The great stone structures of Tiwanaku date from about
AD 100 and were being developed and enlarged by an ancient
race for almost six hundred years before they finally
declined sometime around the year 1000AD'
runs the archaeological story drawn from evidence such as
RadioCarbon dating, analysis of gravesite materials and detailed
comparisons with other central Andean cultures. The styles
of designs on the pottery have been especially important in
determining a sequence of events through recent history.
great flood? True or false? Although the deep covering of earth
over the Akapana and the Kalasasaya has never been clearly explained,
the geological history is understood. Long before the arrival
of the people who built Tiwanaku the altiplano or high
plain of the central Andes was covered by two
huge lakes. Over the years these lakes have evaporated
leaving traces of ancient beaches in the surrounding mountains.
The decline of the great lakes was gradual and their remnants
can be seen today as shallow salt lakes or enormous salt-pans
or salares such as those of Uyuni or Coipasa.
The modern Lake Titicaca is the most northerly of the present
day lakes and it drains gently southward by a shallow
river, the Desaguadero, which in Spanish means quite literally
a 'drain' .
This river meanders for 280 miles (450kms) through a near featureless
plain at an altitude of approximately 12,300 feet (3750 meters)
until it reaches the lake system of Poopo. Within
living memory Lake Poopo was a significant wetlands area where
many species of waterbirds congregated. The past forty years
have seen changes and Poopo has been drying. One reason has
been the silting of the Desaguadero as the water flow from Lake
Titicaca diminishes. Silt has accumulated naturally in the outlet
of the Desaguadero river where it enters Lake Poopo holding
back the water to create a totally new lake known
as Uru-Uru. Today even that is drying and Poopo itself has become
a large mudflat with just a few pools of brackish water
'Land Above the Clouds' by Tony Morrison
and published in 1974 ISBN 233 95737 5 has a full account
of the lakes, climate and wildlife.
see a simple map of the lakes and rivers
click the winged figure
the people hold the clues?
Tales handed down through the generations are still told around
firesides on the altiplano. A rich folklore contains
elements of a past great flood, angry gods, the arrival of white
gods from over the oceans and so on. These tales were recorded
as long ago as the sixteenth century so there are no doubts
about their origin. But the stories seem to conflict with the
For example tiny arrow heads of basalt and quartz have been
found along the edge of some of the old beaches. These are not
seen on the highest beaches and neither on the lowest or around
the present day shoreline. One conclusion seems certain.
People were there at some time during the age of the great lakes,
perhaps as long as ten thousand years ago. Anthropologists
have traced the course of the migration of the first tribes
along an overland route from north America revealing how tribes
arriving in the Andes lived nomadically, hunting and gathering
wild food as they travelled. Tiwanaku came much later
as the nomads began to settle, to cultivate and domesticate
some of the wild animals.
were 'The Tiwanakans' The early farmers lived simply but gradually
drew together as communities, possibly for protection from surrounding
tribes and in a predictible way some of these communities advanced
more quickly. Around Tiwanaku the land was good for agriculure
and hand in hand with massive crop production the ceremonial
centre was built. Eventually Tiwanaku became a dominant culture
in the south-central Andes and its influence can be traced far
a wide. Then
quite suddenly it began to decline and
the ceremonial centre was virtually abandoned. No one knows
why but perhaps it was no more than squabbles amomg the leaders.
Later history is a much clearer picture with accounts of two
powerful kinggdoms the Lupaca and Colla on the northwest and
southwest corners of Lake Titicaca with others of lesser importance
scattered in the highlands. Names such as Pacaje, Umasuyu, Charca
and Canchi 'live on' as present-day political divisions in the
Bolivian highlands.Remains of these smaller groups exist in
many places and have been studied, largely by Bolivian archaeologists.Because
the area is vast and until recently has been largely inacccesible
research has been limited. But times are changing quickly and
several good roads cross the Desagadero river into the old land
of the Pacajes. Burial sites and fortifiications can be spotted
from the road.
Chullpas Tombs locally known as chullpas dominate
ridges and high places seen by the ancient people as people
as being closer to the sky and their hilltop gods. Some chullpas
were built of mud-sods or adobe , others were of stone.
Some were elaborate and other simple. Bodies of the deceased
were placed inside, usually knees to chin in beautifully made
many ways these various tribes are regarded as the ancestor
of the Aymara speaking people who dominate the region today.The
specialists in folklore have long known of small differencess
in customs and the legends handed down which are rapidly being
lost or simply becoming a single homogeneous 'altiplano culture'.
Languages and dress are changing too, and only old photographs
serve to remind us of what existed, even at the turn of the
and evidence on the ground hardly add up to Atlantis being
set in the ancient Andes. So what can account
for the myths of ' The Flood'? Many questions about Tiwanaku
have yet to be answered and Part Three of this series
will take a look at the world and universe known to the
special thanks to the late Alicia Posnansky and the
late Brian Fawcett
© South American Pictures 1998