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Tiwanaku: Early Civilization of the South American Continent

History of the Site

Tiwanaku is perhaps the most mysterious city in the world, and part of what once made up one of the early civilizations of the South American continent.

First entering historical record with its discovery by the Spanish explorer Pedro Cieza de Leon in 1549, the site has remained a conundrum ever since. Even upon its first exploration by the Spanish conquistador, the site is believed to have been significantly looted and excavated. Into the spanish conquest, the colonial period, and the later 19th and 20th centuries, looting is known to have continued, particularly with the quarry of the stones to pave the expanding Bolivian railroad nearby.

Gateway of the Sun

Spanish Conquistadors Discover the Site 1549

One of the first most pristine studies of the ruins which may predate at least some of this unfortunate vandalism was done by the colonial explorer Ephraim George Squier who published the first detailed maps, photographs, and sketches cataloging the remains of the crumbling site around 1877.

Archaeologists Alan Kolata and Oswaldo Riviera in the 1990's uncovered the remains of the Suka Kollus, or raised farm field system that was believed to be have been used by the inhabitants of the Tihuanaco civilization in the surrounding arid altiplano. Most of their discoveries point to the use of the field system, and its usefulness to the surrounding locals. There are however, no written records coming down from this period at all for any identity of the peoples to be properly placed.


Site's Proposed Dates from 15,000 BC. to 400 AD

One of the methods that has been used to date the site, is based off geological evidence. According to scholars, Tiwanaku was a trade port city lying on the shores of Lake Titicaca. However, the lake is now over 100 feet lower than the present altitude of Tiwanaku and over 12 miles away. From data compiled by the British Geological Survey working in the area, in order for Lake Titicaca to have receded as far as it has from Tiwanaku today, it would have taken "at least over 15,000 years to do so."

Arthur Posnansky, a distinguished Polish professor of Archaeology from the La Paz University, wrote in his book, "Tiahuanaco: The Cradle of American Man" (1945), that the Kalasasaya pyramid's sight lines aligned perfectly with the two extremes of the summer and winter solstices in precisely the year 15,000BC. A further study done by the German Astronomical Commission in 1926, tested Posnansky's finds, and revealed that the angle of obliquity of the Kalasasaya sight lines correlate with a date in either 10,150BC or 4050BC.

Carbon dates extrapolated from organic artifacts buried about the stone megalithic structures in later years of excavations give ranges of anywhere from 1500BC to around 400AD for the original foundation of the Tiwanaku site.

The total area that has been excavated thus far of the site though is just less than 2%, which consists of many cross contaminated layers, that is to say layers of age, older and newer, that intermix and therefore provide no accurate basis upon which the true date of each individual strata can be evaluated along with subsequent finds.

For example, sample P-123 was found and dated to just 133 AD but was found at levels of which primarily artifacts of the oldest layer, c. 1500 BC, were thought to reside. From the evidence it would seem that the common system of contextualizing different layers most often used in archaeological practices is unreliable within the particular layers of Tiwanaku, random and unpredictable as they are in analyzing the given age of certain artifacts.

Also notable is the fact that archaeologists working in the city have uncovered materials only 3.75 meters below ground and concluded, on the basis of digging only a mere 75 cm beyond 4 m, that no prior signs of human occupation could be found lower than the prescribed 4 meter mark.

Inaccurate Methods

Documentation listing the artifacts that have been found on the site, goes back at least four decades, which much of the time does not contain specific dates but rather calibrated dates without listing the calibration method or particular calibration curve used in each case.

Much of the laboratory standards of which the evidence is cataloged also is often given without  specific depth, nature, or contextual reference within the site. Without accounting for the accuracy of these three factors along with the radiocarbon dates, a definitive age to which the artifacts, and certainly the site as a whole, can not be seriously given.

The extent of vandalism and treasure seeking that the site has been known to have endured over the many thousands of years could cause potential problems for accuracy as well.

"A Reclaimed Posterity from Great Ancestors"

Consider that pre-columbian andes cultures in the surrounding area, being attracted to the grandeur and mysticism of the site, may have buried some of their effects around and within the city, copying many of the symbols and signs from the site on their valuables.

Puma Punku, nearby to Tihuanaco, has been dated by Vranich, an archaeologist from the University of Pennsylvania, in much the same way. Again, no written records of any kind, even by the Aymara Indians who are speculated to be the progenitors of the ruins by mainstream archaeologists, make any direct connection between the organic carbon dated finds and the stone structures of the city.

