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The classical Tiahuanaco civilization

The classical Tiahuanaco civilization
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Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world (3800 meters above sea level).

Its extension is 8,200 square kilometers, between the Andean territories of Peru and Bolivia and has a maximum depth of 365 meters. Its waters have a stabilizing function in the climate of the entire plateau. Without this immense body of water, whose origin dates back millions of years, life on the Andean plateau would be almost impossible due to the altitude.

Man has inhabited the plateau that surrounds the lake since ancient times. Collas (indigenous people of the Aymara language), Pukara, Lupaca and Uro have similar traditions in common that recognize their respective origins in mystical characters who lived in the depths of the lake.

The lake region has particular characteristics: the water level varies around every 12 years, modifying the extent of the land used for livestock and agriculture. After careful studies, it is deduced that the ancient lake populations knew these time cycles and that they cultivated potatoes, maca and various cereals such as quinoa. According to the Austrian scholar Arthur Posnansky, the first colonizers of the Collao region (Andean highlands) were two large ethnic groups: the Aymara-speaking Colla and the Arawak (Arawak language, Caribbean-Amazonian origin), whose descendants are the Uro and the Chipayas. According to other scholars, on the contrary, the Uro have Polynesian origins.

The classical Tiahuanaco civilization
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The most important centers of these cultures were, until the 3rd century AD, Pucara, located northwest of Lake Titicaca, and Tiahuanaco (or Tiwanaku), located to the south, both of Colla origin. The Colla called their language jaqiaru (word of man).

From the latest studies carried out in situ, it appears that the Pukara culture is older than Tiahuanaco itself and that it in turn derives from pre-existing Qaluyo and Chiripa cultures. The archaeological site of Pucara has an extension from approximately 4 square kilometers to more or less 100 kilometers northwest of Lake Titicaca.

There are large stones that delimit plazas, staircases, and ceremonial enclosures. Some scholars such as Valcarel in 1927 maintained that Pucara is the origin of the Tiahuanaco culture. Other more recent ones, such as Rowe and Brandel, described Pucara as an autonomous culture that did not influence Tiahuanaco. The Spanish writer Piedro Cieza León, the first Westerner to visit the stone city of Tiahuanaco in 1549, wrote in his Chronicle of Peru (1553):

Tiahuanaco is not a very large city, but it is made up of memorable stone buildings, surrounded by gigantic walls. In the city there are several statues of idols taller than the human figure, so much so that they seem to have been sculpted by great masters. My conclusion is that this city is the oldest in all of Peru. Here it is said that before the Inca people reigned, these buildings were already built. I heard it said that the walls and buildings of Cusco were made in similarity to these, but no one was able to tell me who actually built Tiahuanaco.

After in-depth archaeological investigations, it was concluded that the Tiahuanaco culture had its peak from the 3rd to the 10th century after Christ. Its influence spread throughout the Andean plateau to the current countries of Chile and Argentina. The Tiahuanaco people were of the Colla ethnic group and spoke the Aymara language. According to archaeologist Carlos Ponce Sanjines (1970), the Tiahuanaco culture had its origins in pre-existing Chiripa settlements.

Scientific investigations were carried out on 18 human skeletons found in the proximity of the archaeological site. These studies revealed that the ancient inhabitants of Tiahuanaco had Andean and Amazonian origin. Some human remains, in fact, demonstrate evident affinities with others of Arawak origin. The name Tiahuanaco was used by the Incas (in Quechua it means the city of God), while the name by which its inhabitants called it was perhaps Taypikala (the stone in the middle).

The classical Tiahuanaco civilization
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The people of Tiahuanaco were dedicated to agriculture (potatoes, corn, quinoa, maca), fishing (in neighboring Lake Titicaca), ceramics and the artisanal production of bronze axes and fabrics (with alpaca and cotton wool). These products were exchanged with the Amazonian peoples who lived near the Beni River to obtain coca, cassava, legumes, and birds. The city called Tiahuanaco was a ceremonial and commercial center of primary importance. Anthropomorphic lithic totems up to 10 meters taller were worshiped.

Another characteristic of the Tiahuanaco culture are the so-called Chullpas, stone funerary urns, intended for the burial of high dignitaries, which can be visited not far from the city of Puno, in the place of Sillustani. The main Divinity in Tiahuanaco was an imposing human figure with feline characteristics, but also with bird and reptile shapes.

According to the scholar Luis Lumbreras (1974), the influence of Tiahuanaco did not expand in an imperialist sense, conquering other cultures as the Incas did later, but rather citadels were founded, occupied by settlers, where the lands were cultivated to obtain products that were then sent to the highlands. This theory is supported by some discoveries from the Tiahuanaco culture found on the coast of the department of Arequipa and in northern Chile.

Three phases are commonly distinguished in the development of this culture. The so-called Tiahuanaco-altiplano, from the 3rd to the 10th century of the era of Christ, during which the ceremonial center (known today as Tiahuanaco) and the funerary urns of Sillustani were built.

The classical Tiahuanaco civilization
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The second period, called Tiahuanaco-Ayacucho, from the 8th to the 10th century after Christ, in which a strong influence of the Wari culture is noted, especially in ceramics, where clear and dynamic anthropomorphic figures are represented.

In the third period, called Tiahuanaco-Wari , from the 11th to the 14th century AD, the Tiahuanaco culture entered a phase of decline, since the influence of other peoples increased, such as the Lupaca, in the area of ​​Lake Titicaca. In this cultural phase, a greater importance of the sun as a symbol is noted, represented both in ceramics and in fabrics. According to Posnansky, the decline of Tiahuanaco was accelerated by the explosion of the Chapía volcano, now extinct. In any case, the expansion of the Incas was, in my opinion, the main cause of the end of the highland culture.

The central part of the archaeological site that can be visited today is the temple called Kalasasaya, a rectangular construction measuring 126 by 117 meters. The access door to the temple is a huge portal made of sandstone blocks that weigh several dozen tons. In one of the corners of the construction is the famous Sun Gate, in the center of which an anthropomorphic figure is sculpted. In the center of the temple is the monolith called Ponce, a slender anthropomorphic sculpture. In front of the Kalasasaya temple there is a plaza located approximately two meters underground, which is known as a semi-subterranean temple. On the walls of this square there are 48 head-shaped stone sculptures, representing anthropomorphic and zoomorphic heads. Most of the latter are feline totems, but there are also representations in the shape of fish. The meaning of these bald heads must be sought in totemic cults, important in archaic cultures. In the center of this semi-underground area there are some monoliths, of which one is called Kon Tiki, an anthropomorphic sculpture with a beard. This last figure is an enigma for scholars, since it is well known that the indigenous people of the New World are mostly hairless. On the western side of the temple is the pyramid called Akapana. There was probably a sacred building there that was destroyed. From the latest archaeological excavations it is deduced that the pyramid had a base of 180 meters on each side and a height of 35. Beneath it, narrow passages were found that gave rise to fanciful hypotheses. For now, however, a scientific explanation for its use has not yet been reached. The pyramid is surrounded by a strong magnetic field, and this suggests that there are large amounts of metals in its depths.

The latest geographical and archaeological studies showed that Tiahanacu was a port city in ancient times, since Lake Titicaca extended to its limits. Probably the site known today as Puma Punku (lion gate) was the main access route to the city.


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