Tiwanaku (Spanish: Tiahuanaco or Tiahuanacu) is a Pre-Columbian
archaeological site in western Bolivia.
The site was first recorded in written history by Spanish conquistador
Pedro Cieza de León. He came upon the remains of
Tiwanaku in 1549
while searching for the Inca capital in Qullasuyu.
The name by which
Tiwanaku was known to its inhabitants may have been
lost as they had no written language. The ancient inhabitants of
Tiwanaku are believed to have spoken the Puquina language.
2.1 Contemporary excavation and restoration
3 See also
6 External links
The area around
Tiwanaku may have been inhabited as early as 1500 BC
as a small agricultural village. During the time period between 300
BC and AD 300,
Tiwanaku is thought to have been a moral and
cosmological center for the
Tiwanaku empire, and one to which many
people made pilgrimages. Researchers believe it achieved this standing
Tiwanaku expanding its powerful empire.
Arthur Posnansky estimated that
Tiwanaku dated to 15,000
BC[page needed] based on his archaeoastronomical techniques.
In the 21st century, experts concluded Posnansky's dates were invalid
and a "sorry example of misused archaeoastronomical evidence."
The structures that have been excavated by researchers at Tiwanaku
include the Akapana, Akapana East, and
Pumapunku stepped platforms,
the Kalasasaya, the Kheri Kala, and Putuni enclosures, and the
Semi-Subterranean Temple. These may be visited by the public.
The Akapana is an approximately cross-shaped pyramidal structure that
is 257 m wide, 197 m broad at its maximum, and 16.5 m tall. At its
center appears to have been a sunken court. This was nearly destroyed
by a deep looters excavation that extends from the center of this
structure to its eastern side. Material from the looters excavation
was dumped off the eastern side of the Akapana. A staircase with
sculptures is present on its western side. Possible residential
complexes might have occupied both the northeast and southeast corners
of this structure.
Originally, the Akapana was thought to have been developed from a
modified hill. Twenty-first-century studies have shown that it is an
entirely manmade earthen mound, faced with a mixture of large and
small stone blocks. The dirt comprising Akapana appears to have been
excavated from the "moat" that surrounds the site. The largest
stone block within the Akapana, made of andesite, is estimated to
weigh 65.70 metric tons. The structure was possibly for the
shaman-puma relationship or transformation through shape shifting.
Tenon puma and human heads stud the upper terraces.
Snuff tablet ("rapero"), Lombards Museum
The Akapana East was built on the eastern side of early Tiwanaku.
Later it was considered a boundary between the ceremonial center and
the urban area. It was made of a thick, prepared floor of sand and
clay, which supported a group of buildings. Yellow and red clay were
used in different areas for what seems like aesthetic purposes. It was
swept clean of all domestic refuse, signaling its great importance to
Pumapunku is a man-made platform built on an east–west axis like
the Akapana. It is a rectangular, terraced earthen mound faced with
megalithic blocks. It is 167.36 m wide along its north–south axis
and 116.7 m broad along its east–west axis, and is 5 m tall.
Identical 20-meter-wide projections extend 27.6 meters north and south
from the northeast and southeast corners of the Pumapunku. Walled and
unwalled courts and an esplanade are associated with this structure.
A prominent feature of the
Pumapunku is a large stone terrace; it is
6.75 by 38.72 meters in dimension and paved with large stone blocks.
It is called the "Plataforma Lítica". The Plataforma Lítica contains
the largest stone block found in the
Tiwanaku site. According
to Ponce Sangines, the block is estimated to weigh 131 metric tons.
The second-largest stone block found within the
Pumapunku is estimated
to be 85 metric tons.
Kalasasaya is a large courtyard more than 300 feet long, outlined
by a high gateway. It is located to the north of the Akapana and west
of the Semi-Subterranean Temple. Within the courtyard is where
explorers found the Gateway of the Sun. Since the late 20th century,
researchers have theorized that this was not the gateway's original
Near the courtyard is the Semi-Subterranean Temple; a square sunken
courtyard that is unique for its north–south rather than east–west
axis. The walls are covered with tenon heads of many different
styles, suggesting that the structure was reused for different
purposes over time. It was built with walls of sandstone pillars
and smaller blocks of Ashlar masonry. The largest stone block
Kalasasaya is estimated to weigh 26.95 metric tons.
"Gateway of the Sun", Tiwanaku, drawn by
Ephraim Squier in 1877. The
scale is exaggerated in this drawing.
Gate of the Moon.
Within many of the site's structures are impressive gateways; the ones
of monumental scale are placed on artificial mounds, platforms, or
sunken courts. Many gateways show iconography of the Staff God. This
iconography also is used on some oversized vessels, indicating an
importance to the culture. This iconography is most present on the
Gateway of the Sun.
Gateway of the Sun
Gateway of the Sun and others located at
Pumapunku are not
complete. They are missing part of a typical recessed frame known as a
chambranle, which typically have sockets for clamps to support later
additions. These architectural examples, as well as the recently
discovered Akapana Gate, have a unique detail and demonstrate high
skill in stone-cutting. This reveals a knowledge of descriptive
geometry. The regularity of elements suggest they are part of a system
Many theories for the skill of Tiwanaku's architectural construction
have been proposed. One is that they used a luk’a, which is a
standard measurement of about sixty centimeters. Another argument is
for the Pythagorean Ratio. This idea calls for right triangles at a
ratio of five to four to three used in the gateways to measure all
parts. Lastly Protzen and Nair argue that
Tiwanaku had a system set
for individual elements dependent on context and composition. This is
shown in the construction of similar gateways ranging from diminutive
to monumental size, proving that scaling factors did not affect
proportion. With each added element, the individual pieces were
shifted to fit together.
