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Semi-Subterranean Temple, Tiwanaku

Semi-Subterranean Temple, Tiwanaku

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The Inca civilization of South America, unlike the Mayan, was still at its height when conquistadors arrived. One of the conquistadors, Cieza de Leon (1518 – 1560), followed trails from the coast of Peru into the foothills of the Andes and learned from natives about the ruins of a once great city high in the mountains. He presumed that it was an old Inca settlement like those the Spanish found elsewhere in what is now Peru. In 1549, heading inland from Lake Titicaca, which separates Peru from the land-locked nation of Bolivia, de Leon found the remains of the fabled city of Tiahuanaco, which were far greater than he had expected.

The site of the ancient city features large artificial mounds and massive, carved stones, including an enormous entrance called the Gateway of the Sun. Carved from a single block of stone weighing 10 tons, the Gateway features intricate decorations, including a god-figure often identified as Viracocha, who figured prominently in the mythology of the region.

A terraced monument called Akapana, measuring 650 by 600 feet and rising 50 feet high, has a pyramidal shape that levels off to form a high platform. Within that platform are sunken courtyards. Seen throughout Tiahuanaco are skillful examples of masonry and the brilliant use of metals, including copper clamps that hold massive blocks of stones together.

The Gateway of the Sun stands on the northwest corner of a platform temple called Kalasasaya, which is adjacent to a semi-underground temple the temples form part of an astronomical observatory. Some standing stones placed on the site weigh up to 100 tons. Among other remarkable feats, the residents of Tiahuanaco devised a drainage and sewer system. At 12,500 feet of elevation, Tiahuanaco was the highest city of the ancient world.

As soon as Cieza de Leon reported the remarkable discovery, Tiahuanaco became one of the world's great mysteries, for the local Aymara Indians insisted that the ruins were there long before the great Inca civilization came to the area and conquered it around 1450. Christian missionaries followed Cieza de Leon to the ruins, and these men of learning soon doubted whether the Aymara people could ever have been capable of the craftsmanship and engineering such massive structures required. Legends began to be spread by the missionaries that the structures had been erected in the distant past by giants.

Scientists date the civilization that occupied Tiahuanaco to 300 — when a community first began to settle in the area — to 900, when some kind of disruption occurred and Tiahuanaco was abandoned. Those dates match the claim of the Aymara Indians that Tiahuanaco was built and lay in ruins before the Incas came. Other theorists blend scientific finds and local myths, perpetuating the notion that a white race, perhaps Egyptians or Phoenicians, brought civilization to the high plain.

The argument that Tiahuanaco thrived more than 10 thousand years before the dates established by scientific testing was fostered by Arthur Posnansky in his book, Tiahuanaco: The Cradle of American Man (1945). Noting that the platform temple Kalasasaya was used as an astronomical observatory, Posnansky determined that it pointed precisely to solstice alignments in 15,000 b.c.e. Taking into account the very gradual shifting of Earth's axis, Posnansky postulated that arid plain was once below water, part of Lake Titicaca, and that Tiahuanaco was once a major port city. The ancient citizens of Tiahuanaco were members of a superior culture who had introduced a golden age to the area. The founders of Tiahuanaco were taller and had distinctive facial characteristics quite apart from the high-cheekboned visages of today's dwellers of the high plateau.

In Posnanksy's view, the most startling tale told by the few artifacts left in the city was of a New World civilization that was amazingly similar to that of ancient Egypt. The Calassassayax (house of worship), he believed, was so similar to the Egyptian temple of Karnak in design and layout that its relative dimensions made it almost a scale model of the Old World structure. The stones used in the temple at Tiahuanaco are fitted and joined with their joints and facing parts polished to make a nearly perfect match. The Incas did not build in such a manner, but the ancient Egyptians did.

And then there were the buildings constructed of massive, polished stones, many tons in weight, that had been placed in such a manner that only a people with advanced engineering methods could have designed and transported them. If this were not enough of an impossible situation, the particular andesite used in much of the Tiahuanacan construction can only be found in a quarry that lies 50 miles away in the mountains.

The surgeons of Tiahuanaco were skilled in trepanning the brain, as were the Egyptian physicians. Posnansky uncovered skulls with well-healed bone grafts, which offered silent testimony to the skill of the ancient doctors and their knowledge of anatomy. Some archaeologists receptive to Posnansky's theories argue that the credibility of cultural coincidence is stretched considerably when related to brain operations. It is possible to accept the fact that two widely separated cultures, such as the Egyptians and the unknown people of Tiahuanaco, may have developed a form of brain operation, but that both cultures used identical instruments and methods, seems unusual to say the least. The instruments are of high-grade copper and include drills and chisels. In themselves they indicate an advanced degree of metallurgy, knowledge of simple machinery, and development of surgical practices far more detailed than can be expected in primitive societies.

Posnansky's theories won a popular readership, but were not widely accepted among scientists. At sunrise on dates of the equinox, for example, the Sun appears on the staircase of Kakassasaya. There is no need to believe that it was built at a precise time to point to a precise astronomical alignment. The port city idea was also quickly disputed. Areas that would have been submerged included neighborhoods of dwellings that share similar dates with the larger structures, and the surrounding countryside where farms were located also would have been underwater.

Radiocarbon dating suggests instead that Tiahuanaco was founded around 400, and after three centuries of gradual settlement, the city was abandoned around 1000. In the interim, the settlement had grown from a ceremonial center to a major city inhabited by 40,000 to 80,000 people.

Regular archaeological excavations have been underway in Tiahuanaco since 1877. The semi-subterranean temple next to the Akapana yielded a 24-foot tall monolith in 1932. That find and the generally arid climate helped sustain the idea that Tiahuanaco served primarily as a ceremonial center. Later finds, however, showed that it had been a thriving city, and dates for the time settlement and abandonment were established. Why the place was abandoned, however, remains a mystery to conventional archaeologists.

However, according to Posnansky, it was the climactic changes at the end of the Ice Age that contributed to flooding and the destruction of Tiahuanaco, wiping out its inhabitants and leaving the great structures in ruins. Posnansky died in 1946, convinced that he had traced the influence of Tiahuanaco on the native culture as far north as the coastal deserts of Peru and as far south as Argentina.

Most other archaeologists take much more conservative views. As with the Mayans, they argue, the ancient Indians of Tiahuanaco might have had too much of a good thing. There is evidence that they were victims of a natural catastrophe, but it was a prolonged drought, rather than Posnansky's great flood, that probably overwhelmed them. Drought conditions set in for an extended period, and the Aymara could no longer support a massive population and large-scale construction projects. People began abandoning the city around 1000. The Incas conquered communities remaining in the area around 1450. Then the Spanish came to Tiahuanaco about one hundred years after the Incas had moved in.

Still the questions remain: just who were the natives that thrived at Tiahuanaco and how did they construct such elaborate structures?

The Aymara, meanwhile, still live in the region. They outlasted the early Spanish settlers around Tiahuanaco, who never quite mastered the area's harsh conditions. The plain became a desert again after the Spanish farmed it, for they never learned to use a technique of the ancient dwellers of Tiahuanaco. The mysterious unknown people farmed on raised fields, which were filled and built up with soil from surrounding areas. Canals between the fields kept them watered, and by farming on raised fields the crops were kept safe from the danger of frost and erosion by water.

Tiwanaku, Bolivia: The enormous mysterious ancient city that was abandoned a long time before the rise of the Inca Empire

Tiwanaku ( Tiahuanaco or Tiahuanacu in Spanish language ) is ruined ancient city located 44 miles west of La Paz near the south-eastern side of Lake Titicaca in western Bolivia.