Gods of Tiwanaku: The Viracochas

Although it may well be true that Tihuanaco was built around the supposed epoch of 400 AD, perhaps the Aymara Indians, may have reestablished the site after settling in the area to reclaim many of the farming systems original to the older city and inherited from a much earlier group of peoples not yet identified. In fact, according to the accounts of the first Spanish conquistadors into the altiplano, in his Chronicles of Peru, Garcia de La Vega specifically asked the Incas in the early 1600's who had built the great city of Tiwanaku and asked if the Incas had. The Incas said, "No" fact they laughed at such an idea and promptly told them that great ancestors had built them, the Viracochas, thousands of years before their time.


Image representations of the Viracochas

Proof of much earlier occupations has already been established by ground penetrating radar, magnetometry, induced electrical conductivity, and magnetic susceptibility. All of which point to structures, buildings and compounds, water conduits, residential compounds, and widespread gravel pavements all hidden underneath the ground going from the Kalasasaya compound in Tihuanaco, all the way to Puma Punku several km away.

At such a depth it  suggests a very old date for the oldest parts of the ruins. Sufficient water or wind erosion would not be present on the dry arid expanse of the Bolivian highlands to cover the stones at such a depth without a significant elapse in geological time.

In addition, Puma Punku shows significant signs of flood damage, and major mud and sand deposits many meters thick over the stone work, some blocks scattered about and pushed against embankments as if by some massive flood and earthquakes.

Weathering and Erosional Features on the Stones

Very worn large stonework inside the sunken temple at Tiwanaku display characteristic signs of wave action against the stones as well. Yet, many smaller closely fitted blocks surrounding the larger worn megaliths contain no such weathering action, remaining perfectly square and flat. The differences in weathering lain side by side, indicates two undeniable separate periods of building present at the city.

What exactly caused the wave-action erosion is a mystery; the stones may originally have fenced an artificial reservoir that changed in volume periodically and a continuous flow of local water being diverted into the reservoir lapped up against the stones for many centuries. Perhaps the megaliths may initially have been used as docking stones near the shores of Lake Titicaca, which would mean the Lake would have to have been much closer to the site at a very old date. Whatever the stones were used for, the erosion clearly suggests a high level of antiquity.

Another sign of older versus newer phases of construction is evident on the outer walls of the Kalasasaya temple. Extremely large and tall blocks wear heavy patches of old lichen, while the surrounding smaller blocks remain completely bare.

Large andesite megaliths in the sunken temple at Tiwanaku display heavy wave action-erosion while adjacent smaller blocks do not, a clear indication of separate and much older phases at Tiwanaku. The second picture below shows heavy lichen patches on the Kalasasaya Temple walls versus the bare stones surrounding the major pillars. 

It is likely that the original building actually consisted of just the very large megalithic blocks side by side; later people's at the site filled in the walls with the much smaller and easily moved blocks to repair the temples. As you can see, there appears to be far more history present at Tiwanaku than one would originally assume at first sight, indicated by different periods of occupation. Just how far removed were those periods?

Aerial View of Tihuanaco Site in picture above

Puma Punku (Architectural Marvel)

Puma Punku is a site unto itself, even more remote by its very nature. Evident within its structures is an architectural element that is amazingly unique amidst the region of the Andes and completely separate from even Tihuanaco.

The diversity, complexity and sheer skill that is wrought into the geometric and machine-like shapes does not seem to stem from previous sites in South America. The designs are so intricate and elegantly worked, grooves so evenly cut from one side to the other, without even the slightest deviation in degree from perfect straightness, all cut into granite and diorite stones, some of the hardest stones that can be possibly worked.

The only tools that would have been capable to shape such designs and work into stones of that level of hardness with such precision would have had to of been tipped with diamond, in much the same way our modern machine tools are today.

Proposed Builders: The Aymara Indians

Supposedly, the stones of Puma Punku and Tihuanaco were built by the Aymara Indians, a culture thought to have been no further than a stones throw out of the stone age itself and yet had no writing or recording system in which to plan or design what would have been necessary to undergo such a dynamic and practically miraculous building project. It is not surprising then that, when the Inca asked the Aymara who had built the great Tiwanaku, the Aymara could only mysteriously respond: "Giants in the night."

And it is easy to understand why the Aymaras would think up such a fantastic explanation for the buildings, for the blocks on site interlock together so evenly that archaeologists can't even fit a razor blade between the joints.

