Fearless Explorer

3.0 Tiwanaku

Tiawanaku is an ancient  archaeological site between the shores of lake Titicaca and the capital city of La Paz in the north of Bolivia. One of the most mysterious sites in the world, this place on the ‘the roof of the world’ still puzzles archaeologists today, inviting alternative hypotheses as to its origin and real age. Like many ancient sites in South America it is difficult to accurately date due to the absence of a real written tradition, which would allow some kind of viable timeline to be constructed.

However a few things are well-established about the complex, such as the fact that it was already in ruins and had been abandoned upon the arrival of the Spanish there in the 1500s, and that it was clearly pre-Inca.

The complex consists of two principal sites, Tiawanaku and a few hundred metres off to one side is Puma Punku. I arrived early one morning for an organised tour, but feeling under the weather with a nasty case of altitude sickness. But for me, the place was a must-see, something I read about and was keen to see in the flesh.

Tiawanaku itself is situated in a broad valley of a windswept, somewhat desolate grasslands, a few miles from the edge of the lake itself. The  combination of thin air and harsh sun, along with my altitude sickness made the experience a little draining, but I decided it would be worth it. On arrival at the complex , little was initially visible except a few low buildings and what looked like burial mounds. Out guide first took us for a brief tour of the museum complex and gave us an overview of the place. The consensus was that place had been some kind of religious centre in the first few centuries AD and prior to the arrival of the Inca.

It had originally consisted of a series of pyramid-like structures with a housing complex for the priestly class atop each one. The mounds that we could see were apparently what remained of the original pyramids, some of which had been excavated and partially reconstructed. Moving outside to further explore the complex we came to the famous Sun Gate, a free standing stone gate cut from three large blocks and with incredibly precise carvings of animals and god-like figures. Our guide gave us a detailed explanation of the place and how archaeologists had determined its religious status due to the wide range of offerings that had been brought in some cases thousands of miles from, for example jungle locations.

However, when we moved on to the second part of the complex, that of Puma Punku, I noticed that the guide became strangely reticent. While there appeared to be an abundance of data regarding the much larger Tiawanaku, its  much smaller neighbor was apparently still very much a mystery. While Tiawanku was an extensive series, of platforms, walls, sunken temples, a partially reconstructed pyramid and so forth, Puma Punku at first glance was nothing more than a pile of jumbled up broken stones.

However on closer inspection, the apparently much older site consisted of blocks that were so precisely cut as to almost beggar belief. Our guide could only marvel at the quality of the work and invite us to take a closer look, but had very little in the way of solid historical information. My impression was of stones that could have been cut with modern day machines and which perhaps had once formed part of a giant jigsaw puzzle. They appeared to have formed a much larger structure and to have fitted together  very precisely at some point in the distant past. But whoever created those blocks had the ability to cut extraordinarily straight lines and angles in very complex patterns. So much so that one had to question how such a thing would have been possible thousands of years ago.

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