It is a crucial Pre-Columbian archaeological site named after one of the most powerful civilizations which thrived in the region before the rise of the Inca Empire. In fact, Tiwanaku was the capital of the lost and very influential civilization that dominated a large area of the south part of the Andean region between 500 and 900 AD.

Tiwanaku is known as one of the highest and oldest urban centers ever built. It is placed nearly 13,000 feet above sea level. The remains of the city were discovered by the Spanish conquistador Pedro Cieza de Leon in 1549, while he led an expedition that was searching for the capital of the Inca region of Qullasuyu. He and his men were the first Europeans who visited a long time abandoned city of Tiwanaku. Actually, he recorded the site for the first time ever in written history.

The “Gate of the Moon”/ Author: Daniel Maciel – CC BY 2.0

The original name of the city which was known to its residents is probably lost forever, because from the so far discovered archaeological documents and artifacts, the linguists believe that the people of Tiwanaku had no written language. It is also believed that they spoke the Puquina (or Pukina) language, which is an extinct language once spoken by the people that lived in the area surrounding Lake Titicaca, in modern day Bolivia and Peru.

Stairs of Kalasasaya (1903)

At its highest peak Tiwanaku had between 30,000 and 70,000 residents (from 500 till 900 AD). But the story of Tiwanaku began much earlier. The archaeological discoveries indicate that the area was inhabited from the approximately 1500 BC. Tiwanaku at first was a small agriculture village. The location between Lake Titicaca and the dry highlands were more than ideal for agricultural farming.

Temple of Kalasasaya (1903)

The ancient people that populated the area also developed several agricultural techniques that made the farming process more successful. Irrigation systems formed from canals and aqueducts provided the land, which was suitable for growing potatoes, with fresh water from the lake. The roots for a strong empire were laid down. People from other regions come to live in Tiwanaku and the small village, which in large part was encircled by mountains and hills, became an administrative, political and religious center of the region. Around 400 AD a state in the Titicaca area was born and Tiwanaku was developed into an urban planned city.

New structures were built, like sculptures, symbolical gateways and colossal religious buildings. Also new roads were built with a complex underground drainage system that controlled the flow of the rain waters. At the sacred center were built several temples, a pyramid, monoliths and mysterious carvings. Many of the monuments in Tiwanaku were built in alignment with the sunrise. The Gods were worshiped and praised there, and people, even from far away, made pilgrimages at Tiwanaku. Circa 500 AD Tiwanaku became the main political power around Lake Titikaka. The most dominant period of Tiwanaku was in the 8th century AD.

Walls around the temple Kalasasaya

The city expanded to cover 4 square miles, but most of it today is underneath the modern town and only a small part of the ancient city has been excavated. Many of the artifacts were also stolen through the centuries. But the excavated and survived structures, although in ruins, depict the greatness of this civilization. The buildings, especially the houses for living, were largely built from mud brick.

The site is still under excavation

Some of the most significant structures, which are situated in the sacred center, were built from stone. The ingenious artisans perfected techniques for carving and refining the stone materials and the combination of grand scale with the developed architectural style made the city a very unique place. The nucleus of the scared center life was the Akapana Temple. It was an artificial hill built on 7 levels, and it looked more like a stepped pyramid of earth, approximately 50 feet high. The top of the hill was a platform were rituals were held. It was paved with volcanic rocks and stone channels were made to drain the water down from the terraces. Today the temple is not so impressive, because it was destroyed by the conquistadors and its material was used for building local churches and houses.

The monolith “El Fraile” (“The Priest”)

North of Akapana is the Kalasasaya Temple. It is a large elongated and rounded open temple, encircled with walls made of huge blocks of red sandstone. It is believed that was used as an ancient observatory. The access is placed in the center of the eastern wall on a staircase of seven steps and there are two carved stone monoliths on each side. In the interior there are other monoliths, like the monolith of “The Priest”, and the monumental “Gateway of the Sun” which is one of the most famous structures in Tiwanaku. It is made from a single block of volcanic rock and it is believed that it weighs 44 tons. Another impressive structure is the smaller “Gateway of the Moon”.

East of the main access of Kalasasaya is the Semi-subterranean Temple. It is made from red sandstone and its walls are decorated with 175 sculptures of unusual human faces. West of Kalasasaya Temple is a large rectangular area known as Putini, which is still under process of excavation. On the east side is located the site known as Kantatayita and on south is the large archaeological site of Puma Punku, where can be found megaliths that weigh more than 440 tons. At the moment there are several projects for excavating in the area and it wouldn’t be a surprise if something “new” came out from the earth from this lost and mysterious civilization.


Similar to the Nile River and the Indus Valley, the Titicaca basin holds the distinctions of being one of the few places on earth where civilization arose sui generis. The earliest example of public ritual architecture in the Titicaca basin, the sunken court, dates to 1800 B.C. [2, 3]. This hallmark of Titicaca architecture comes to an end around A.D. 1000, by which time an estimated 800 sunken courts had been built throughout the basin. At the site of Chiripa (550 B.C. to A.D. 100) and Pucara (200 B.C. –A.D. 300)—two of the larger and better-known sites before the Tiwanaku phenomenon—the sunken courts are surrounded by internally complex rectilinear buildings, or “houses” made of earth (adobe) and stone.

In the approximate center of the southern valley of the basin lies a series of pyramids and platforms that marks the center of the ruins of Tiwanaku, occupied ca. A.D. 500–1000 (Fig. 1). Descriptions of monumental Tiwanaku focus on two zones located east and southwest of the modern town of Tiwanaku (Fig. 2). To the east sits the main core of seven stone and earth structures: the Semi-subterranean Temple, the Kalasasaya, the Putuni, the Chunchukala, the Kherikala, the Kantatallita, and the Akapana Platform (Zone 1). To the southwest lies the subject of this study, the Pumapunku, an alignment of plazas and ramps centered on a raised platform (Zone 2). The ruins challenge investigators owing both to modifications by the later mature polity, harsh weather, and the intense colonial period looting that destroyed all but the largest of features.

Titicaca basin and the major archaeological sites

The primary monuments of the site of Tiwanaku

The ruins have played a major role in historic and mythic narratives of the various states and empires that have controlled the area [4]. The Inca repurposed the ruins as their place of birth the Spanish assiduously went about destroying it the developing mestizo classes that it was indeed built by the Inca Emperor attempting to recreate Jerusalem [5]. During the wars of independence from Spain, the famed Gateway of the Sun was reset in a standing position to mark the start of a new order. After independence, the ruins appeared as part of the tug of war between the two major cities—La Paz and Sucre—vying for the ideological justification to serve as the seat of the newly formed republic of Bolivia.

In the mid-twentieth century, an ambitious effort was started to create an impressive set of ruins that would rival Machu Picchu in Peru, and Teotihuacan in Mexico [6]. Any monumental site across the basin, and even across the southern Andes, was assigned as a satellite or outpost city of an imagined Tiwanaku empire [7]. At the ruins themselves, an extensive program of excavations and heavy-handed restorations transformed the picturesque vestiges of eroded stone into its present over-reconstructed state. Entire sections of architecture were removed and reset to give the site a more monumental feel in line with the nationalist narrative of a pre-Columbian empire of similar proportions and size to the later Inca Empire [4]. As a result of these unfortunate interventions, the ruins also hold the distinction of being considered one of the worst reconstructed sites in the continent [8]. Nevertheless, the ruins became an obligatory visit by international travelers and indigenous and mestizo nationals, each who brought their own agenda and interpretation [9]. In particular, the solstice festival, restarted in the 1980s after a short period of revival in the mid-twentieth century, brought the ruins international attention, and local interest as the local indigenous peoples used the ceremony both as source of income, and identity. The festival developed from a small gathering into a well-organized event hosting thousands, and could be argued that the election of the first indigenous president—and his inauguration at the ruins themselves—were made possible by the yearly gathering what would become his solid political base [10].

