STONE ROADS TO NOWHERE: AVENUES OF THE DEAD OR PATHWAYS TO THE STARS
During the past half century or so archeologists and others have been both intrigued and often puzzled by the discovery of what appear to be extremely well laid out and constructed roadways in ancient landscapes from many locations and time periods around the world. These constructions are found mainly in early agricultural periods from Peru to Guatemala and even in the American Southwest in this hemisphere, and from Neolithic England to the Middle East in Eurasia and Northwest Africa. New research continues to reveal the possibility that even more of these so-called ancient "roads" may still remain to be discovered and that earlier attempts to explain them in obvious contexts, such as trade routes or other connecting paths may have been somewhat premature in their first interpretations. While most of these enigmatic features share several common features--such as exceedingly straight-line construction (often regardless of terrain encountered), stone edged delineation boundaries or surfacing, and large investments of time and manpower in their construction--many often appear to be quite unique in their original concept or choice of construction method. Among the many types of roadways now included in whole or in part in this general classification of ancient features are such well-known sites as the famous Nazca lines and Inca roadways in Peru, the less known "white roads" of the Maya, and the axis lines of the great temple mound sites of Mexico. Add to this the more recently discovered and less well-known Chaco Canyon roads, emanating from that important site in the southwestern U.S. and it becomes possible to see that the ancient peoples of the New World possessed some need to express themselves collectively in some of the largest of these early features.
In the Old World the existence of equally well-defined, if often much shorter in actual distance, linearly constructed pathways has long been known at places like Salisbury Plain and Stonehenge and other Neolithic sites in England and possibly on the continent, and more obvious connecting roadways at Giza and elsewhere in ancient Egypt and other possible locations in the Middle East. However, because of much longer and more intensive human occupations of these other regions many of these more ancient roadways perhaps have been obliterated (Indus Valleys sites would be one possibility here) before they could be properly identified or studied from a more modern and enlightened perspective. For example, much recent research and re-excavation in places like Stonehenge by Mike Pearson and others has led to the location of new stone-surfaced roadways and the possible re-interpretation of others in the same general area. In the American Southwest, also, new theories by researchers such as Stephen Lexson on the Chaco Canyon roads and their possible extension along fixed longitudinal lines has also added new ideas about the function of these ancient artificial features (Note: See the earlier entry on this blog on Ancient Astronomers in the Americas and What We Are Missing for more info. on Lexson's ideas, as well as this author's additional speculations here.). In Peru, where the most famous and controversial of these ancient roadways exist, new work on the infamous Nazca lines has removed some of the previous mystery and misunderstanding surrounding this major site. Other interpretations of the equally well-known Inca road system have also been put forth recently by innovative thinkers such as William Sullivan in possible new readings of these ancient roadway constructions as well.
Before going into more detail on individual roadway systems and possible re-evaluations of some of these features, it would be useful to set some parameters for including or excluding certain individual examples and present some of the common elements that would seem to group what might seemingly be unrelated constructions into more general, as well as more specific classifications.
ROADWAYS TO SOMEWHERE OR LINES TO NOWHERE IN PARTICULAR
Distance covered is not necessarily a primary function of these special pathways. They may be short with beginning and ending points clearly visible from any point along their line. Examples of these would be the connecting lines, often obviously laid out along clear directional/celestial marker points, such as those between pyramids at Teotihuacan or Giza or other known structures. At Nazca, in particular, many of the so-called "lines" are relatively short when compared with others in the same locale, and there appears to be a variety and no one prescribed length involved in their construction otherwise. Also, many of the Nazca lines overlay or intersect pre-existing lines, indicating that specific locations were paramount and that existing lines or roads played a secondary role to the intentions of those peoples involved in the construction of new roads. Stone is generally involved in some way in the construction. At Nazca, again, the lines are not merely lines at all but generally clearly defined paths from which existing loose stones have been cleared and deliberately piled along two delineating, parallel lines as either boundaries to keep something, or someone in or out of the lines. Regardless of the reason, many stones have been moved. In this landscape it is actually the clear absence of stones that makes us see the lines that have been thus marked. Despite the old canard that many of these lines can only be seen from the air (hence all of the ridiculous "space aliens built this" theories), in actuality, the straight-line constructions here are clearly seen and marked on the ground for any careful group of followers to walk "staying inside the lines" as it were. Recent work around small, elevated stone "altar piles" along these roads, where broken pottery has been noted in direct association and some abundance, suggest an emerging belief that these might have been ceremonial walking paths to mark significant events, ceremonies, burials, etc. New ideas such as this have been growing among researchers in recent years and in the absence of other, "logical" explanations.
At other locations such as Salisbury Plain and Stonehenge detailed excavations in the last decade of new sites along the Avon river and re-excavations along the Great Cursus just outside Stonehenge itself have shown that these roadways were constructed with crushed flint and chalk beds to clearly define their parameters and that in the case of the Cursus itself, while a relatively short stone-lined path, it may represent the original construction phase in the area and even be a reason for so much of the later monumental architecture (based on the alignment of what appears to be a natural glacial feature forming the starting point of the great roadway.) Note: Mike Pearson's excellent, just published account of a decade of new research in the area, STONEHENGE: New Perspectives, is an important addition to our knowledge of that locale. One of the more surprising revelations of his team's recent work is making us aware of just how little significant new thinking has been done there, based upon new excavations in the last half-century, and how much of what we thought we knew about what is certainly one of the world's most written about sites, is based upon either erroneous interpretations from the past or badly conducted earlier research or excavations. In ancient Egypt, straight-line roadways utilizing both of the above techniques of clearing existing stone debris to make an outlined path, or adding stone from another source, were used to connect mortuary temples with burial complexes, etc. from earliest times of large funerary constructions such as the Great Pyramids themselves.
