Image: Chris Knutson
On the southeastern shore of Bolivia’s Lake Titicaca stand the ancient ruins of the city of Tiwanaku. Here, the remains of monolithic rock sculptures and buildings over 1,500 years old can be seen. What makes this site so incredible is not merely the size and weight of the stone used by these pre-Inca builders, but the fact that much of that stone originated far from the ruins – around 55 miles (90 kilometers) across the wide blue lake!
How these huge rocks, some of them weighing 40 tons, were transported across the famous lake – home to many indigenous tribes who live on its shores and in its floating villages of Lake Titicaca – has long been a mystery. Some, including photographer Chris Knutson, who took these photographs, speculate that the heavy boulders were ferried across the lake in reed boats. In fact, Knutson wrote an undergraduate thesis on the subject while he was at the University of Pennsylvania.
Some years later, Dr. Alexei Vranich, the director of archaeological investigations at Tiwanaku, contacted Knutson. Vranich offered him a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fly down to Bolivia and join him and a group of volunteers and researchers, including project director Paul Harmon, to test out this theory in real life. Naturally, Knutson accepted, and in 2002, he became part of the Qala Yampu expedition (as the project was called) to see if a reed boat really could transport a boulder weighing several tons across Lake Titicaca.