This period of politically driven rushed excavations and heavy-handed restorations has, for the most part, come to an end, but the situation at the ruins remains just as complicated with the decentralization of power from the central government to the regions and provinces. In 2001, the indigenous communities took over the ruins and expelled all the central government workers [11]. Over time, relations have improved and there is a higher degree of collaboration between the indigenous rural authorities and national and international organizations. Nevertheless, the majority of the stakeholders at the site are not archaeologists or academics, but those who occupy a range of traditional, local, and national political positions. As well intended as they may be, this diverse group of stakeholders has a limited understanding of the conventions of conservation and proper management of a World Heritage Site. Even under the best of circumstances, academic publications and thick government conservation reports have little impact on the debate of how to preserve, restore, and maintain the site, and discussions between the stakeholders rarely find common language. For example, in 2006, the stones of the Pumapunku were rearranged as part of a project ordered by the interim president of the country to “fix” the site during his short tenure. The large sandstone slabs were leveled and several blocks were reset, but both their location and arrangement are incorrect according to easily accessible publications [12].

The Pumapunku

The first known plan-view of the temple complex, made in 1848 by Léonce Angrand, places fragmentary remains of four concentric revetments around a raised platform [13]. Beginning in the mid 1970s, a series of excavations confirmed the remains of these concentric revetments of true horizontal coursing [14], along with a wide, worn set of sandstone stairs on the west side [15,16,17]. The footprint of the platform is T-shaped, extending 167 m along the west side, and 116 m along the north and south sides. The wings of the “T” extend out 27 m and are estimated to be 20 m wide [18, 19] (Fig. 3). The partially dismantled exterior revetments of the platform attest to the sides and the base of the ashlars being completely finished before being set in their respective courses. Fitting perfectly front to back, the entire course was ground down to form a continuous flat, true horizontal course.

Topographic and plan view of the Pumapunku

This research focuses on the east side of the platform, an alignment of large sandstone slabs surrounded by a tumble of intricately carved andesite blocks (Fig. 4). Astonished by this impressive collection of shattered and overturned architecture, several Spanish chroniclers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries left us with descriptions of wondrous, though unfinished, gateways and other interesting carved blocks that sat upon and around cyclopean sandstone stone slabs [1, 20, 21]. Architectural studies have confirmed the early observation that both the andesite architecture and sandstone slabs were unfinished [1, 12, 20, 22,23,24,25]. By the early 1600s, it appears that only one gateway and a “window” remained in place, and these may have remained standing until the mid-1700s. For the most part, the early colonial descriptions prior to the complete destruction of the standing andesite architecture convey a sense of awe rather than a specific architectural form later descriptions provide a few additional insights—and a great deal of speculation—on what is by the nineteenth century a heavily damaged structure [26,27,28,29,30].

Historic photograph of the architecture on the east side of the Pumapunku platform taken by Max Uhle in 1893

There are two basic elements of this structure: sandstone slabs that served as the foundation, and andesite blocks that were superstructure. For the former, there are 17 pieces of sandstone defining a flat 6.75 by 38.72 m area (Fig. 5). The remarkable aspects of the sandstone slabs—their size, their smooth surfaces—have drawn comments for several centuries. In fact, the largest sandstone slab-measuring 8.12 by 3.86 by 1.2 m with an estimated weight of 83 tons—has been paced out several times over the centuries, unfailingly educing a corresponding level of awe and wonderment on the origin and manner of transport of this tremendous stone. The other crucial element of the stone slabs for this study are recessed geometric outlines Footnote 1 that, based on in situ architecture in other locations on the site, were the meeting point or bedding for standing architecture.

Drawing from 1848 by Leonce Angrand of the sandstone slabs. Notice the geometric outlines carved into the slabs that once held standing architecture

The second element of this building features approximately 150 separate pieces of finely cut andesite blocks scattered around these sandstone slabs (Fig. 6) several more can be found further afield across the site and in the local museum. This stonework is characterized by planar surfaces, geometric form, precise edges, and internal right angles. Their sizes range from geometric blocks that can be easily lifted by a person (34 by 26 by 14 cm, for an estimated weight of 8.5 kg), to the much heralded “H” stones (97 by 99 by 55 cm for an estimated weight of 600 kg), to the iconic gateways carved from a single block measuring slightly under three meters tall, with an estimated weight of 9 t (see Fig. 12). One particular andesite block measures 3.5 by 3.2 by .64 m for an estimated weight of 20 metric tons, a tremendous size especially when one considers that the quarry was located on the other side of the lake [31, 32].

How Were Puma Punku’s Stones Cut? Another Mystery

Puma Punku is a large site which expands across a distance exceeding the dimensions of two football fields. It was once an earthen mound with carved red sandstone walls that would have shone in the sun. Archaeological evidence suggests that it once had large courtyards on the eastern and western sides and a wide courtyard at the center.

The most intriguing thing about Puma Punku is the stonework. The red sandstone and andesite stones were cut in such a precise way that it’s as if they were cut using a diamond tool, and they can fit perfectly into and lock with each other.

Puma Punku Stone Blocks – Bolivia. (Adwo /Adobe Stock)

Visitors still marvel at the geometric wonders of the matching H-shaped blocks with approximately 80 faces placed in a row, and the precise cuts and the regularity of the stones – suggesting prefabrication and mass production were employed. Interviews with modern day stonemasons have revealed that even with today’s advanced technology, it would be extremely difficult to replicate the precision observed in the stones found at Puma Punku.

This is part of the reason why many people have suggested that the ancient inhabitants of Puma Punku had received ‘outside help’ to create the site. Others say that Puma Punku’s residence had technology available to them which was later lost – perhaps power tools and even lasers .

On the more conventional side, it’s suggested that the stonemasons were just very capable with the tools available to them and there was a lot of manual labor involved in transporting and working the stones. The conventional explanation for how the stones were worked says that they were first pounded with stone hammers to create depressions, then ground and polished smooth with sand and flat stones.

Stone block at Puma Punku, Bolivia. (Adwo /Adobe Stock)

There are varying reports on the weight of the largest stones – ranging from 140 tons to 800 tons, with the larger number often provided by sources leaning towards alternative explanations on how the site was built. The accepted dimensions for the largest stone at Puma Punku are 7.81 meters (25.62 ft.) long, 5.17 (16.96 ft.) meters wide, and 1.07 meters (3.51 ft.) thick. The second largest stone block at Puma Punku is 7.90 meters (25.9 ft.) long, 2.50 meters (8.20 ft.) wide, and 1.86 meters (6.10 ft.) thick.

Generally it is agreed that the large red sandstone blocks were quarried about 10 km (6.21 miles) away from Puma Punku and the smaller, more ornamental andesite was sourced about 90 km (55.92 miles) away on the shores of Lake Titicaca. Although the Puma Punku megaliths are the most eye-catching aspects of the site, the majority of the architecture is made up of smaller stones.

