We did a full day trip to Tiwanaku, taking a packed lunch (although there are restaurants in the village).
It is a huge site and much of it has not been excavated. There is a ceramics museum with a good range of pottery of different ages as well as many deformed skulls found around the site. All labels were in Spanish and there was no English information or guide books obvious.
There is a larger, newer museum next door which holds the Bennett Monolith and the remains of an old gateway but nothing else yet.
There is the usual row of tourist shops by the entrance.
First impressions of the site are disappointing as it is overgrown with vegetation. You don’t see the excavations until you are much closer.
There is a plan and a model of the site at the entrance and arrows point the way round the site.
Everyone begins with the Akapana Pyramid. This is a huge grass covered mound. It is man made and was originally made up of 7 terraces. The foundations at the back of the pyramid are being excavated (April 2010) and it is possible to see the huge stone blocks which were used. Stones from the upper levels have been looted over the years to use as building material. Part of the front of the pyramid has been reconstructed using adobe bricks (rather than the historically accurate stone). Aesthetically this didn’t work and I understand that work has now stopped due to threat of collapse. There were also concerns that the ruins could looses their world heritage status because of this.
Make sure you climb to the top of the pyramid for the views as well as the archaeology. You can see a small sunken courtyard surrounded by priests cells and standing stones.
The Klasasaya temple is the other large stone structure on the site. Walk round the outside to admire the stonework before going inside. The wall is made up of large upright stones (original) with smaller square or rectangular stones between. You can also see the drainage channels. Entry to the central courtyard is up one of the steep, narrow staircases through the wall not up the stairs of the ceremonial gateway. In one corner is the Puerta del Sol carved from a single block of andesite which was broken when it was moved here. In the opposite corner is the Fraile Monolith. The Ponce monolith stands in a prominent position opposite the main entrance. The ‘altar’ in the centre is a modern reconstruction and there is no evidence there was one here.
Between these two structures is the Subterranean Temple which is entered down a steep staircase. It is surrounded by a beautifully made stone wall studded with carved heads. Each one is different. No-one is quite sure what the significance of the heads was. It has been suggested that they may be local tribes or represent gods of the cultures defeated and absorbed into the Tiwanaku empire. Some heads are carved from paler stone and are usually lopsided. It was these that Von Daniken thought were ‘astronauts’ in his book Chariots of the Gods. There are 3 anthropomorphic stone statues in the centre.
The rest of the site is less well excavated and is likely to be missed out on the half day tours. The Kantat Hallita is worth a quick visit to look at the stone slab which has a carved plan for a temple on it. It has been suggested that this could have been an architect’s workroom.
The Puerta de la Luna is a longer walk past the unexcavated Putuni and Kheri Kala. It is a very plain structure but still in its original position. Further away are the remains of Puma Punku, a mass of stone slabs lying on the ground. Some show the position of the metal ties holding the stones together. If short of time these can be missed.
Do try and make time to walk to the Sukakullos which are outside the site to the north. It is a short walk across the fields to the remains of the raised field system which fed the Tiwanaku empire. There is a network of drainage channels around the fields. The atmosphere is warm and humid and these fields were producing much better crops than the unirrigated fields around.
The Sukakullos were carefully constructed with a base of coarse gravel and rock covered with a layer of clay. This helped the soil to retain water and also prevented brackish water from Lago Titicaca seeping up from below. Above the clay was a layer of coarse gravel, finer gravel and finally black, organic topsoil. The fields were separated by deep irrigation channels which provided water from the Catari River during the dry season. The raised fields protected crops from flooding if the lake level rose.
The position of the fields and ditches was designed to take full advantage of the heat of the sun. Water in the ditches warmed up during day and protected crops from frost damage overnight. It also extended the growing season. The warm water encouraged the growth of algae which in turn provide food for fish and ducks which provided meat and eggs for the local diet.
Duck excrement, decaying algae and fish remains formed a rich sludge on the bottom of the ditch which was periodically scraped up and used on the fields as fertiliser.
Present-day farmers produce about three tons potatoes per hectare. Research suggests Sukakullos produced yields up to twenty tonnes/hectare.
We were glad we did this trip and also allocated a full day to it. The Tiwanaku civilisation was amazing in what it achieved. We were possibly a little disappointed by the site as so much of it is still unexcavated. There is very little information in English and we didn’t see any guide books on sale. Much of the information given by the guide was conjecture. Different people have very different theories.
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