History of South America

The Ruins of Tiahuanaco - History The Ruins of Tiahuanaco

Near Lake Titicaca, in the Bolivian altiplano, more than 3,800 meters above sea level are the ruins of an abandoned prehistoric city:TIAHUANACO. Evoking wild speculation, these ruins have been called the cradle of American civilization, and imagination has taken hold of them as few other places have. The fantasy of self-proclaimed sages or mere curiosity took high flights:The ruins would date from about 300 thousand years ago; the climate of the place would have been heavenly, when the city was founded, 20 thousand years ago; or would it be construction inspired by astronauts from other planets...

The reliefs of Porta do Sol were the oldest and most precious calendar in the world; the city would have an age of 13,630 years, and it had been abandoned after a seismic cataclysm. (Posnansky). The historical truth is far more fascinating than these visions of science fiction, precisely because it is based on fact. Facts patiently excavated from the very soil that buried those ruins. In 1533, the empire of the Incas of Peru fell, and when the Spaniards arrived at the rugged highlands, they were amazed at the gigantic architectural remains of the city of Tiahuanaco... "Tiahuanaco" is not a very large town - wrote Cieza Léon in his Crónica del Peru ( Seville, 1553 ), speaking of the colonial hamlet that was formed near the ruins - but it is distinguished by the large buildings it has, which are certainly remarkable and worth seeing. close to the main apartments is a hand-made hill, raised on large stone foundations.

Beyond this hill are two idols so big that they look like small giants... Next to these statues... there remains another building whose antiquity... more than a wall very well carved and that must have been built many times and ages ago. There are many large gates of one stone, and I do not understand or understand with what tools it was carved. I consider these the greatest antiquities in Peru; and so it is assumed that before the Incas reigned, they were made a long time ago...

The Puerta del Sol, located on the platform of Kalasasaya, and certainly the most famous monument in Tiahuanaco, was never finished. Above right, The Friar, sculpture by Kalasasaya.

According to the oldest traditions of the Aymara Indians, the city of Tiahuanaco dawned after a long night, ready in all its splendor... And they say that a deep darkness reigned on Earth, until one day the waters of Titicaca parted. , and Titihuirajocha appeared with a great retinue. He created the Sun, the Moon and the stars and then the great city, where he reigned until the wickedness of his subjects forced him to punish them, turning them into stones. And he also says that, a long time ago, the Huiarajochas appeared there, white, bearded knights, whose chief dominated the sun, moon and stars, moved the Earth, moved mountains and made fire rain...

Bennett's Stele The first scientific archaeological excavation was carried out between June and July 1932 by the North American archaeologist Wendell C. Bennett. The work was aimed at establishing a stratigraphic sequence of ceramics from the place, essential for an exact chronology and a task never tested before. "East of Kalasasaya - wrote Bennett (Excavations at Tiahuanaco, 1934) - there is a small semi-subterranean temple, 1.80 m below the surface of the monolithic base. The temple was completely covered since the beginning of this century... " The well No. VII was made in the northern half of the temple. It was 4 x 2.5m, parallel to the north wall of the structure. The head of a large monolithic statue was found at a depth of half a meter in the southern portion of the well. To unearth it, it was necessary to extend the excavation six meters to the south and about 3.50 m wide.

Unfortunately, the change in excavation technique made it impossible to preserve the stratigraphic levels..." Thus, in dry and almost boring words, Bennett describes the discovery of the largest monolithic statue of Tiahuanaco. After finding another sculpture, Bennett established his ceramic sequence. periods:Ancient, Classical, and Decadent. His findings are now outdated - but he will always be remembered as the discoverer of the Bennett Stele. The dry scientific reports do not give an idea of ​​the perfection of the best ceramic pieces that, usually on a brown background, They have white, red, yellow and black colors. Finely polished, they sometimes present extremely complex designs. The representation of the feline and the bird of prey predominates. Other animals are the snake and the llama, and there are also anthropomorphic figures.

