Tiwanaku (Image: mgarciaturismo, Pixabay)

Dating of Tiwanaku (Tiahuanaco) Site, Bolivia

Below is an article that I once posted to the alt.archaeology newsgroup which discusses the age of the Tiwanaku (Tiahuanaco) Site in Bolivia near Lake Titicaca.

Author; P. V. Heinrich
Email: heinrich@intersurf.com
Date: 1998/05/06
Forums: alt.archaeology

For the thread “Re: Tiahuanaco / Titicaca” and in
message 34d9b65a.10267103@news.news.demon.net, Martin Collins wrote:

On Thu, 29 Jan 1998 22:32:36 GMT, dweller@ramtops.demon.co.uk (Doug Weller) wrote:
<On Thu, 29 Jan 1998 21:13:49 +0100, in alt.archaeology, A.R. van Ekeren wrote:
<<I’ve seen a documentary on Discovery Channel about the different theories around Atlantis. Some scientists think Plato’s description of Atlantis could correspond with Tihuanaco. This is lying on the border of Lake Titicaca.

On Thu, 29 Jan 1998 22:32:36 GMT, dweller@ramtops.demon.co.uk (Doug Weller) wrote:
<On Thu, 29 Jan 1998 21:13:49 +0100, in alt.archaeology, A.R. van Ekeren wrote:
<<I’ve seen a documentary on Discovery Channel about the different theories around Atlantis. Some scientists think Plato’s description of Atlantis could correspond with Tihuanaco. This is lying on the border of Lake Titicaca.

In addition to Tiwanaku, also called “Tiahuanaco,” what place hasn’t been claimed to be the site of Atlantis? I have read of Wisconsin, Antarctica, the North Atlantic, and numerous other places being claimed to be the site of Atlantis. So far I haven’t seen the Cydonia region on Mars claimed to be Atlantis. But, I have yet to read a certain new book on the “archaeology” of Mars.

<<< Parts of this city are on land and are subject to archaeological investigation, but part could be still under the waters.

< Tihuanaco (pick your favorite spelling) is currently about 12 km from Lake Titicaca although it was once a lake port.

The available research shows that Tiwanaku was never a port city on Lake Titicaca. Looking at available maps and geomorphic studies, it is quite clear that Posnansky (1943) was an inexperienced geomorphologist. His so-called shoreline appears to be nothing more than the valley wall of a river valley cut into the deposits of Lake Ballivan on which Tiwanaku lies. The plain of Lake Ballivan, except where cut out by younger fluvial valleys, extends from the modern Lake Titicaca shoreline eastward (up-valley) past Tiwanaku. The plain of Lake Ballivan finally ends at a small fragment of the older and higher lake plain of Lake Cabana at the easternmost tip of the valley. Within this valley, younger and lower lake plains are lacking (Lavenu 1981:Fig. 6, 1992:Fig. 4). The age of Lake Ballivan is undetermined, but it is at least over a 100,000 years old (Clapperton 1993).

I have also examined the “wharf” described by Posnansky (1943). So far, I find the same lack of evidence for it having been a “wharf” as for Tiwanaku having ever been a port. In my opinion, the claim that Tiwanaku was port with a wharf is nothing more than the wishful thinking by Posnansky (1943) for which proof is lacking. This claim has become part of the mythology surrounding Tiwanaku that various authors blindly repeat without evaluating the facts for themselves.

[NOTE: The actual lake port was at Iwawe which was connected to Tiwanaku by a land road (Browman 1981).]

But Tiwanaku is firmly dated to the first millennium AD, long after Plato.

For some of the evidence, there is a compilation of radiocarbon dates from the Tiwanaku Site at:

  1. Radiocarbon Database for Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru by Mariusz S. Ziólkowski, Mieczyslaw F. Pazdur, Andrzej Krzanowski, and Adam Michczynski here.
  2. Dates for the Tiwanaku Site can be found by searching for “Tiwanaku” in the site name field here.
A German astronomer, whose name I can’t quite bring to mind right now, spent many years at Tihaunaco and concluded from the archaeoastronomy of the site that it could be up to 15,000 years old. Of course this view is not popular amongst archaeologists.

It is not that his “view” that is unpopular among archaeologists. Rather, it is the authors who blindly repeat this claim as the gospel truth without taking the time and trouble to understand what they are writing about who are unpopular with archaeologists. What is also not popular among archaeologists is the habit of numerous authors to simply ignore almost all of the research done since Posnansky (1943) because of their failure either to do their homework or failure to include critical facts that contradict their pet hypothesis about Tiwanaku being constructed by Atlanteans, refugees of Atlantis, or space aliens. For example, few, if any, of these authors mention anything about the 29 radiocarbon dates that have been used to date the deposits at Tiwanaku. These dates can be found here.

