Robin Mead reports on Tenerifes pyramids
Travel writer Robin Mead on the mystery of Tenerife’s ’pyramids’
We all know about the pyramids in Egypt, and their transatlantic cousins in Mexico. But did you realise that there are also six newly-discovered pyramids on Tenerife, in the Canary Islands?
Or are there?
Six mysterious stone structures were discovered above the village of Guimar a few years ago. Experts say they are pyramids, and therefore of immense archaeological and ethnographic importance. Locals insist that the stones were dumped there by their forefathers when they were clearing the ground for cultivation.
The pyramids - if that is what they are - are not pointed like their more famous cousins in Egypt. Rather, they are step pyramids with a ceremonial plateau on top, similar to those in Mexico and elsewhere in Central America.
When a local road-building scheme threatened the site, someone had the bright idea of writing to the veteran Norwegian author and adventurer Thor Heyerdahl, pointing out that the jumble of stones might be something important.
Heyerdahl’s books, about the movement of peoples around the globe in prehistoric times, in boats made of balsa wood or reeds, were best-sellers in the 1950s. When he heard what was happening on Tenerife, Heyerdahl headed hot-foot for the Canaries. In Guimar he declared, movingly if melodramatically: "I thought I had seen all the pyramids in the world, but now I have seen six more."
Heyerdahl persuaded his friend, Norwegian shipping magnate Fred Olsen, to spend £5 million buying the 65,000 square metres of land on which the six pyramids stand, cleaning up their surroundings, and building an excellent ethnographic museum and visitor centre in Guimar.
Now the pyramid park is a major visitor attraction on Tenerife. But many villagers remain convinced that the pyramids are nothing more than a junk heap.
On the other hand, the resident archaeologist at the pyramid park is convinced that Canary Islanders are ignoring their own heritage and history. He says: "Of course these are pyramids. They all face in the same direction, and they are aligned with the summer and winter solstices."
Certainly the six pyramids - only one of which has been restored - look impressive in their newly-smart setting. Their appearance adds veracity to Thor Heyerdahl’s assertion that they are the real thing. Their existence might also be seen as rather useful to him, because its adds considerable weight to the theories about the trans-oceanic migration of peoples and cultures that he highlighted with his epic Kon-Tiki and Ra II voyages nearly half-a-century ago.
It is perhaps unfortunate that, since his death, Heyerdahl’s theories have been largely discredited by scientific DNA evidence. Whereas he argued that Middle Eastern peoples travelled westwards, across the Mediterranean and eventually across the Atlantic to Central and South America, taking their pyramid-building skills and culture with them, scientists now say that Central and South America were peopled by travellers from South-East Asia.
Certainly, visitors seem almost equally divided between those who think the pyramids are the real thing, and those who think that their similarity to their rural surroundings is a sign that they are of agricultural, rather than archaeological, interest.
You pays your money and you makes your choice, as they say. But I, for one, am convinced that pyramids are real.
For more of Robin’s travel news, views and articles, visit www.robinmead.com