Who Built the Ancient Bolivian Ruins of Tiwanaku?

Tiwanaku was the capital city of the most powerful pre-Hispanic empire and one of the great civilizations of the ancient Americas. Abandoned for nearly 1,000 years, it was re-discovered in 1549. One of the most important precursors to the Inca Empire, the ruins of this very important pre-Columbian archaeological site are located on the Altiplano of Western Bolivia in South America.

Kalasasaya templePhoto: Marc DavisThe Kalasasaya temple complex

The Mystery

Tiwanaku (also called Tiahuanaco) has been a mystery for generations because of its peculiar stone technology. It also has fantastic origin theories. By 400 AD, it sprawled over the grasslands of the southern Titicaca Basin in the Tiwanaku Valley and was surrounded by eye-catching architectural structures such as palaces, temples and pyramids, as well houses, other buildings and streets.

Gateway of the SunPhoto: MhwaterDetail of the Gate of the Sun, also known as the Gateway God

But, the question that often comes to mind is: who built these giant structures in this high and cold area, with few natural resources, where major crops like cotton, maize and fruits cannot be grown? Who were the original inhabitants that built Tiwanaku and lived there for 1,500 years? And how did their civilization disappear, leaving behind these mysterious structures?

Pyramid of AkapanaPhoto: archer10 (Dennis)The city was dominated by a large, terraced platform pyramid, called the Akapana. The remains of this 59-foot tall pyramid shows that it was the largest of all buildings.

Various Theories

Begun as a small settlement, Tiwanaku was the primary political power in the Titicaca Basin by AD 500 and continued to grow. Initial research suggests that this city was originally built on the Pacific coast 10,000 years ago. It entered into its most powerful phase in the 8th century AD, when dozens of colonies and villages were established throughout the entire Lake Titicaca area.

There is a theory that might well explain how these giant structures were built. The idea is that the Tiwanaku people settled colonies in distant regions, many kilometers away from Altiplano, to grow crops and other products not available on the Altiplano. From these colonies they supervised the construction work. They used ancient techniques to convert the marshy tracts of the lake area into a rich, productive agricultural land. Archaeologists have discovered these fields throughout the Tiwanaku territory, which provided the favorable agricultural base for the Tiwanaku Empire.

The archaeological site of TiwanakuPhoto: archer10 (Dennis)Archaeological site of the city remains

Archaeologists and visitors have for years wondered how a vast city could have supported itself at this altitude. Whoever they were, the people of Tiwanaku were superb architects in creating their temples and monuments. What’s more, though they may have appeared to have started to build their city thousands of years ago, the carbon dating of these monuments suggests that they are actually less than 2,000 years old. The research is still ongoing, as the Tiwanaku and its inhabitants left no written history.

If we could prove the notion that Tiwanaku was built by the modern inhabitants of the Lake Titicaca region, it would be the find of the century.

Sources: 1, 2