Precisely carved stone at Pumapunku ruins, Pre-Columbian archaeological site, Bolivia. (Matyas Rehak /Adobe Stock)

How the material arrived at the site is also a matter of debate but many experts believe that the stones were generally shipped across the lake in reed boats and then dragged overland by the large Tiwanaku workforce to reach the site. Llama skin ropes, ramps, and inclined planes, may have all been used in overland transport. More alternative suggestions say the stones could have been moved with some sort of large lifting vehicles – which mainstream archaeologists do not believe existed in the area at the time.

Tiwanaku Civilization in Bolivia

The Bolivian city of Tiwanaku, considered by the Inca as the sacred place of their origin, was also home to a great civilization that flourished between AD 200 and 900. Located on the southern shores of Lake Titicaca in the modern Department of La Paz, the city was a famous pilgrimage site for the region. And was later the seat of a socially and politically influential Andean empire. The civilization peaked between 500 and 600 AD where it is recorded on the Bible Timeline with World History. Most of the magnificent structures were built, including the Akapana, Pumapunku, Kalasasaya, and Semi-Subterranean Temple during that time. What remained of the monumental architecture in modern times, however, was only a shadow of their former glory.

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Tiwanaku Politics and Society

As was the case of great cities all over the world, Tiwanaku started out as a simple farming village without a hierarchy among its inhabitants. As years passed and as population increased, Tiwanaku society became more complex with rulers and warriors elevated to a higher status. While farmers and merchants remained in the lower half of the hierarchy. The houses of the elite, as well as the ceremonial centers, were built on the lake and surrounded by a moat. These were oriented to the nearby mountains and various celestial events that appeared in the sky. It was also a pilgrimage site which drew the people from distant Cochabamba and Moquegua regions who travelled to dedicate sacrifices and celebrate feasts. The interaction was not a one-way street, however, as the Tiwanaku-style artifacts were found in some parts of Peru and as far as Argentina—evidence of Tiwanaku’s far-reaching political and economic influence in the region.

Priests were on top of the Tiwanaku hierarchy, and they led the worship of different deities in which the sun god, Viracocha, was the head. This particular god was also worshipped by the Inca people (who rose to prominence thousands of years later, after the decline of Tiwanaku). They considered Lake Titicaca as the place of origin for the creator god Viracocha.

Survival in the Altiplano

The production of staple food in the ancient times was a challenge for the Tiwanaku people as the environment on the Andean Plateau was usually arid yet cold. The Tiwanaku managed to grow hardy crops such as quinoa, corn, potatoes, and sweet potatoes for sustenance. Survival proved to be more difficult during the onset of the El Niño phenomenon which resulted either in intense rains or droughts. They developed raised field agriculture (also known as suka kollus) to adapt to this harsh environment. Crops were planted in rows of raised fields that reached up to three feet in height to protect the plants from heat and frost. Fish were caught from the lake and placed in the ditches beside the rows.


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Tiwanaku, also spelled Tiahuanaco or Tiwanacu, major pre-Columbian civilization known from ruins of the same name that are situated near the southern shore of Lake Titicaca in Bolivia. The main Tiwanaku site was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 2000.

Some scholars date the earliest remains found at the site to the early part of the Early Intermediate Period (c. 200 bc – ad 200) others suggest that the culture is evident in artifacts from the 2nd millennium bc . Probably much of the site, including many of the major buildings, dates from the latter half of the Early Intermediate Period ( ad 200–600) some construction, however, must have continued into the Middle Horizon ( ad 600–1000), for during this period Tiwanaku influences are seen at Huari (Wari) and elsewhere in the central and southern Andes.

The principal buildings of Tiwanaku include the Akapana Pyramid, a huge platform mound or stepped pyramid of earth faced with cut andesite a rectangular enclosure known as the Kalasasaya, constructed of alternating tall stone columns and smaller rectangular blocks and another enclosure known as the Palacio. A notable feature of the Kalasasaya is the monolithic Gateway of the Sun, which is adorned with the carved central figure of a staff-carrying Doorway God and other subsidiary figures, sometimes referred to as angels or winged messengers. A great number of freestanding carved stone figures have also been found at the site. Characteristic pottery is a flared beaker form, painted with black, white, and light red representations of pumas, condors, and other creatures on a dark red ground colour. It has been speculated that the people who built the splendid Tiwanaku complex, whose culture had vanished by ad 1200, were the ancestors of the present-day Aymara Indians of highland Bolivia.

In the late 20th century, archaeologists discovered new information concerning the Tiwanaku site. Formerly thought to have been largely a ceremonial site, the area since has been revealed as a once-bustling metropolis, the capital of one of the greatest and most enduring of ancient civilizations nonetheless, relatively little is known about it. Tiwanaku influence was in great measure a result of its remarkable agricultural system. This farming method, known as the raised-field system, consisted of raised planting surfaces separated by small irrigation ditches, or canals. This system was designed in such a way that the canals retained the heat of the intense sunlight during frosty nights on the Altiplano and thus kept the crops from freezing. Algae and aquatic plants that accumulated in the canals were used as organic fertilizer on the raised fields.

During the height of its power, Tiwanaku dominated or influenced large portions of what are now eastern and southern Bolivia, northwestern Argentina, northern Chile, and southern Peru. The revived use of the raised-field system by some Bolivian farmers in the late 20th century resulted in increased agricultural production.


From 400 A.D., onward Tiwanaku went from a locally dominant force to a powerful state and began to spread through conquest and assimilation. When a civilization such as Tiwanaku begins heavy architectural construction projects one begins to suspect that this civilization has reached the predatory stage. This is when a civilization like Tiwanaku conquers surrounding territory and captures large numbers of people and enslaves them in order to carry out dangerous architectural construction projects. Some of those captured would be used as human sacrifices too. The situation would be similar with territory that was assimilated, and became associated with them by furnishing slaves and human sacrifices by those leaders to maintain their own rule and independence. This was a common practice in Mesoamerica. When one thinks of these large dangerous construction projects carried out in ancient history-the weight of and the amount of stones moved-there must have been an incalculable loss of human life. This means these slave populations had to be quite large, when the only form of technology was slave technology. Therefore, this has led many people to wonder if some of these monumental architectural projects had outside help. That is, futuristic technology, which could only have been provided by Ancient Astronauts.
Tiwanaku enclaves have been discovered in recent times as far south as the Lake Poopo a salt lake in southern Bolivia. Lake Titicaca empties into this lake by way of the Desaguadero River. The South Poopo inhabitants developed a unique style of ceramics with triangular spirals.

Tiwanaku - Lake Poopo and the Desaguadero River

West of Kalasasaya Temple is a large rectangular area known as Putuni or Palacio de los Sarcofagos, which is still being excavated.

The Putuni Complex- The Palace of Sarcophagi

At the eastern end of the site is a heap of rubble known as Kantatayita.

Geometric designs found at the Kantatayita Mound

Archaeologists have not yet been able to piece together what sort of structure was made from the pieces, but they are intriguingly carved with geometrical designs. . According to one archeologist, her excavations east of the Kalasasaya Complex show that previous ritual areas and houses of important people must have been razed to build the Putuni Complex.

Tiwanaku with the Putuni complex in the foreground

So far, the analysis of the geo-radar information has surpassed investigator’s expectations. They had expected that the clay fill eroding from the Akapana Pyramid would make the entire area opaque to the radar, but instead the radar image reveals several interesting anomalies. A large diagonal line marks the modern tourist path, but to the south of that, were noted two structures, one superimposed on the other the first structure in the highlighted square is a round or D-shaped form, and the second structure is a single rectilinear feature located a bit deeper. A trench will be dug to investigate both structures and to see how they relate to one another. A Geophysical survey will be used further to the east, where the ground topography suggests the presence of more buried monuments and structures.
Along with this separation of occupations, there was also a hierarchal stratification within the empire. 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 there were many images of human origin that only the elites were privileged to see, despite the fact that these images represent the beginning of all humans not only the elite. Commoners may have only ever entered this structure for ceremonial purposes since it was home to the holiest of shrines .

