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Hydroelectric dam threatens pre-Columbian holy site

A hydroelectric dam is threatening to flood El Porvenir, an unexplored pre-Columbian holy site.

The government plans to flood the valley in which El Porvenir lies to create a hydroelectric dam, wiping out the stones and leaving archaeologists unable to determine whether the site was built by a local indigenous tribe.

True examination of the site has been limited due to the remote location and difficult working conditions — the area is know for its particularly aggressive lancehead vipers.

Archaeologist Reina Duran, director of the Tachira Museum in the state capital San Cristobal, said she first visited El Porvenir in 1979 and worked on it each dry season for 10 years. “During those years when we came and went it was overgrown and full of mud again,” she said. “Every time we arrived at the site we had to begin the work again.”

Today, only a small patch of the 25-meter-wide by 50-meter-high structure can be seen. It is flanked on both sides by streams that flow into the nearby Dorados River, or Golden River. In 1977 a local journalist wrote that it looked “something like a pyramid,” and strong debate has prevailed ever since over its origins and uses. Some biologists claimed it was a natural geological formation but that’s not a theory shared by Duran.

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