCE. The image was built by digging trenches up to a metre deep through the hardened sand surface of the hillside. As well as the principal ‘Candelabra’ image, there are other lines etched into the hill.

Some writers repeat a statement that Conquistadors believed the Candelabra to represent the Holy Trinity, interpreting it as a good omen, although they do not (as usual) give an authority for these comments. The same Conquistadors are said to have discovered a huge rope inside the central branch and indications that other cords and ropes had been connected to the other outer two arms; von Däniken speculates that they were part of a system of pulleys. The writer Beltrán García is quoted by Robert Charroux (1909-1978) (again, typically, without reference) as suggesting that it may have been “a gigantic and precise seismograph, able to register telluric waves and seismic shocks coming not only from Peru, but from all over the planet…”

It has also been suggested by Frank Joseph that it resembles jimson (Datura stramomium), a member of the belladonna family sometimes used as an hallucinogenic drug, when smoked or infused in hot water. He suggested that prehistoric inhabitants of the Paracas region travelled north to California to collect the plant (this is the closest area where it grows) and used the geoglyph to help navigate home. This is somewhat far-fetched. Local folklore describes it as a landmark made by early sailors, representing the lightning rod of the god Viracocha; other suggestions about its symbolism include a cactus or the constellation of the Southern Cross. It is still used as a landmark for ships cruising off the peninsula.

The ‘Candelabra’ is certainly enigmatic. This is not evidence that it was produced by a technologically accomplished unknown civilisation, though. Instead, it shows how little we currently understand about both the site and about the context of the pre-Colombian cultures that were responsible for its construction.

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