The culture moved these stones near to 400 tons each at an extremely thin atmosphere of 13,000 ft in altitude, one must seriously question how the task was done. Why would people do such a thing? It's almost as if such a feat were in fact quite easy for them. And yet at the same time astoundingly accurate. The culture that made these structures at Puma Punku adjoined blocks together with metal staples, matching grooves that contained poured molten metal to bind the stones together, technology far in advance of even the later advanced Inca civilization.

The same signature keystone cuts identified at Tihuanaco also feature on huge, smoothly polished, finely cut blocks of granite at such Inca mountain fortresses as Ollantaytambo far to the west, particularly on the Wall of Six Monoliths. An important thing to note about the wall is that the keystone blocks stand vertically rather than rest horizontally (staples can not be poured on a vertical wall), which indicates that later builders recycled previously dressed giant keystone blocks to repair walls, and filled in the gaps with crudely hewn very small rocks and mud.

(Precise Andesite Block on right with keystone cut below man's hand, compared to rubble fill on left at Ollantaytambo. The left rubble fill probably represents a later addition by the Inca and the more precise and much larger blocks those of the Tihuanacans. Second picture below provides scale for the gigantic Andesite blocks at the Ollantaytambo site).

The crude vs precise modes in the work suggest separate building phases, one possibly representing a much earlier and advanced stage and the later the Inca. The question that beggers the imagination is: if the Incas possessed the same level of technology as the Tihuanacans, then why didn't the Inca finely sculpt and dress large blocks to bridge gaps instead of using crude mud and rubble to repair walls?

One sixteenth century Spanish account noted by the historian and writer Garcilaso de la Vega (born from a Spanish soldier and Inca noblewoman), mentions in "Royal Commentaries of the Incas," that an Inca King attempted to emulate the prior achievements of the ancestors by hauling a gigantic boulder on par with the ancients just over a mile up to the Cuzco fortress of Sacsayhuaman. The fortress consists of gigantic blocks weighing as much as 100 to 400 tons each perfectly fitted together in a jig-saw manner. The Inca King apparently tried to haul one block with 20,000 men but failed and ended up killing 3,000 men as the block fell over a precipice. The Inca even told Spanish travelers upon arriving in Peru that the Inca thought giants originally had built the Sacsayhuaman fortress.

Interestingly, many of the finely dressed gigantic blocks at Ollantaytambo appear strewn about as if scattered by some great cataclysm just as those blocks seen at Tiwanaku.



Mathematical like, geometric shapes display the enormous skill in Stone masonry of the Tihuanacans. The second picture displays stones with the signature keystone cuts used for pouring molten metal staples, a technique utilized throughout the site to provide further structural stability and earthquake resistance; Why did the Tihuanacans see such earthquake resistance to be important? Note also the heavy lichen patches on the stones' sides.


The stone block to the left has been identified by Christopher Dunn (a prominent engineer and machine shop specialist) as clear evidence of ancient machining being used at Tiwanaku. The groove and sides of the block measure equally all along the surface to within 1/10,000 of an inch. Chris emphasizes that builders could smooth out the precise grooves with sand and wood or bone, but the technique would not have preserved the stone irregularities seen on the block; the builders had to have had a much more efficient way of slicing the stone.


Marcahuasi (Sculptures of Ancient Peru)

Marcahuasi, located at 12,500 ft in the high andes in Central Peru not far from Tihuanaco, is a landscape full of mysterious rock faces discovered by Dr. Daniel Ruzo in 1952, a local Peruvian archaeologist. Interestingly, many of the stone outlines or "statues" are only recognizable from a specific position, and turn unrecognizable with only 5ft to either left or right. However, many visitors to the site have noticed many stairs, or steps which lead to crudely carved seats where such ideal spots make the figures most optimally viewable. The sheer number of stone renderings also suggest that, although all are certainly naturally occurring geological formations, the rocks appear to be slightly altered by human hands.

To the left above, the outline of a peculiar head in profile is seen.

The outline of a grinning man, a very sqaurish jaw; even a smaller replica of the larger outline lies between the upper lip and nose again.












Three examples here outline what would appear to be a Peruvian Indian or shaman, the last image has a feather at its top. In the top right gray stone image in the center edge near the shadow, the edge of a man's profile, nose, mouth and forehead is clearly discernible. The rock itself is no harder than obsidian, a relatively soft black volcanic rock that can easily chip and flake with simple tooling. The level of hardness would make it ideal for primitive Neolithic peoples to use the stones as material for sculpting.