A number of these dates are from stratigraphic units and contexts that date the construction of structures at Tiwanaku. As I have time, I hope to prepare a detailed analysis of the context of these dates that illustrates how silly it is of people, who apparently are completely clueless about the archaeology of this site, to dismiss these radiocarbon dates as being nothing more than the remains of “campfires.”

Astronomical Dating

A problem is that Tiwanaku, also called “Tiahuanaco,” is completely unsuitable for dating by archaeoastronomy. In order to do this type of analysis, the structure have to be undisturbed by prehistoric and historic alteration and reconstruction. Unfortunately, these have all taken place extensively at Tiwanaku.

First, Tiwanaku, including the Kalasasaya, have been badly damaged by the mining of stones within, defacing of structures, and altered by well-meaning, but ill-considered reconstructions. The massive disturbance of this site has been noted by a variety of observers, including people who are nonarchaeologists and without reason to suppress anomalous archaeological finds.

For example, the disturbance of Tiwanaku, “Tiahuanaco,” was described in the politically incorrect and less than polite language of his day by Verrill (1929) when he wrote:

Through the ages that had then passed since Tiahuanaco had become a veritable “Place of the Dead” and, through the centuries that have passed since the days of Incan dominion, this most ancient American city has been desecrated, looted, literally torn to bits. Choice portions of its magnificent sculptured stone work have been carried off by the natives and used to build their own miserable huts, and there is scarcely an Indian dwelling within miles of the ruins that does not possess a doorstep, a lintel, or some portion of its walls formed of fragments of Tiahuanaco. Even the rough, narrow, filthy streets of the villages are, in places, roughly paved with pieces of carved or worked stones filched from the ruins. The little Spanish church at the modern village of Tiahuanaco is almost entirely constructed of portions of the ancient town, and flanking the entrance are the heads and shoulders of two colossal stone images that were ruthlessly knocked from the bodies of Tiahuanaco’s stone gods. The Indian farmers have surrounded their stony thin soiled fields with walls constructed of stonework from the ruins, and vandals, collectors, and curio seekers have done their part. But the greatest damage of all, the most ruthless and inexcusable destruction, was caused by the railway whose tracks run directly through the center of the ancient city. Thousands of tons of stone, idols, statues, monoliths, carved columns, magnificent doorways, immense slabs and priceless sculptures were broken up, crushed and used for ballasting the tracks.

Clearly, long before Posnansky (1943) studied Tiwanaku, it had been badly disturbed. He was studying a site severely damaged by stone mining, looting, and vandalism. As a result, even his pains-taking study of the site would have been badly skewed by the severe disturbance to this site. This is one reason why his dating of Tiwanaku has been ignored by archaeologists.

Concerning the Kalasasaya, Verrill (1929) also notes:

About one thousand feet from the base of this former pyramid is the so-called Temple of the Sun, or Kalasasaya, perhaps the best preserved of the ruins. Here is an immense rectangular terrace nearly five hundred feet square with its edges outlined by rows of cut stone columns from fifteen to twenty feet in height. Originally the entire area within the boundaries of these columns was paved with carefully cut and fitted stones, but between the natives and the railway builders, who found these paving blocks most useful for their purposes, scarcely a trace of the ancient pavement now remains. Originally, also, the upright columns were connected or capped by timbers or other stones, for the tops are carefully and accurately mortised, evidently with the purpose of supporting lintels. At a short distance from the ruins, and facing the east, is a solitary huge stone image, its face marred and scarred by vandals and time, but still gazing with an enigmatical smile towards the rising sun, though it alone remains of all the hundreds of similar statues that once flanked the temple.

Note that hundreds of statues have been removed from around the temple. This is also true of other parts of the site. The wholesale removal of idols, statues, monoliths, and other types of stonework from the site, renders the reconstruction of sight lines and identifying “solstice markers” totally speculative. Because there exists no documentation of the stonework removed prior to the research of Posnansky (1943) and their location, it is virtually impossible to know how the configuration of sight lines have been altered. Also, it is virtually impossible to know that the alignments used by Posnansky (1943) to date the structure are either parts of the same sight line, fragments of unrelated sight lines, or even deliberately constructed with astronomical alignments in mind.

Also, after the work of Posnansky (1943), there has been heavy reconstruction of the outer wall of Kalasasaya. For example, if a person looks at photos from the 1950’s of the Kalasasaya, a person sees a number of small stone buildings which were removed for reconstruction. Any astronomical alignments associated with these building would have been either destroyed or severely altered. In addition, it is unclear what parts of the Kalasasaya were reconstructed; how it was reconstructed; and whether there was any scientific basis for the reconstruction. More often then not, rebuilding was done with concern for making the site pleasing to tourists and with little regard for how the structure originally looked. As a result, it might be very difficult, at this time, to independently demonstrate that any “solstice markers” or sight lines used in archaeoastronomy studies are either part of the original structure or even related to each other.

Even if a person could determine parts of the building to be part of the original structure, it would very difficult to tell if critical parts of the sight lines or critical marker posts have been removed in historic or prehistoric times.

