Tiwanaku (also called Tiahuanaco) was a state-level society centered in the southern Lake Titicaca Basin of South America. The exact dates for this civilization are an issue of contention, but most archaeologists agree that the peak of Tiwanaku cultural expansion occurred between the 8th and 10th centuries AD. The civilization saw considerable change, including a breakdown of centralized political control, after about AD 1000. The capital site of Tiwanaku was mentioned in versions of Inca tradition as the place where the world was created, the original home of the Inca lords, and the birthplace of Inca kings, and the site was in continual use through Spanish colonial times.
The capital and type-site for the Tiwanaku culture is located roughly 20 kilometers from the southern end of Lake Titicaca and 72 kilometers from La Paz, Bolivia. The site is best known for a series of large temple structures resembling large, artificial hills. Colonial Spanish observations and 20th-century archaeological investigations revealed temple architecture to consist of compacted earth held in place by cut stone blocks of red sandstone or dark gray basalt. Monumental gateways, such as the Gateway of the Sun, were intended as part of the latter phases of construction. The site has also revealed the presence of substantial monolithic statues, semi-subterranean courtyards, and the practice of human sacrifice.
It is estimated that the city’s population reached 250,000 at its height. People of the city obtained needed resources from a vast complex of raised-field agriculture extended throughout the Lake Titicaca Basin as well as long-distance caravan trade networks reaching from the Atacama Desert in the south to the Moquegua Valley in the north. Available data suggest that Tiwanaku developed an economic system that included distant colonies of altiplano people as well as trade relations with people who were influenced by, but not fully incorporated into, the Tiwanaku culture. This long-distance trade, in addition to religious pilgrimage, may also have been what fostered the initial growth of Tiwanaku.
Secondary sites in neighboring valleys include multiple-component residential and administrative complexes at Khonko Wankane and Lukurmata. Large Tiwanaku sites such as these characteristically display artificial mounds, sunken rectangular courtyards, and open plazas in addition to domestic architecture of mud brick and assemblages of characteristic artifacts. Most recognizable among the artifacts are a tall flared cup, or kero, and a short flared bowl, or tazon, used for serving corn-based beer and a stew of meat and potato.
Tiwanku social organization, architectural forms, and religion drew heavily upon earlier cultures in the Andean highland area known as the altiplano. The Yaya-mama (literally “man-woman”) religious tradition is thought to have been a unifying force across cultural complexes as well as a strong influence on religion in Tiwanaku. The iconography of this religion shows strong male-female dualism in conjunction with felines, camelids, toads, snakes, and mythical creatures, many of which find their way into Tiwanaku iconography. Like many in the Andes, Tiwanaku people practiced several forms of cranial modification and buried their dead in a flexed seated position.
- Janusek, J. W. (2004). Identity and power in the ancient Andes: Tiwanaku cities through time. New York: Taylor & Francis.
- Kolata, A. (1993) The Tiwanaku: Portrait of an Andean civilization. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.
- Kolata, A. (Ed.). (2003). Tiwanaku and its hinterland: Archeology and paleoecology of an Andean civilization. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press.