And the immense area of ​​distribution of these ceramics is amazing - and right in the so-called Decadent Epoch:from the pacific coasts to the north of Argentina. Carlos Ponce Sanginés, First (from 1957) at the Center for Archeological Investigations of Tiwanaku (they prefer this spelling), today Instituto Nacional de Arqueologia (INA). His excavations, which were the largest in Latin America, aimed to uncover details for a better understanding of Tiahuanacota civilization - and the extensive restoration of excavated monuments. A series of carbon 14 dates established an absolute chronology. And from the INA reports, the hundreds of tables and technical drawings and the various objects found, the story of Tiahuanaco begins to resurface. But before telling it, it will be necessary to go to the site of the ancient city, as it stands today, after about 30 years of excavations and restorations.

The most important ruins of the ancient metropolis are located close to a small colonial town, and are dominated by the artificial hill of Akapana. We know today that it was a truncated pyramid, with two or three terraces, whose base measures about 1.80 x 1.35 meters. On its top there were formerly some buildings, of which few stones were visible. Recent excavations unearth staircases and part of the facade of carved slabs (it is assumed that part of the surface of the pyramid was covered with clay, probably painted or carved). The dimensions of the base of Akapana resemble the Pyramid of the Sun, in Teotihuacán, Mexico. Like this one, its main body faces west, and, like this one, it possibly served as a base for sacred constructions.

From the top of Akapana, the visitor can see the lithic constructions of the ancient city (The Pumapunku complex, which only closely reveals itself as the rest of another pyramid with gigantic monolithic buildings in ruins; the lowered quadrangle of the semi-subterranean temple; the monolithic staircase, with its reconstructed monumental gate; the great platform of Kalasasaya, with its reconstructed walls - once only bounded by rows of monolithic pillars - with the Gate of the Sun; the Lankakollu hill, formerly another pyramid) and various excavation fields with its typical quadrangulations. In the distance you can see the modern village, domes and the tower of the colonial church - all lying on the plain, with plowed fields, earth and dry dust. Few sheep and cows eat hard grass in the highlands. And on the horizons of the mountains.

Scattered throughout the fields are carved stones, and the observant visitor can find a large amount of small ceramic fragments of the typical Tiahuanacota style. Summarizing the findings of Carlos Ponce Sanginés and his collaborators, there were five periods in the development of a site:Epochs I and II-village; epochs III and IV-Urban; V-Imperial era.

The earliest date of the site revealed by carbon 14 is approximately 1500 BC. In times I and II Tiahuanaco lived as a village with a few hundred inhabitants, with a self-sufficient economy, but in exchange with its neighbors. Around the second century AD, this change caused a series of chain reactions:a well-managed state apparatus appeared there, a society divided into imports, with artisans and artists who needed raw materials from distant places.

As an echo, there was a notable increase in population. It is estimated that by the year 200, agricultural production in the region was such that one third was enough to feed the components. The rest, collected in the form of taxes, served to maintain the dominant caste of aristocrats and priests, and to carry out works planned by them, that is, the monumental architectural structures that marked that time:sacred buildings, such as the truncated pyramid of Akapana; temples such as kalasasaya and pumapunku, each with about four hectares of surface, the temple, semi-underground, excavated in 1960-1964, in addition to several palaces.


As the city was not self-sufficient, the tendency was to increase the area under its influence. In fact, the expansionist tendency, so pronounced later, began already at this time (the III, c. 200 AD). Around the 7th century, the city entered its classical phase - an age of maturity that placed an emphasis on beauty, modifying and improving things. The best sculptures and ceramics date from this time. Orders of warriors are often represented (as in Mexico):those of the eagle (or the condor) and the feline, therefore the respective masks, holding weapons and displaying as a breastplate the blade of an ax, symbol of the combatant.

By that time, the hosts of Tiahuanaco had established colonial enclaves (where there was great commercial exchange) in the regions of Ayacucho, in Peru (Huari), and Atacama in Chile. As the aerial photographs show, the city at its peak reached an area of ​​about 420 hectares, 4% of which were occupied by religious-ceremonial buildings and palaces. This nucleus was carefully planned, as were probably popular housing, which were made of adobe. The last stage of Tiahuanaco was imperial, in a vast military war expansion.