A real mystery about the Tiwanaku Site is that Posnansky (1943) clearly knew how badly trashed the Tiwanaku Site was when he mapped it. Yet, he disregarded these obvious problems and tried to date the site using archaeoastronomical methods that he should have known would produce relatively meaningless results. He simplistically assumes without any hard evidence that astronomical alignments were unaltered by the destruction that the Tiwanaku site has suffered. He also assumes without either the benefit of inscriptions or any ethnographic or other data that buildings were astronomically aligned to a high degree precision in specific directions.

It is like an archaeologist finding the base of the Louisiana State Capitol a thousand years from now and lacking any written record of it. Because it is aligned in an east-west direction, he /she assumes that it must have been aligned a high degree precision to some astronomical event and uses that assumption to date it. The result is “Garbage In, Garbage Out” regardless of how skillfully the surviving parts of the building have been mapped.

About Tiwanaku, Browman (1981) states:

The site is very poorly preserved and imaginatively reconstructed.

Similarly, Isbell (1986) states:

the original megalithic facade of the Kalasasaya, the other great U-shaped complex at Tiwanaku, is poorly preserved and imaginatively reconstructed.

Likely, too much undocumented destruction and alteration has occurred at Tiwanaku for archaeoastronomy dating to be done on it. It would be like getting a watch that has had most of its springs and gears ripped from it to work, much less correctly tell time.

References Cited:

Browman, David L., 1981, New Light on Andean Tiwanaku.
American Scientist. vol. 69, no. 4, pp. 408-419.

Clapperton, C., 1993, Quaternary Geology and Geomorphology
of South America
. Elsevier. New York.

Isbell, W. H., 1986, Early ceremonial monuments in the
. Archaeoastronomy. vol. 9, no. 1-4, pp. 134-155.

Lavenu, A., 1981, Origine et évolution néotectonique du
lac Titicaca
. Revue d’Hydrobiologie tropicale. vol. 14,
no. 4, pp. 289=297.

Lavenu, A., 1992, I.1 Formation and geological evolution.
In C. Dejoux and A. Iltis, eds., pp. 3-15, Lake Titicaca: A
Synthesis of Limnological Knowledge. Kluwer Academic
Publishers, Boston.

Posnansky, Arthur, 1943, Tihuanacu: the Cradle of American
. J. J. Augustin Publisher, New York.

Verrill, A.H., 1929, The Oldest City in the New World. Travel.
vol. 53, pp. 12-16. (September 1929)

Final Note:

The most detailed references about Tiwanaku, “Tiahuanaco,” have been published by Carlos Ponce Sanginés. However, all of his work has only been published in Spanish. These include:

Ponce Sanginés, Carlos, 1947, Ceramica Tiwanacota. Revista Geográfica Americana, vol. 28, pp. 204-214.

Ponce Sanginés, Carlos, 1969, Descripción Sumaria del Templete Semisubterraneo de Tiwanaku. 4th ed., Los Amigos de Libro, La Paz, Bolivia.

Ponce Sanginés, Carlos, 1969b, La ciudad de Tiwanaku. Separata de Arte y Arqueología 1, vol. 1.

Ponce Sanginés, Carlos, 1981 (1972), Tiwanaku, espacio, tiempo y cultura: ensayo de síntesis arqueológica. Los Amigos del Libro, La Paz, Bolivia (originally published, Academia Nacional de Ciencias de Bolivia, La Paz, Bolivia).

Other References about Tiwanaku:

Abbott, M. B., Binford, M. W., Brenner, M., and Kelts, K. B., 1997. A 350014C yr High-Resolution Record of Water-Level Changes in Lake Titicaca, Bolivia/Peru. Quaternary Research, vol. 47, no. 2, pp. 169-180.

Binford, M. W., Kilata, A. L., Brenner, M., and others, 1997. Climatic variation and the rise and fall of an Andean civilization. Quaternary Research, vol. 47, no. 2, pp. 235-248.

Kolata, Alan L., 1993, The Tiwanaku: portrait of an Andean civilization. Blackwell Publishers, Cambridge.

Kolata, Alan L., 1996, Tiwanaku and Its Hinterland: Archaeology and Paleoecology of an Andean Civilization. University of Chicago, Chicago.

Paul V. Heinrich
graywacke@att.net and Baton Rouge, LA

All comments are the personal opinion of the writer and do not constitute policy and/or opinion of government or corporate entities. This includes my employer.

“To persons uninstructed in natural history, their country
or seaside stroll is a walk through a gallery filled with
wonderful works of art, nine-tenths of which have their faces
turned to the wall.”

  • T. H. Huxley

NOTE; modified March 3, 2001 to correct URLs for radiocarbon dates of Tiwanaku. Version 4.0 Dec 18, 2001 Copyright © 1996-2002 Paul V. Heinrich All rights reserved.