As the population grew, occupational niches developed, and people
began to specialize in certain skills. There was an increase in
artisans, who worked in pottery, jewelry and textiles. Like the later
Tiwanaku had few commercial or market institutions. Instead,
the culture relied on elite redistribution. That is, the elites of
the empire controlled essentially all economic output, but were
expected to provide each commoner with all the resources needed to
perform his or her function. Selected occupations include
agriculturists, herders, pastoralists, etc. Such separation of
occupations was accompanied by hierarchical stratification within the
The elites of
Tiwanaku lived inside four walls that were surrounded by
a moat. This moat, some believe, was to create the image of a sacred
island. Inside the walls were many images devoted to human origin,
which only the elites would see. Commoners may have entered this
structure only for ceremonial purposes, since it was home to the
holiest of shrines.
As the site has suffered from looting and amateur excavations since
shortly after Tiwanaku's fall, archeologists must attempt to interpret
it with the understanding that materials have been jumbled and
destroyed. This destruction continued during the Spanish conquest and
colonial period, and during 19th century and the early 20th century.
Other damage was committed by people quarrying stone for building and
railroad construction, and target practice by military personnel.
No standing buildings have survived at the modern site. Only public,
non-domestic foundations remain, with poorly reconstructed walls. The
ashlar blocks used in many of these structures were mass-produced in
similar styles so that they could possibly be used for multiple
purposes. Throughout the period of the site, certain buildings changed
purposes, causing a mix of artifacts found today.
Detailed study of
Tiwanaku began on a small scale in the
mid-nineteenth century. In the 1860s,
Ephraim George Squier
Ephraim George Squier visited
the ruins and later published maps and sketches completed during his
visit. German geologist
Alphons Stübel spent nine days in
1876, creating a map of the site based on careful measurements. He
also made sketches and created paper impressions of carvings and other
architectural features. A book containing major photographic
documentation was published in 1892 by engineer B. von Grumbkow. With
commentary by archaeologist Max Uhle, this was the first in-depth
scientific account of the ruins.
Pictures of archaeological excavations in 1903
Gate of the Sun
Gate of the Sun (1903)
Gate of the Sun, Rear View (1903)
Contemporary excavation and restoration
Walls around the temple Kalasasaya
In the 1960s, the Bolivian government initiated an effort to restore
the site and reconstruct part of it. The walls of the
almost all reconstructed. The original stones making up the Kalasasaya
would have resembled a more "Stonehenge"-like style, spaced evenly
apart and standing straight up. The reconstruction was not
sufficiently based on research; for instance, a new wall was built
around Kalasasaya. The reconstruction does not have as high quality of
stonework as was present in Tiwanaku. As noted, the Gateway of the
Sun, now in the Kalasasaya, was moved from its original location.
Modern, academically sound archaeological excavations were performed
from 1978 through the 1990s by
University of Chicago
University of Chicago anthropologist
Alan Kolata and his Bolivian counterpart, Oswaldo Rivera. Among their
contributions are the rediscovery of the suka kollus, accurate dating
of the civilization's growth and influence, and evidence for a
drought-based collapse of the
Archaeologists such as Paul Goldstein have argued that the Tiwanaku
empire ranged outside of the altiplano area and into the Moquegua
Valley in Peru. Excavations at Omo settlements show signs of similar
architecture characteristic of Tiwanaku, such as a temple and terraced
mound. Evidence of similar types of cranial deformation in burials
between the Omo site and the main site of
Tiwanaku is also being used
for this argument.
Tiwanaku has been designated as a
UNESCO World Heritage Site,
administered by the Bolivian government.
Robotic exploration of a newly discovered tunnel in the Akapana
pyramid, June 13, 2006
Recently, the Department of Archaeology of
Bolivia (DINAR, directed by
Javier Escalante) has been conducting excavations on the Akapana
pyramid. The Proyecto Arqueologico Pumapunku-Akapana
(Pumapunku-Akapana Archaeological Project, PAPA) run by the University
of Pennsylvania, has been excavating in the area surrounding the
pyramid for the past few years, and also conducting Ground Penetrating
Radar surveys of the area.
In former years, an archaeological field school offered through
Harvard's Summer School Program, conducted in the residential area
outside the monumental core, has provoked controversy amongst local
archaeologists. The program was directed by Dr. Gary Urton, of
Harvard, who was an expert on quipus, and Dr.
Alexei Vranich of the
University of Pennsylvania. The controversy was over allowing a team
of untrained students to work on the site, even under professional
supervision. It was so important that only certified professional
archaeologists with documented funding were allowed access. The
controversy was charged with nationalistic and political
Harvard field school lasted for three years,
beginning in 2004 and ending in 2007. The project was not renewed in
subsequent years, nor was permission sought to do so.
In 2009 state-sponsored restoration work on the Akapana pyramid was
halted due to a complaint from UNESCO. The restoration had consisted
of facing the pyramid with adobe, although researchers had not
established this as appropriate.
Las Ánimas complex
List of megalithic sites
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World Heritage Sites in Bolivia
Jesuit Missions of Chiquitos
Fuerte de Samaipata
Noel Kempff Mercado National Park
City of Potosí
Historic City of Sucre
Tiwanaku: Spiritual and Political Centre of the Tiwa