Tiwanaku- Faces of the noble room

The community grew to urban proportions between AD 600 and AD 800, becoming an important regional power in the southern Andes. According to early estimates, at its maximum extent, the city covered approximately 6.5 square kilometers, and had between 15,000 – 30,000 inhabitants. However, satellite imaging was used recently to map the extent of fossilized suka kollus across the three primary valleys of Tiwanaku, arriving at population-carrying capacity estimates of anywhere between 285,000 and 1,482,000 people.

The Semi- Subterranean Temple

The Tiwanaku civilization was an agrarian based economy. The population is estimated at an 115,000 peak in the concentrated, urbanized core area of Tiwanaku, with 365,000 totals in the city and three nearby valleys. In all probability, state-controlled agriculture produced the surplus wealth to support the urban center and administrative specialists. Tiwanaku and adjacent valleys are clearly agricultural areas. A series of villages lining the sides of the valleys and 19,000 hectares of fossil raised fields remain in evidence today, sufficient area to sustain a population of 500,000 or more persons, given sufficient water flow to the system. The extensive and intensive raised field agriculture was dependent on large-scale reclamation of wetlands, dikes, aqueducts, causeways and canals. Massive hydraulic projects controlled the waters. The raised fields, the most important aspect of the Tiwanaku Empire’s agrarian economy, were the largest expanse of raised fields in the world in its time.

Aerial View of the Putuni Complex, the Kalasasaya Complex, and the Semi-Subterranean Temple

History changer: Researchers discover buried Pyramid at Tiahuanaco

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The Government of Bolivia has announced the discovery of a unknown pyramid and the beginning of excavations at the ancient citadel of Tiahuanaco, after Ground penetrating radar tests discovered the pyramidal structure together with other “numerous anomalies” underground. Researchers believe that these anomalies might be monoliths, but this information has yet to be corroborated and analyzed carefully to come to a conclusion.

This finding has raised the importance of Tiahuanaco and the surrounding area as these discoveries to add to the mysterious history of both Tiahuanaco and Puma Punku, considered by some to be the result of a highly advanced ancient civilization.

According to Ludwig Cayo, the director of the Center for Archaeological Research at Tiahuanaco, this mysterious pyramid is located in the Kantatallita area, east of the Akapana pyramid, which is at the archeological site of Tiwanaku,to the west of the country and about 70 km from the city of La Paz.

Researchers are still analyzing the gathered information, and calculations regarding the dimensions of the buried pyramid are underway, but according to simulated data and aerial photographs, the formation would be around the same size as the Kalasasaya Temple or Temple of the standing stones, one of the most remarkable constructions of Tiahuanaco.

Tiahuanaco is one of the most mysterious places on planet Earth, it is considered as being the cradle of an ancient civilization before the Incas. Tiahuanaco was the capital of ancient pre-Hispanic empire, today imposing stone monuments like Kalasasaya, the Semi-Subterranean Temple, sculptures of gods, the door of the sun and remains of military and civilian palaces remain. Some of these structures have incredible features which archaeologists have not fully explained. According to Bolivian researchers, Tiahuanaco was founded as a small village around 1580 BC but soon grew to become an imperial state around AD 724.

This ancient civilization mysteriously declined around 1187 AD. Researchers believe that Tiahuanaco was an incredible empire whose limits knew no bounds, occupying parts of the Peruvian coast, northern Chile, northwestern Argentina and bolivia what was thought to be a territory of around 600.000 square kilometers. Some researchers have suggested that Tiahuanaco might be the city belonging to Atlantis. Many researchers have placed the lost city and “continent” of Atlantis in Bolivia. The mysterious structures, history and society of Tiahuanaco would certainly fit into these theories. Some researchers consider that Tiahuanaco might be over 10.000 years old.

Researchers hope that excavations at the site will commence in May, although that will depend on the cooperation agreements signed with foreign universities and institutes which will provide the necessary manpower and technology to perform the excavations the best way they can.

Ancient Peoples or Aliens?

Friday morning was cold and clear, 1-degree Celcius (34-degrees Fahrenheit). The clear skies bode well for my photography at Tiwanaku, my destination that day.

Right at the appointed hour, 08:00, Mariela, and her driver, Nico, arrived to pick me up for my guided tour at my residence (3,407 meters (11,180 feet)). As one will read, the altitude is a topic of interest throughout the blog. Mariela is the owner of her tour company, Mariela’s Bolivia. One can find her on Facebook by searching for Mariela’s Bolivia. Homebase for her company is in La Paz, but she offers tours throughout the area. I cannot recommend her highly enough. I will use her for additional trips soon.

As I found out throughout the day, the tour was all-inclusive. When I got into the van, she immediately gave me a fabric bag with her logo. Inside the bag were a liter bottle of water, two snack bars, a bag of chocolate-covered puffed rice, and two tangerines. She also took care of all Teleférico fares, Tiwanaku entry fees, and lunch.

Both Mariela and Nico were friendly and personable. Since my Spanish skills are not that good, it is a bonus that they both speak perfect English.

Our first destination was the Irpawi station of the green line of the Teleférico. The plan was for Mariela and me to ride the Teleférico to the last station of the blue line. Nico would meet us at that stop. Rush-hour traffic was heavy, but we made it to the green line station in good time. Mariela and I jumped out of the van and entered the station. Since it was rush-hour, there were a lot of people in the station. When I usually ride the Teleférico in the morning, it is around 06:00…not as many people then!

We entered an empty gondola and sat by the far window. Immediately, another six people came into the gondola. The door closed and we began the ascent from Irpawi. Mariela started to share all sorts of information with me about Bolivia and La Paz. As a history buff, I found the information very interesting.

Arriving at the first intermediate station on the green line, the Teleférico attendant asked us all to scoot closer. I could see a queue of people waiting to get into a gondola. By getting closer, we were able to accommodate two additional passengers.

In about twenty minutes, we made it to the final station on the green line. That is also the beginning of the yellow line, our next transport. There were very few people going our direction on the yellow line, so only two other passengers joined us. Mariela continued telling me about her city and country. One fact I found startling at last count, some 70,000 people rode the yellow line daily from El Alto to La Paz and back again.

My first venture onto the yellow line provided a spectacular view of the recent horrific landslide. The civil engineering teams working there accomplished a lot, but there is still a lot of work required. Several homes and buildings continue to be at risk of slipping down the hillside. The landslide impacted at least one hundred families. Amazingly, there were only three casualties.

From the last mid-point station to the final station atop El Alto, the yellow line seems to go absolutely straight up! I do not think the ride is for the squeamish. Arriving at the Qhana Pata station in El Alto, we saw some of the 70,000 people queued up for the trip down to La Paz.

At the Qhana Pata station of the yellow line of the Teleférico people queue to ride into La Paz.

We switched to the silver line and ultimately to the blue line. As we flew over El Alto, we saw dozens and dozens of people readying for the Friday markets. At one point, the silver line crosses above a cliff. As seems to be the norm in La Paz, structures hugged the edge. I believe they were shops of some sort, not homes.

El Alto is at about 4,115 meters (13,500 feet) in altitude. That is roughly 609 meters (2,000 feet) higher than my house.

