‘Band of Holes’ in Peru may be remains of Inca tax system


In an enormous band stretching several miles across an arid plateau in southern Peru, a mysterious line of shallow holes are perhaps one of the least well-known legacies of the Inca Empire.

'Band of Holes' in Peru may be remains of Inca tax system
The Band of Holes in a photograph taken by drone. The road stretches for a mile up a mountain top and 
may be the remains of a structure used for collecting and measuring food tributes for the Inca state 
[Credit: Charles Stanish]

The band of holes, which extends from north to south across the Pisco Valley in Nazca, Peru, like the world’s most uneven road, have baffled archaeologists for decades.

But archaeologists believe the narrow pockmarked piece of landscape may have been used to help the Inca rulers collect and collate their taxes.

The rock-lined holes, which are around 3ft-wide (1 metre) and up to 40 inches (101 cm) deep, would have helped keep precious food cool and dry in the harsh climate, the researchers said.

Crucially, however, the holes would also have allowed the authorities to keep track of who or where the food tributes had come from.

Professor Charles Stanish, an archaeologist at the University of California Los Angeles, believes food in the holes was then allocated to people in the Inca state – a nearby storehouse called a colca.

Together with his colleague Henry Tantalean, he has found Inca pottery dating to shortly before the time when the Spanish invaded Peru in 1532.

Using drones, the team collected aerial images and have created a new map of the Band of Holes, which it estimate is made of more than 6,000 depressions before they peter out.

'Band of Holes' in Peru may be remains of Inca tax system
A close-up look at one of the pits in the Band of Holes. Each one is about 3 feet wide and 20 to 40 inches deep. 
They were not dug into the rock, but built from imported rocks and soil 
[Credit: Charles Stanish]

They found the layout of the holes was remarkably similar to the checkerboard pattern used in an Incan colca at Inkawasi, around 160 miles (258km) to the north.

Researchers there believe this was used to measure specific amounts of tribute owed by each farmer or family, which were then recorded a knotted string called a khipu.

Professor Stanish said the band of holes also appears to be constructed alongside a road leading from the Pisco Valley floor to Tambo Colorado, a massive Inca administrative centre.

Speaking to Archaeology magazine, he said: ‘It’s the perfect place to stop, measure your produce and make sure you have the proper amount of tribute.

‘You may have had each social group come up and fill up their block with squash, maize or any other produce in front of the state’s accountants, who could have been keeping a tally with khipus.

‘The goods could have then been taken to Tambo Colorado or wherever else the authorities wanted to take them.’

'Band of Holes' in Peru may be remains of Inca tax system
A 1931 aerial photograph is the first known documentation of Monte Sierpe, aka the “Band of Holes” 
[Credit: American Museum of Natural History]

While the team has yet to find any khipu at the band of holes, or remains of any crops that may have been stored in the holes, it believes its theory is compelling.

The band of holes has been largely overlooked by archaeologists in the past, partly because they look relatively unassuming from ground level.

However, viewed from the air, the band can be seen stretching for miles towards the north, over the rolling desert landscape.

Professor Stanish himself knew nothing about the holes despite having spent nearly 30 years excavating a site in the nearby Chincha valley just 10 miles (16km) away.

It was only when a member of the public contacted him to ask about the holes and he looked it up on Google Earth that he realised something had been overlooked.

The site was first documented in 1931 by aerial photographers and the few archaeologists who visited the site concluded the holes had been dug to provide storage.

'Band of Holes' in Peru may be remains of Inca tax system
Tampo Colorado is inland from the south coast of Peru in the Pisco River Valley about 40 km along the highway
 to Ayacucho known as the Via de los Libertadores, close to the town of Pisco 
[Credit: AgainErick/WikiCommons]

But the reason why this was done has remained a mystery and the holes have been largely overshadowed by the more famous Nazca Lines which can also be found in the area.

There are also some that claim the holes were initially dug by a more ancient culture up to 2,300 years ago but then were adapted for use by the Inca.

Some claim the holes were built as a form of geoglyphic art much like the Nazca Lines themselves.

Dr Jean-Pierre Protzen, who specialises in Inca architecture at the University of California, Berkeley, believes the holes predate the Inca and may have been used to store guano as a fertiliser.

Speaking to MailOnline, Professor Stanish said: ‘The conclusions at this point border on the conjectural but we have eliminated many earlier ideas.

‘Henry and I believe the holes are an Inca accounting device. Ideas that they were traps for precipitation and/or are defensive in nature are ruled out.

‘Other folks think that this might be a serpent geoglyph and while I disagree, I cannot rule that out.’

But Professor Stanish added: ‘If I’m right, then we’re going to have to think differently about a lot of sites that have been regarded as strictly ritual.

‘We could be on the cusp of a whole new understanding of Inca accounting.’

Author: Richard Gray | Source: Daily Mail Online [April 27, 2016]