The ancient sites of La Palma
The Canary Islands are a set of Spanish ruled islands located in the Atlantic Ocean about 60 miles north of Morocco. They are a popular destination for many travelers because of their unique climate that allows for nature exploration, wild parties, diving, and astronomical observations.
Each of the seven main islands specializes in one or two of these activities, making them all very different and unique in their way. The island that I am most familiar with is La Palma because I visit it every year to perform astronomical observations there.
Astronomers, including myself, track the stars with Large professional telescopes that rest on the rim of the dormant volcano which makes up most of the island. However, apart from nature and astronomy, La Palma is dotted with various ancient sites left by the original inhabitants.
Alex Pietrow, Writer,Explorer and Astronomer. He is finalizing his Doctorate in Astronomy at Stockholm University in Sweden. He also publishes his own website dedicated to science. You may recognize him as the man who photographed a star using a modified game boy advance. When he is not writing papers to advance the cause for science, he is searching for rare or undiscovered glimpses of ancient civilizations.
The original inhabitants of the island are thought to be descendants of the African Berber people who crossed the sea somewhere after 8000 BC. They called the island Benahoare and themselves the Benahorita and lived on the island in small tribes across the island.
They lived in caves and primitive huts and wore animal skins, but possessed a relatively high level of technology in the form of farming, ceramics, tool-making, and astronomy. Sadly, not much of their lifestyle and culture is known today.
Castilians invaded the island following the Reconquista in 1493 and effectively exterminated all inhabitants. The Spanish captured the Benahorae King after he came out of hiding for truce talks.
After that, the islands came under Spanish rule and have mostly remained so ever since. However, unlike the natives, the new settlers did not wish to live in caves, building coastal cities instead. Establishing in new areas together with the climate, created the perfect environment for the preservation of the Benahoare remnants.
Creating conditions that would otherwise find them removed or destroyed. Various sites, structures, and petroglyphs can still be found around the island, mostly untouched in the last half-millennium.
Archaeologists are researching the island ruins, but like all archeology the funds are low.
Anyone who visited a famous archeological site will know that these places are usually very tightly run. Sections are roped off and protected by guards with select routes designated for tourists.
Despite all this, we still regularly read about some idiot carving their name into an ancient monument, or somehow damaging it irreparably. And this despite the best efforts of the management.
Now imagine similar historical sites, with absolutely no protection whatsoever, on an island that hosts about 200,000 tourists each year.
For this very reason, the government and archeologists decided to do the best possible thing they could, not mention these places at all and hope that the general tourist won’t find them.
For this reason, you won’t find these places on any official websites, but only sporadically on various blogs, and even those rarely give exact coordinates. Academic papers likewise do not provide coordinates, but only a rough description of the location, dreading the idea of pointing out such a place to tourists.
However, nobody is perfect, and usually, coordinates can be reconstructed by combining several publications and google maps satellite searches. I am one of the people that enjoys doing this, partially for the hunt of the location and partly since it gives a unique opportunity to see something rare and untouched.
Documenting the sites and sharing them with likewise individuals, but with care and respect for the locations, never disturbing them.
The most interesting of these locations, in my opinion, is the pyramid located on the island. Relatively close to the city in between some banana plantations.
It is not comparable to the enormous pyramids of Egypt, and this one is only about 70 by 70 foot in size and only half as tall. It is built as a step pyramid with a staircase in the center, resembling a rough, scaled-down, version of the Maya pyramids in South America.
The pyramid is one story shorter than the Bradbury Building. Best known as the “Toymaker’s” home in the 1982 Film BladeRunner. Built by Gold Mining Millionaire Lewis L. Bradbury at a cost of 500k Dollars in 1893
In old texts from early Spanish settlers, the pyramid is described as a place of (human) sacrifice. However, archeologists discovered that the monument’s purpose was far less dark.
The pyramid was used to dry fruits for preservation. It is still possible to access the pyramid today, but one has to walk through the woods and cross private terrain of banana farmers, a territory that is often guarded by dogs. Once there, the view is a beautiful one, as the pyramid provides a fantastic view of the sea.
Besides the pyramid there are several abandoned huts on the top of the volcano, hidden in the shrubs between the enormous telescopes that dot the edge, these ancient houses provide a good impression of life in those days.
These huts were used by native goat farmers, who took their livestock up the mountain in the summer because of the easy access to drinking water. They would live in these tiny, one-room huts for the entire summer and make cheese out of the goats’ milk. During their off time, they would spend their time carving intricate patterns into surrounding rocks and marvel at the night sky above their heads.
We know this because there are various stone formations on the mountain that align with individual celestial bodies during the solstice, much like Stonehenge in the UK.
The observatory protects these places to an extent, respecting the local culture. But sadly, one of the old huts was recently vandalized by campers who decided to spend the night there, collapse the roof of this centuries-old building and carve their names into the walls.
With this article, I hope to convey the incredible history that can be found all across the world and off the beaten path, but also that we need to treat these places with the respect and dignity that they deserve, ensuring that the next generation can also enjoy them — finding new funding so that scientists can continue their work.
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