The shadow of a Teleférico pylon seems to point well down the road. A portion of the fruit and vegetable market in El Alto. El Alto structures right on the edge. Another view of the cliff structures. A church in El Alto.

During the switch from silver to blue, I took the opportunity to photograph a map of all the Teleférico lines. I had not previously seen that.

The blue line goes directly down the center of Avenida 16 de Julio. It seems it will never end. Along that avenue, one begins to see cholets. The word cholet combines the word cholo, a pejorative term, and chalet, as in Swiss chalet. Most buildings in La Paz and El Alto are unfinished, with the iconic exposed red bricks. That meager finish allows the owner to escape some of the taxes imposed on a finished structure. The cholets are finished, some to a fare-thee-well. That brings on the mandatory taxes.

The ground floor is typically set aside for businesses. The next couple of levels are event spaces available for rental. The owner usually lives on the upper floors. The embassy recently offered a cholita wrestling event, and the venue was a cholet.

A map of the Teleférico network in La Paz. The blue line of the Teleférico heading east seems endless. A cholet in El Alto. A sign for a popular juice brand in Bolivia. The Heroes of October Colesium in El Alto. A cholet in El Alto. A cholet in El Alto. One of the midpoint blue line stations. A cholet in El Alto. A cholet in El Alto.

When Leslie and I recently visited the gallery of the artist Mamani Mamani, I remember seeing a photograph of some buildings on which he painted some murals (see the blog MAMAN!MAMANi). Today I saw those buildings from the Teleférico. I had no idea they were so far away.

Below the Teleférico, we saw nothing but gridlock! I felt sorry for Nicco down there somewhere. Regardless, we made it to the final station of the blue line. There, an enormous Friday market was in full swing. Nico was not there yet. However, after just a few photographs, Nico arrived. Mariela and I got back in the van.

Nico maneuvered the van through the crazy traffic until we got to Route 1. From there, it was smooth sailing toward Tiwanaku, until we arrived at the village of Laja. There is a tollbooth in that village. After obtaining the toll-ticket, there is a police checkpoint. The police officer looked at Nico’s driver’s license, asked where we were going, and quickly waved us through the checkpoint.

In the distance, high-rise public housing with murals courtesy of the artist, Mamani Mamani. “Flying” over a street in El Alto. The market seems to stretch to the horizon. A bit of a traffic jam. This is why the Teleférico is the only way to travel. The Friday market near the Waña Jawira station of the blue line, our final stop. A man walking into the blue line station. At the Friday market, women selling medicinal herbs. The bustling Friday market. Detail of a woman selling the medicinal herbs.

About 19 kilometers (12 miles) from Tiwanaku, Nico pulled off the road at an overlook. The elevation is about 4,000 meters (13,123 feet). This particular overlook affords one an epic view of the Cordillera Real (Royal Range of the Andes). In this area of Bolivia, there is about 120-180 kilometers (74-112 miles) line of Andean peaks always covered in snow. The difference in distance depends on the information source one uses. Suffice it to say, the range at this overlook is stunning. Even without the best light that morning, the mountain peaks are still a fantastic amazing sight.

A mountain in the Cordillera Real (Royal Range of the Andes). Illimani, part of the Cordillera Real (Royal Range of the Andes).

After traveling a little more than two hours, we arrived at the village of Tiwanaku. It is the site of two famous and ancient archaeological sites, Tiwanaku and Puma Punku. I noticed train tracks in front of an old building that must have been the train depot at one time. I believe there is a special train one can ride from the La Paz area to Tiwanaku periodically. Schoolchildren visiting the sites most often use it. A sign near the old building indicated the altitude at Tiwanaku is 3,870 meters (12,697 feet). Mariela purchased the tickets for our tour at the depot building.

First on our itinerary was a visit to the two museums in Tiwanaku, the Museo Ceramico (Ceramic Museum) and the Museo Lítico (Lithic Museum – as in monolithic). Mariela and I first entered the Museo Ceramico. It was instantly evident that either the heat was not on or there was no heating system. Regardless, the museum helps paint a picture of the history of the area. The information offered by Mariela helped bring the culture into focus. The museum is where one begins to encounter the mystery surrounding Tiwanaku and Puma Punku. Tiwanaku became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000. According to the UNESCO site, Tiwanaku flourished as a city between 400 A.D. and 900 A.D. However, some materials in the museum date the civilization as far back as 15,000 B.C. That is quite a range!

The museum displays many types of ceramics used in both everyday life and ceremonial life. Additionally, one can view some weaponry, jewelry, and even a mummy found at Tiwanaku. Maybe one of the most controversial items on display is the distended human skull. That one skull is the tip of the iceberg as the museum owns many others. No one knows the methods used to distend the skulls. No tools or records of the activity survived. Some have said the skulls might not be human, but rather extra-terrestrial. I certainly do not know, but I can say it was one of the oddest things I have seen. The museum does not allow photography, so I have no images to share.

Departing the Museo Ceramico, we walked next door to the Museo Lítico which showcase the stone monoliths found at the Tiwanaku site. The Bennett monolith is the star of the show. Wendell C. Bennett, an American archaeologist from Indiana is credited with discovering the monolith in 1932 thus the name. Relocated to the city of La Paz after its discovery, it took nearly 70-years to return the monolith to Tiwanaku. The monolith is almost 7.6 meters (25 feet) tall. One of its more unique features is the backward right hand. More on this later in the blog.

Mariela, my guide, purchasing the tickets that will allow admittance to all of the sites at Tiwanaku. Tickets in hand and ready to go! The rail station and a snack shack at Tiwanaku or Tiahuanaco, elevation 3,870 meters (12,697 feet).

Exiting the museum, we headed to the archaeological site of Tiwanaku! Directly across the street from the museum is the main entrance. From the entry point to the site was roughly 335 meters (1,100 feet). The benefit of being with a knowledgeable guide is that she knew the shortcut. Nico picked us up and drove to the north side of the site. From there, our walk to the site was a mere 33 meters (110 feet)!

Approaching the site, one sees the rock wall of the Kalasasaya Temple, but what catches the eye is the Templo Semisubterráneo (semi-subterranean temple). That is a large, square temple excavated about 2.5 to 3 meters (8 to 10 feet) into the earth. Stone blocks make up the walls. The most significant blocks are maybe 30 by 60 centimeters (12 inches by 24 inches). The stones are nicely carved and fit together very well without any visible type of mortar. The seams are tight, but not microscopically tight. The face of some of the stones show what appear to be tool marks, but overall, they are smooth. Each of the corners of the walls appears to be very close to 90-degrees. Interspersed throughout the walls are some much larger stones, some are monolithic.

On each of the four walls are carved heads, 170 to be exact. The carved heads are much closer to the ground than to the top of the wall. I thought that was odd. However, what is even more curious is the shape and design of some of the heads. I saw at least two that could pass for our current belief of the looks of extra-terrestrials. Some of the carvings seem to have turbans, something not known in the area in ancient times. At least one of the heads appeared to be a skull, much like the distended skull in the Museo Ceramico. Some of the objects have small noses, while others have quite broad noses. Likewise, there are thin lips and quite thick lips represented. Some of these features were not common in the area in ancient times.

The massive monolith in the center of the temple is not without its controversy. Known as the Bearded monolith, it sports a thick beard and mustache. The indigenous peoples are not known for such hairy faces. So, the question remains, after whom is the monolith fashioned? Just another of the many Tiwanaku mysteries.