In Peru, the Inca roadways radiating out from Cusco (the "navel" of the Inca world) are often built of quarried and dressed stone, but are also sometimes merely outlined paths in which stone is laid out to make a boundary within which the traveler must stay confined. Many Inca pathways are also clearly straight-line, especially in their initial branching from the Qoricancha ceremonial temple in Cusco where they originate, in that they ignore "paths of least resistance" on some occasions to follow extremely rugged or wet terrain, where construction would have seemed difficult, even unnecessary. Among important Mayan ceremonial sites built over large areas of time and space, such as Tikal, my own recent investigations there indicated that these "white roads" were well-iined straight pathways covered with crushed limestone and other lithic debris usually connecting important mound groupings within the larger sites--many of which possessed obvious celestial alignments. This goes beyond the longer pathways extending over several kilometers connecting major ceremonial centers, for whatever purpose or purposes as have been proposed at various times in the past.
At Chaco Canyon in the New Mexico desert, a similar situation occurs as with the Cusco lines. The roads are laid out in such precise lines--which are not bound by terrain and horizons to the point where intermediate signaling towers are placed in connecting sightlines--and over such large distances that many of them were initially ignored where gaps that had been created by later erosion/weather events often appeared and obscured or obliterated the continuous ancient roadways. (Note: This author can well recall while working as an archeology grad student in this region in the early 1970's just how much excitement and conjecture was building over the firm identification and initial mapping of these newly discovered roads.) Much like the Nazca roads, these Chacoan roads were constructed as much by clearing existing stones to line a path as anything else to mark their existence on the landscape. Obviously, and a fact rarely discussed, is that such construction and use would have required a fairly regular and time-consuming "maintenance crew" to keep such roads intact and clearly marked over any amount of time. Absent such routine maintenance other such roads would quickly become obscure or wiped out by subsequent weather and later human activity, possibly indicating that from their very inception these roads were intended for short term usage.
Certainly then, such constructions must have clearly had some greater purpose, at least it would seem, than merely to get either individuals or groups of people from one point on the landscape to another, especially for those of shorter distance. Staying inside the lines so-to-speak must have played some essential part in the placement of these features, for whatever reason. What might some of those reasons have been?
AVENUES OF THE DEAD OR PATHWAYS TO THE STARS
It does not require a great leap in thinking to see that, at least in many cases, one of two or both functions may have been operating in the placement and construction of these roads. Large scale stonework in all times has been associated with ceremonies involving the dead, especially those persons deemed important in life by their contemporaries. From the Great Pyramids of Giza to the simple headstones of our own graveyards, this fact cannot be denied. In his recent work in the Stonehenge area Mike Pearson notes that the roadway that connects Stonehenge ( a clear place of cremated burials at it has now been shown) with the lesser known Woodhenge monument nearby is likely a connection with the place of the living (the village of the builders is associated with the wood henge features here) and the place of the dead. The place of the dead is also marked with the repeated shorter avenues which are clearly aligned with important solstice and other celestial events, including the very important and close to Stonehenge Great Cursus pathway. Neolithic peoples apparently wanted to live close to their ancestors, to mark their passing in some enduring fashion, and to guide either themselves, their departed forbears, or both to some heavenly situated afterlife or place of the dead. Pearson, a noted expert on the archeology of the Dead (how one acquires such a title is another subject altogether) has made this connection at sites as far away as the island of Madagascar and other remote sites in the northern British Isles.
At places like Chaco Canyon and Cusco (and perhaps the connecting "white roads" of the important Mayan ceremonial centers as well) the longer stone roads are clearly laid out to satisfy obvious celestial or directional azimuths. This is extremely important when connecting ceremonial locations that may well either lie outside of sightlines or easy travel or else as directional lines to where new ceremonial locations need to be either built or identified. Without going into further detail in both these instances, there is growing research, especially in Peru, to indicate that such might be the case. As to the strange Nazca lines, some researchers believe that the lines (or stone-lined pathways) were constructed with celestial orientations in mind by different clan-based groups over time and over which the living may have "escorted" important departed individuals to their new heavenly abodes in ceremonies (marked by the many broken ceramic cups and vessels associated with these lines and altars along the paths). Additionally, the more enigmatic and closely associated zoomorphic figures here (also constructed using the same techniques) may represent the clan symbols of the groups of people participating in the rituals (the famous, spider, monkey, and other well-known large animal effigy structures near-by). That many of the Nazca lines are not terrain specific--that is they go in a straight line regardless of the ground ahead) is also evidence of some "higher" purpose or "cultural need" in their construction.
Regardless of how we choose to interpret these seemingly mysterious ancient constructions--as with most things modern archeology and other sciences are teaching us almost on a daily basis about our ancestors--it is clear that the level of sophistication with which they viewed their own living existence, as well as their existence on a celestial plane beyond their own life spans, was both highly complex and generationally marked over fairly long distances of time. Additionally, in order to fulfill this more complicated worldview, which the early agricultural peoples developed time and again around the globe, these same peoples acquired reasoning and construction skills far beyond the capabilities that we have so often ascribed to their abilities, at least when viewed from the perspective of our own more "advanced" cultures. Truly, to give these ancient cultures the credit they deserve should in no way diminish our own status, but only serve to remind us that we are forever connected to a not-so-distant past of which we are in many important aspects only just beginning to understand in a meaningful way.
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