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Quillarumiyoc: Moonstone of the Andes

Quillarumiyoc is a pre-Columbian archaeological site located 30 miles northwest of Cusco, Peru. It lies upon the plain of Anta, a rich agricultural area where potatoes, barley, and quinoa have been grown for centuries. Farmers inhabit the area now, but 500 years ago the Incas visited this site to worship the cosmos, and perhaps the moon goddess (Quilla) especially. Indeed, Quillarumiyoc is Quechua for “stone of the moon,” and its most distinctive feature is a crescent that is carved in the limestone rock. But in reality, very little is known about the site, including whether Quillarumiyoc was its original name, or if lunar worship truly was its main purpose. Few tourists visit the complex nowadays, but those who do are treated to a spectacular display of stone terraces, water channels, caves, and thrones set against the backdrop of rolling hills and forest.

I came here in October 2017 at the start of my week-long trek through the Andes Mountains. My group was traveling by bus to our trailhead and making various stops along the way, Quillarumiyoc being our first. Ironically, while I’d come to Peru to research its history, I knew almost nothing of this interesting site. As we drove up the gravel road to the entrance, I was immediately enchanted by the rustic mountain atmosphere and presence of local cattle farmers. We got out and started a short hike to the site, which is located over 10,000 feet above sea level. For several hours I wandered around the complex, taking pictures and videos, and learning what I could from my guide.

(Above) The terraces of Quillarumiyoc.

(Below) A 7-stepped crescent is carved in the limestone rock. Is it a moon, rainbow, sundial, or something else?

Most experts agree that Quillarumiyoc served as a “huaca,” or sacred place, worshipped by Andean peoples since long before the arrival of the Spaniards. Huacas could be objects, places, or concepts – and either natural or manmade. Examples include caves, mountains, running water, temples, stairways, mummies, and celestial bodies. In the Cusco region, some 328 earthly huacas were mapped along a “ceque” system, which was comprised of 42 invisible lines that radiate from Cusco like spokes of a wheel. Though commonly attributed to the Incas, the tradition of identifying and worshipping huacas may predate the rise of the Incas by hundreds or thousands of years. Indeed, Quillarumiyoc may have been used long before 1200 A.D., when the Incas are thought to have arrived in the Cusco region.

(Above) The plain of Anta. Looking south from Quillarumiyoc.

(Below) One of Quillarumiyoc's caves, along with part of the semi-circle of carved thrones. In Andean mythology, caves often represent the underworld (or innerworld), Uku Pacha.

It’s unclear whether the stepped, semicircle carved in the limestone rock depicts the moon, rainbow, or something else. But since it faces east, it may align with the solstice or equinox sunrises. The design may have been a sundial of sorts, serving as a time-keeping tool. Some people suggest the large limestone outcrop into which the crescent is carved has the shape of a puma, and that the crescent is its eye.

Interestingly, the crescent contains seven intricately carved steps (or platforms) along its circumference. Why the number seven? Since ancient times, this number seven has played a significant role in religion, astrology, numerology, alchemy, and mysticism, especially concerning the measurement of time. For example, there are seven days in a week, a system typically attributed to the Babylonians who accorded one day for each of the heavenly bodies. The Romans later named the seven days of the week after their gods. And in the Old Testament, the world was created in seven days. On the other hand, numerologists regard the number seven no single meaning, and view it more broadly as the search for truth. In fact, no one today seems to know the reason Quillarumiyoc’s builders selected seven steps.

(Above) The author, standing in front of Quillarumiyoc's distinctive crescent. Note the precisely cut seven steps.

(Below) Thrones at Quillarumiyoc resemble those found at Sacsayhuaman and Qenq'o.

Below the crescent pattern is an arena of carved thrones. Some experts believe these seats face the December solstice sunrise and June solstice sunset. They reminded me of the throne carvings at Sacsayhuaman and Qenq’o on the outskirts of Cusco. Perhaps the Sapa Inca himself once sat here, along with his priests, to observe important ceremonies. Maybe mummies or offerings were placed here, instead, or maintained by local families or kin groups known as ayllus. In the Inca empire, ayllus were responsible for taking care of huacas in their territory, and it seems many families derived their name from these natural features.

(Above) Close-up of one of the stone retaining walls that form Quillarumiyoc's many terraces. Note the pirca style of masonry and iconic trapezoid-shaped door niche.

(Below) The complex contains several caves, some of which evidently contain petroglyphs.

(Above) Inward-slanted rocks at Quillarumiyoc. An intriguing design that is seen at other Inca sites. Perhaps a ceremonial path?

I would gladly have spent more time at Quillarumiyoc, and I wish I’d known more about the site prior to my visit. If this place intrigues you, there are a number of other, more in-depth videos available on YouTube. If you’re fortunate enough to travel to Peru, you should be able to locate a tour company or taxi driver who will take you to the site. But don’t wait too long. Like Peru’s other archaeological attractions, this place will see increasing numbers of tourists in the coming years.

Originally published 6/08/2018 here. ©Beyond the Range. All rights reserved. Feel free to republish so long as credit is given.


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