The east gateway to Kalasasaya (Stopped Stone) Temple. The tourist is admiring the Ponce monolith. Detail of the gate, monolith, and tourist. Mariela allowing me to check the focus of the camera before she kindly photographed the author. By the way, that is all of my “junk” draped on her left shoulder. Standing just above the Templo Semisubterráneo (semi-subterranean temple). The Kalasasaya Temple is in the background. A group of school children in the semi-subterranean temple. The Bearded monolith is in the center of the semi-subterranean temple. On the lower section of the wall of the semi-subterranean temple are 170 carved heads. Some say the white carved head here is representative of an alien. The Bearded monolith. The white head seems to be yet another of our extra-terrestrial friends. A very odd-looking carved head, possibly with a distended skull. The head at the lower right seems to look like a skull, possibly with a distended upper skull. This head appears to have a turban-style headdress something unknown in the local culture millennia ago. The head of the Bearded monolith. The beard is quite thick and pronounced, not the norm of people in the area millennia ago. A snake carved on the side of the Bearded monolith. The “squished” face at the lower-center is rather odd-looking.

Exiting the temple, one looks directly at the Akapana Pyramid, the third and tallest structure at Tiwanaku, although not exceedingly excavated. Mariela offered to walk with me to the top. I opted not to do that, which meant our attention turned to the Kalasasaya Temple.

The east wall of Kalasasaya Temple is roughly parallel to the west wall of the Templo Semisubterráneo. An ancient set of seven stairs appears to have been the main entrance to the temple in ancient times. The stairs lead to a gate and ultimately to the Ponce monolith. Well worn, the stairs are not open to the public. To enter the temple, we walked along the north wall until we arrived at a much smaller set of seven stairs. Going up the stairs, we made it to the topmost level of the temple.

A group of school children at the very worn steps to the east entry to the Kalasasaya Temple. Detail of the east wall of the Kalasasaya Temple. The north wall of the Kalasasaya Temple. Yours truly at a stair to the upper level of Kalasasaya Temple.

We walked directly to the Sun Gate. This gate, though carved from stone, is not similar at all to the other rock at the temples. The face of the gate is incredibly smooth. One cannot see any tool marks. Precisely cut 90-degree angles are on either side of and above the opening. Just how was this stone carved? How was the stone transported to this spot? Since there are no signs of stone chips, where did the carving occur? No one knows the answer to these questions. There are many theories, but no proof to date.

At the very top of the stone, above the opening, is an intricate carving of what archaeologists think is the Sun God. To either side and below the Sun God are four lines of figures. The lower line may have been a calendar. The other three lines contain 48 identical winged figures. Lastly, one cannot miss the enormous crack at the upper part of the stone. Some believe that the break is the result of a lightning strike. I disagree with that theory. If lightning is the cause of the crack, I think there would be much more significant damage on the top portion of the gate.

The backside of the gate is not as intricate, but it still has the characteristic 90-degree angles and smooth finishes.

The east face of the Sun Gate. Detail of the Sun Gate at Kalasasaya Temple. The figure is the Sun God. The west face of the Sun Gate. A side view of the Sun Gate. Note how smooth are the surfaces.

Our next stop was the El Fraile (the Friar) monolith. This monolith is well known for its contrasting colors of the stone. At the monolith we stood near a group of school children, also touring the sites. According to their jackets, the children hailed from the Villa Tunari neighborhood of El Alto. While standing there, Mariela continued to speak to me in English. Hearing the English and the fact that I was not Bolivian seemed to be of more interest to the children than the monolith. Several of them smiled and said hello to me as they departed the monolith.

The El Fraile monolith, like several others, has a unique characteristic. The right-hand is backward, and in the left, El Fraile holds a chalice. The fingers on the left side look natural, holding the cup. In the right hand is what appears to be a scepter however, if one looks closely, the fingers of the right-hand point in the wrong direction. Another question, why? There may be theories, but no one seems to know for sure.

A panorama of the Kalasasaya Temple looking south toward the Akapana pyramid to the left of the frame. A group of school children at the El Fraile (the Friar) monolith. A less crowded view of the monolith. Looking southwest from the Kalasasaya Temple toward the village of Tiwanaku.

Along the north and south walls of a portion of the temple are 14 structures, seven on each side. They appear like tombs. Archaeologists believe they may have housed the mummies of leaders or ancestors of the Tiwanaku society. I wonder if that is where the mummy in the Museo Ceramico originated?

While I read a sign about the tombs, Mariela asked me to stay where I was. She disappeared on the opposite side of the wall. Suddenly I heard my name called, but no one was around me. I finally realized it was Mariela speaking to me through a small hole in the wall. Even though she whispered what she said, I heard it all very plainly. The holes in the wall are not only round. They have interior undulations that seem to mimic the inner ear. The holes prompt more questions. Why are the holes there? How were they carved so precisely? The answer appears to be that there are no answers.

The Cuartos Ceremoniales (Ceremonial Rooms) Kalasasaya along the south side of the temple.

In the center of the tombs stands the Ponce monolith. In the bright sunlight, it is easy to see the detailed carvings on this monolith including the backward right hand. The “belt” of Ponce has a repeating pattern of what seems to be a crab. Those are in addition to the intricate designs on the headdress, face, chest, and fingers. The monolith has what looks like a mid-shin pair of shorts or breechclout, festooned with circles and what looks like peace signs. One theory holds these tracked centuries of solar and lunar eclipses.

On the back of the head of Ponce, one sees what looks like braids or dreadlocks. An unusual hairstyle for that part of the world in ancient times. At the base of the neck on the right side, a large chunk of stone is missing. Spanish explorers possibly tried to decapitate the monolith as they did with so many others at the Tiwanaku site.

The front of the Ponce monolith. Detail of the front of the Ponce monolith. The left side of the Ponce monolith. Detail of one of the sides of the Ponce monolith. The backside of the Ponce monolith. Detail of the backside of the Ponce monolith. Note the large chip missing at the base of the right side of the neck. Looking into the Semi-subterranean Temple from the Kalasasaya Temple. An “ear” hole in the north wall of the Kalasasaya Temple.

Descending from the Kalasasaya Temple, the final monolith we saw was the Descabezado (Headless) monolith. As the name implies, this monolith has no head. The stone looks like the stone used for the Bearded monolith. Archaeologists believe the monolith dates from 100 B.C. to 400 A.D.

We departed the Tiwanaku site and walked the 33 meters (110 feet) back toward the van. At the parking area was a woman selling tourist souvenirs. Of course, I had to buy something. After I completed the transaction, she was kind enough to allow me to take her portrait.

The Descabezado (Headless) monolith. A woman selling tourist souvenirs near the north entrance to the Tiwanaku complex.

Leaving the parking area, we began our drive to the lunch restaurant. On the way, we passed a unique adobe structure. It seemed like Bolivia adobe meets Hobbiton. Nico was kind enough to stop to allow me to take a photograph. Upon closer inspection, it was evident that if I tried to enter the low front door, I would undoubtedly bump my head on some of the even lower ceilings! Because of that, I decided I would not go in!

An abandoned adobe structure alongside our route to lunch.

In a matter of minutes, Nico parked in front of the restaurant Taypi Uta. That means “central house” in the Aymara language. The owner built the restaurant and a sort of museum on the rest of the grounds. The restaurant is modern, spacious, and very clean.

Our lunch, included in the price of the tour, was a Bolivian buffet. It was delicious. Our server, the owner’s daughter, brought our first course sopa de trigo or wheat soup. As soon as we finished our soup, the server placed a small table with a traditional cloth next to our dining table. On the table, she placed three plates and ten small bowls. The bowls contained the buffet. I tried a little bit of everything.

