Saturday, March 14, 2015

The Earliest Americans—Tiwanaku – Part II

Continuing from the last post regarding the three-square mile ancient American city of Tiwanaku, a B.C. site just south of Lake Titicaca in the Altiplano of Western Bolivia and southeastern Peru. This area played a leading role in the development of the Andean pre-Hispanic civilization. The most imposing monument at Tiwanaku is the Pyramid of Akapana. Nearly the same size as the great Pyramid of Khufu in Egypt, the 59-foot-tall pyramid resembles a large natural hill more than a pyramid, though closer inspection shows walls and columns sticking out from the base and carved stones on its summit and tumbling down the sides. The pyramid has a complex network of tunnels and passageways very similar to the shafts of Egyptian pyramids.
The site is characterized by very large cut stones, that have been squared, dressed and notched, that far exceeded work done on most other stonework. In addition, the stones were set without mortar, so closely together that, like Sacsayhuaman, not even a razor blade could penetrate the seams. And unlike Egyptian square stone blocks, these stones are cut irregularly, with each stone matched uniquely to its neighbors, possibly to resist lateral motion due to numerous regional earthquakes. Also, elaborate “double-T” copper clamps were used to hold the stones together in the critical drainage and irrigation tunnels.
    Some of these bronze clamps, weighing up to a ton, have been found at Tiwanaku that were in use several centuries before the Inca, yet, the Inca was a culture to which bronze was unknown. And while the Spanish name Tiahuanaco (the Quechua name was Tiwanaku), the name the original builders used to call this area is unknown today.
    The somewhat amorphous shape of this tremendous pyramid is the result of centuries oflooting,subsequent generations carting off much of the carved stones for cathedrals and early Spanish villas, and the railroads destroying the huge blocks of the once awesome structures, breaking them up and turning the rubble into road base. What is left today is a very small semblance of the once magnificent buildings.
New research shows that this pyramid was never quite finished in antiquity. The stone used to build Tiwanaku was quarried and then transported to the city and included the largest cut stone block in the world weighing 200 tons, and many of the large buildings were still intact when the Spanish first arrive; however, true to their nature, the Spanish did their very best to ruin and demolish a culture that far exceeded their minimal accomplishments, and only three of the original structures remain today: the Akapana (fortress), the Kalasaya (temple) and the Palace of the Ten Doors.
    The overall site, one of the largest pre-Columbian constructions in South America and a building of great spiritual significance for the Tiwanaku civilization, originally had seven superimposed platforms with stone retaining walls rising to a height of a six-story building. Only the lowest of these and part of one of the intermediate walls survive intact. Investigations have shown that it was originally clad in sandstone and andesite and surmounted by a temple, and surrounded by very well-preserved drainage canals.
    The walls of the small semi-subterranean temple (Templete) are made up of 48 pillars in red sandstone. There are many carved stone heads set into the walls, and numerous large vertical stones that still remained intact when the site was first discovered. Surrounding the structure the arrangement of small single homes had been built, though they were later replaced during the later A.D. period by large square compounds.
To the north of the Akapana is the Kalasasaya, a large rectangular open temple, thought to have been used as an observatory. It is entered by a flight of seven steps in the center of the eastern wall. The interior contains two carved monoliths and the monumental Gate of the Sun, one of the most important specimens of the art of Tiwanaku.
Gate of the Sun. Left: Front of the Gate, with the famed (weeping) Staff God in the center; Right: The back view of the Gate
     It was made from a single slab of andesite cut to form a large doorway with niches (Hornacinas) on either side. Above the doorway is an elaborate bas-relief frieze depicting a central deity, standing on a stepped platform, wearing an elaborate head-dress, and holding a staff in each hand. The deity is flanked by rows of anthropomorphic birds and along the bottom of the panel there is a series of human faces. The ensemble has been interpreted as an agricultural calendar.
    The settlers of this city perfected the technology for carving and polishing different stone materials for the construction, which, together with architectural technology, enriched the monumental spaces.
A unique irrigation canal system, what is called today “raised-field” agriculture, covered some 50,000 fields in an area of 47,000 acres. The system not only successfully and effectively watered the crops at this altitude, but kept them warm in cold frosts and at the cold temperatures of 12,000 feet, functioning much like gigantic solar collectors, absorbing heat from solar radiation during the day that kept the crops warm during the cold nights. This technique produced at a level seven times more productive than elsewhere—as an example, where traditional agriculture in the region yielded on average 2.4 metric tons of potatoes per hectare, and modern agriculture (with artificial fertilizers and pesticides) yields about 14.5 metric tons per hectare, this raised field agriculture yields an average of 21 tons per hectare. In addition, the canals were also used to farm edible fish and the resulting canal sludge was dredged for fertilizer.
    The economic base of this city was evidenced by these fields that are characterized by their irrigation technology, which allowed the people to easily adapt to the climate conditions. The artificial terraces constitute an important contribution to agriculture and made possible a sustained form of farming and consequently the cultural evolution of the Tiwanaku Empire. These innovations were subsequently taken up by succeeding groups and were extended as far as Cuzco.
    The social dynamics of this population of the highland plateau were sustained in strong religious components that are expressed in a diverse iconography of stylized images. The political and ideological power represented in different material supports extended to the borders coming up to the population’s vallunas and to more remote coastal areas.
    Many towns and colonies were set up in the vast region under Tiwanaku rule. The spiritual and political center of the Tiwanaku Culture was the capital of a powerful empire that lasted several centuries and was characterized by the use of new technologies and materials for the architecture, pottery, textiles, metals, and basket-making. It was the epicenter of knowledge and ‘saberes’ due to the fact that it expanded its sphere of influence to the interandean valleys and the coast.
    However, this political dominance of Tiwanaku began eventually to decline and its empire collapsed. It is believed by archaeologists who have studied the site that its collapse occurred because of an invasion of another people from the south.
For further information and reading on Tiwanaku, see our post dated Thursday January 6, 2011, “The Ancient Nephite City of Tiahuanacu-Part V"

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