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Tuesday, 21 November 2000

Dating of Tiwanaku (Tiahuanaco) Site, Bolivia

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
Date: 1998/05/06  
Forums: alt.archaeology

For the thread "Re: Tiahuanaco / Titicaca" and in
message <>,
Martin Collins wrote:
>On Thu, 29 Jan 1998 22:32:36 GMT,
> (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

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. Zi—lkowski, Mieczyslaw F. Pazdur , Andrzej
Krzanowski, and Adam Michczynski at:

2. Dates for the Tiwanaku Site are specifically at:

>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 at:

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

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

About Tiwanaku, Browman (1981) states:

   "The site is very poorly preserved and imaginatively

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. Elseiver. New York.

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

Lavenu, A., 1981, Origine et evolution neotectonique 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
Man. J. J. Augustin Publisher, New York.

Verrill, A., 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 Sangines.  However,
all of his work has only been published in Spanish.  These

Ponce Sangines, Carlos, 1947, Cer?mica Tiwanacota.
Revista Geogr?fica Americana. vol. 28, pp. 204-214.

Ponce Sangines, Carlos, 1969a, Descripci—n Surmaria del
Templete Semisubterraneo de Tiwanaku. 4th ed., La Paz,
Bolivia, Los Amigos de Libro.

Ponce Sangines, Carlos, 1969b, La ciudad de Tiwanaku,
Separata de. Arte y Arquelog’a, vol. 1.

Ponce Sangines, Carlos, 1981, Tiwanaku: Espacio, Tiempo
y Cultura. Ensayo des Ventesis arquelog’ca. 4th ed., La Paz.
Bolivia, Los Amigos de Libro.

Other References About Tiwanaku:

Abbott, M. B., Binford, M. W., Brenner, M., and Kelts, 
K. B., 1997, A 3500 14C yr high-resolution record of
water-level changes in Lake Titcaca, 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           All comments are the     personal opinion of the writer and
Baton Rouge, LA            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; modfified March 3, 2001 to correct URLs for radiocarbon
dates of Tiwanaku.

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