One of the potato dishes was chuño. They are a dark-colored potato, dried in some manner that allows them to be stored almost indefinitely. They are not my favorite. The potatoes lack taste. My three favorite foods were the fried quinoa, the fried trucha (trout), and the llama. The bowls may look small, but we were all sated by the end of our lunch. That did not stop our server from bringing some yogurt for dessert. It had some banana and quinoa on top. I took a couple of bites, but yogurt is not one of my favorites.

Mariela noted that if we were working in a nearby field, the type of lunch we had would be brought to the area in the colorful fabric, for all to share. After nearly ten months in Bolivia, this was my first genuinely Bolivian lunch.

Lastly, the server brought a basket with several keychains attached to business cards for the restaurant. Each key chain had a small amulet. I chose a chacha puma, a figure that is half-man and half-puma.

The interior of the Taypi Uta (Amayra for Central House) Restaurant. For our lunch starter, sopa de trigo (wheat soup). A true Bolivian lunch buffet. The two bowls at the top, from left to right are quinoa fritters and fried trout. The next line of bowls are chuño, uqa, quinoa, and fried chicken strips. The final row are potatoes, rice, lentils, and llama. For dessert, yogurt, banana, nuts, and quinoa. View to the south from the restaurant parking lot.

During lunch, we talked about our final tour of the day, Puma Punku. Both Mariela and Nico spoke about people from the History Channel visiting the area a few years ago. Those visitors were more interested in Puma Punku than Tiwanaku. With that information in hand, when I got home, I looked up the episode in question. I watched Ancient Aliens season 4, episode 6 entitled The Mystery of Puma Punku. For anyone interested, it is well worth the investment of 44-minutes.

Following lunch, we drove the 600 meters (nearly 2,000 feet) to the Puma Punku archaeological site. We all three walked into the site, toward the first set of H-stones. As the name implies, these are stones formed in the shape of the letter H. Looking at them from the front, they are approximately 1-meter (3.2-feet) square. Many of the same questions come to mind. Where did the stones come from? How did they get here? How were they carved with no trace of tool marks? How were the precise 90-degree angles formed? What was the purpose of the stones? I am sure the list goes on and on.

Regarding where the stones originated, scientists are reasonably sure they came from a volcanic area, Kapia, about 100 kilometers (62 miles) away. That fact makes the question of how the stones made it to the site all the more curious. Some of the larger stones approach 100 tons.

Regarding usage, The Mystery of Puma Punku episode explores two theories a door hinge system and a space vehicle launch system. Watching the show, one can understand how the two individuals arrived at their opinions. However, I question the validity of either theory based on what I observed at the site. If the H-stones were part of an extensive door hinge system, where are the other hinge components or the door? If the H-stones were part of a launch system, why are they presented in an upright position? Why were the H-stones not aligned on the ground, parallel with the earth? As one can see, the use of the word “mystery” is very appropriate for the Puma Punku site.

Some of the H-stones at Puma Punka. Large blocks of red sandstone behind the H-stones. The backside of the H-stones and another view of the sandstone block. The I-shaped indentations were for metal connectors, some of which are in the Museo Ceramico. Several precision-cut stones. Some additional patterns with 90-degree angles. A line of H-stones. Detail of the H-stones. A seam of two pieces of sandstone. Squares and a circle cut in sandstone. Note how flat the surface is and the absence of tool marks.

There are many other stones at the site, nearly all of which generate similar questions like those above. However, there is one stone that is more perplexing than all the others combined. At first glance, one might not even take notice of the stone. It lies flat on the ground. It is about 1.2-meters (4-feet) long by 0.5-meters (19-inches). There is a large groove with two cylindrical holes on either end of the slot, roughly in the center of the stone, running lengthwise. But the two most unexplained features are “drill” holes and parallel lines.

On the edge of the stone is a small ledge that is precisely at a 90-degrees angle. On that small ledge are multiple small holes, apparently made with a drill. They are roughly equidistant. On the face of the stone, near one end, are two tiny, parallel lines carved into the rock. The lines have the same precise 90-degree angles and equidistant drill holes. I do not think I need to write all the questions here, but suffice it to say, there are a lot of questions about this stone.

In The Mystery of Puma Punku, scientists try to duplicate the cuts and finishes on a small stone taken from the site. They used both a diamond wheel cutter and a laser cutter. Neither even came close to matching the features found on the rocks at Puma Punku. More questions…

This may have been the most interesting stone at Puma Punku. Along the front edge are equidistant holes that appear to be done with a drill. The two intricate parallel lines at the far right also contain “drill” holes that are equidistant. Stones are strewn everywhere. A partially excavated pit. Looking west from the top of Puma Punka. Detail of a nearby farm.

The structure at Puma Punku is a raised, pyramid-type structure. At the west wall is a set of ancient stairs that were likely the main entry point. Like the Tiwanaku site, they are well worn. Other than the stairs, the construction at Puma Punku is much different. Precisely cut, the stones at the walls fit together well. The seams are so precise that one cannot insert a piece of paper between two rocks. I saw no signs of visible mortar. Again, questions…

The west steps to Puma Punku. A wider view of the steps. A portion of the west wall of Puma Punku. The view east along the south wall of Puma Punku. An example of the very tight seams along the walls. This channel comes from the top of the temple. Another example of the tight seams. An inside corner. Looking back across all of the various stones of Puma Punku. More very smoothly cut stones. A fallen gate. Tourists on the other side of the largest, multi-ton stone at Puma Punku. It may approach 100-tons. Smoothly cut stones. Looking toward the upper H-stones. The author at the some of the H-stones.

Near the end of our tour of Puma Punku, we saw some rodents living under the stones. I believe they are called cui rabbits. Regardless, they were cute and fun to watch.

A rodent under one of the rocks, possibly related to a chinchilla. An adult and a youngster… The den seemed to be up and under the huge stone.

After our walking tour of Puma Punku, we drove back into the village of Tiwanaku. I wanted to take a few photographs of the town. The Church of Saint Peter of Tiwanaku, built between 1580 and 1612, is on the east side of the central plaza. Built with stones from the archaeological site, it also showcases two monoliths near the front entrance. Above the main entry door is a stained-glass depiction of a man’s face, possibly Saint Peter. Whoever it is, the man does not look happy at all.

Following the brief photography session, we drove back to the Museo Ceramico. The primary purpose was to use the toilets before our two-hour drive back to town. Emerging from the museum, we crossed the street to one of the souvenir stands. I bought a couple of items there and photographed our charming vendor.

A sign in town for good beef. The Church of Saint Peter of Tiwanaku. The entry to the church. The southeast entry to the main plaza area of Tiwanaku. Colorful buildings along the east side of the plaza. A sign for Torito cold-cuts. The snack shacks near the Tiwanaku museums. A very nice vendor in Tiwanaku.

At about 15:00, Nico turned the van toward El Alto, and we began our trek home. We made one more stop at the Cordillera Real (Royal Range of the Andes) overlook. Because of the lighting, the view was even more spectacular than it was in the morning.

This day was one of the most enjoyable tours I have ever taken. I recommend Tiwanaku, and more importantly, Mariela’s Bolivia to anyone that visits the La Paz area of Bolivia!

A panoramic view of the Cordillera Real (Royal Range of the Andes). Illimani in the distance. The city apparently at the base is El Alto. Me at the Cordillera Real (Royal Range of the Andes) overlook. Another view of Illimani closer to home.

Watch the video: The Mysteries of Tiwanaku and Puma Punku Documentary (July 2022).


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