What are countless carved images of a bearded man with European facial features doing in pre-Columbian art and architecture? Like the Olmec statues of Central America, whose giant heads depict seemingly “African” features, the Incan carvings of a figure known as Viracocha seem out of place (and time), at least according to accepted history.
History teaches us that Columbus “discovered” the New World, and that the subsequent explorers and conquistadors were the first “white” men to visit the Americas. If so, how do they explain the presence of far-older carvings and inscriptions of non-native humans?
To explore the mystery of Viracocha, we will analyze these puzzling artifacts, drawing from the Incan legends and the monuments themselves, while also comparing Viracocha to other pre-Columbian figures who display striking similarities.
In several ancient Incan (or pre-Incan) sacred sites, such as Tiwanaku and Puma Punku, you will find images of a man quite different from the rest. Close inspection of these images reveal to us two things found nowhere else: a beard and a sharp-pointed “European” or “Middle Eastern” nose. This may seem like a fluke at first, but the more glyphs and carvings you examine, the clearer it becomes that these features were deliberately assigned to a central figure in the mythology and history of whatever people built these sites.
If only one or two of these bearded figures were found, they would probably be dismissed as accidental or the result of creative license. The problem with the simple dismissal of these images is that they are everywhere. Viracocha is arguably the most prominent figure in all these sacred sites. Whoever carved his image in stone wanted to make sure we knew about Viracocha.
If you ask an Incan scholar or modern shaman about Viracocha, they’ll tell you a story you’ll swear you heard somewhere before. Depending on the source, the details and intricacies of the story may take different paths, but the common theme remains. In short, the ancient Incans revered Viracocha as the “bringer of civilization” to their land. They claimed that he came to South America before they were there and civilized the natives who eventually gave birth to Incan society. In the legends, as well as the images, Viracocha was a tall, white-skinned man with a beard and a sharp nose. In some accounts, he wore sandals and a white, flowing robe that reached to the ground.
Viracocha taught the pre-Incans agriculture, mathematics, astronomy, and technological skills that enabled them to advance into the civilized culture they eventually became. He is credited with giving these primitive peoples all the knowledge they absorbed, used, and immortalized in stone, leaving a legacy that baffles the best and brightest archaeologists and scientists of our time. According to the legends, Viracocha mysteriously appeared from the sea, spread his teachings, and, just as mysteriously as he had come, disappeared back to the sea, walking on the water (sound familiar?).
Viracocha is often depicted with his lower body covered in fish scales. Some have even postulated that he was a member of some advanced aquatic species, citing the brain capacity and communication methods of cetaceans, such as whales and dolphins. Others believe that the scales indicate that he was possibly a visitor from another land who arrived and departed from South America by some kind of boat or ship.
Though Viracocha appears as a single, central figure in both stone and story, some believe the figure represents an entire race of beings. Their hypothesis is that Viracocha, or the Viracocha (plural) were refugees from the ancient civilization of Atlantis. In this view, the “civilization” that Viracocha brought to the natives was simply Atlantean knowledge that had previously been confined to Atlantis. Teaching these natives was their way of preserving the knowledge and ensuring its survival.
Many Names, One Theme
Perhaps you’ve noticed some similarities between Viracocha and other mythical figures from different regions and times. Many cultures, especially in South and Central America have a central figure that fits the bill. The Mayans called him Kukulkan, and the Aztecs called him Quetzalcoatl (The God whose return they mistook for Cortes’ conquest). The names change, but the stories are the same.
Across vast oceans and thousands of years, parallels can also be drawn between the legends of Viracocha and other familiar stories. In Egypt, Thoth does exactly for the primitive people what Viracocha did in South America. The Incan deity shares many characteristics with Osiris as well. In ancient Sumerian lore, the god Enki is a very close match. Even Jesus Christ displays many traits similar to those of Viracocha–the beard, the robe, walking on water, bringing civilization, etc.
We can’t travel back in time and witness Viracocha for ourselves. We can, however, with an open mind and through thorough research, begin to connect the dots of this ancient mystery. The stones and the legends have survived for thousands of years, fending off both harsh weather and conventional history. Perhaps Viracocha’s mission to “bring civilization” is still underway.