We must see these achievements as a political fact, albeit associated with religious beliefs. Warriors can be seen in art, so ax in one hand and trophy head in the other. Unlike the later Incas, their battles were dominated by the handling of the bow and arrow. Around 910 Tiahuanaco was at the height of its power. Today we know 125 sites belonging to its culture, 87 of which from the imperial period. With a territory that must have covered six hundred thousand square kilometers, its hypothetical population is estimated at three million six hundred thousand inhabitants (with a population density of six inhabitants per square kilometer) at the end of its trajectory. Embracing the Pacific coast to the west, and having the mountain range and the altiplano in the center, these domains encompassed, to the east, the valley with a constantly mild temperature. In the 13th century the empire collapsed, it is not known why. Centuries later, the Incas tried to resurrect the city. It is assumed that the builders of Tiahuanaco were Aymara-speaking. Pumapunku means Puma Gate - it is believed today that it was the sanctuary of the feline warriors.

Before the last excavations recently, the place presented itself as an apparently natural hill, about twelve meters high. At its top there is a platform that, measuring about twenty by fifty meters, is formed by immense blocks of carved stone coming from a quarry a hundred kilometers away. The biggest block weighs about 150 tons. This platform and the remains of the buildings on which it served as a base were destroyed by the Spaniards who, in search of treasures, made huge stones fly with large amounts of gunpowder. In the rubble, fragments of several carved monolithic gates can be distinguished, similar to the famous Porta do Sol. This site began in 1977 - which was continued for three seasons -, but the scientific conclusions of these investigations have not yet been published.

The corners of the structure were found, which is now known to measure one hundred and thirty by two hundred meters. It is an earth pyramid with a staggered wall facade, built with very well carved stones, set directly on the ground, without foundations. In many places the wall was demolished, and its rectangular stones taken to La Paz. Exploring further, remains of a red polished clay floor and also another older wall (hidden behind the layer of earth applied to receive the most recent one), which is in an excellent state of preservation. For Bolivian archaeologists, there are no longer great mysteries in the history of the Tiahuanaco empire:warlike expansion, supported by secondary capitals always dependent on the metropolis on the shores of Lake Titicaca. Different stylistic versions are nothing more than the expression of colonial art influenced by the metropolis. In a word, it was a Bolivian empire. Peruvian scholars, on the other hand, see things differently. For them it also begins in Tiahuanaco. But they point out certain stylistic similarities that indicate a strong influence coming from Chávin (which I also focus on on this page), notably as regards the deities of the feline, the bird of prey and the "fiery angels" (It is true that neither the feline nor the serpent inhabit the high regions of Chávin or Tiahuanaco, a sign that the religion of these deities could not be indigenous.)

Especially the Peruvians deny Tiahuanaco the command of the expansive or imperial phase. They claim as the capital of this empire the city of Huari, in the Peruvian department of Ayacucho. It is certain that the style of lithic ceramics and sculpture changed on the way from Tiahuanaco to Huari (or Wari), a city that suffered two strong stylistic (and, naturally, cultural) influences:from Nazca, on the Pacific coast, and from Tiahuanaco. From the confluence of these two currents, the imperial focus of Huari was formed, which in turn conquered the great empire. Strange how modern borders can influence the view of past history. We won't go into the merits of the two versions. It is certain that there was an empire influenced by Tiahuanaco, which in the 11th-12th centuries dominated much of Bolivia, Peru, Chile and Argentina. Whether the political capital was Tiahunaco, Huari (Bolivian archaeologists point out that Tiahuanaco was undoubtedly much larger than Huari), or elsewhere - is something that only experts can decide.

What matters here is the technological (especially metallurgy) and artistic advancement of Tiahuanaco and Huari, with their wonderful lithic sculptures and polychrome ceramics, and, preserved by the dry climate of the Pacific coast, the fabulous llama wool farms. Our knowledge of the history of Tiahuanaco-Huari will always be limited. There is no scripture that can be deciphered. The mysterious figures of the Porta do Sol, the Bennett Monolith or certain fabrics are possibly ideograms or even hieroglyphics, but we have no basis for a scientific interpretation of them. We will never know the complete story of Tiahuanaco, as all the information we have about him comes from evidence taken from the earth and from the works of art themselves, which we can study and try to interpret.