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Bolivia’s Lake Titicaca Reveals Exceptional Ancient Tiwanaku Ceremonial Site

Amateur divers exploring the Island of the Sun in Lake Titicaca came across several ancient artifacts in a reef submerged 5 meters deep. The discoveries led to an official exploration of the Khoa reef by a team of marine archaeologists. After piecing together artefacts of exceptional value, they unraveled an amazing ceremonial site, which archaeologists associated to the Tiwanaku state, one of the most influential Andean civilizations to have existed in Bolivia.

Underwater Conditions Preserved Proofs of the Opulence of the Ancient Tiwanaku State

Marine researchers collected a treasure trove of ceremonial items that bear witness to the opulence of the Tiwanaku state. Figurines of animals, mostly of pumas, were shaped and carved out of lapis lazuli and other stones. Ceramic incense burners and an L-shaped gold piece of ceremonial item were likewise adorned with puma silhouettes.

Research divers also found gold ornaments, including perforated gold leaves attached to fragments of leather, similar to the ear tassels used as adornments on young llamas offered as sacrifices in the most lavish of ancient ceremonies. Along with the valuable artefacts, researchers also collected well-preserved remnants of llama bones. When carbon dated, the remnants disclosed that the lavish ceremonies took place between the 8th and 10th centuries AD.

Christophe Delaere of the University of Oxford, one of the marine archaeologists involved in the underwater exploration, enthused about the significance of the Lake Titicaca discovery in its undisturbed context. He said it exemplified the advantages of underwater heritage, serving as a demonstration of how Lake Titicaca protects ancient cultural materials from the ravages of time and man.

Delaere summed the significance of the underwater artefacts by saying

“Never before have so many artefacts of this quality been discovered. The history that they tell us is exceptional.”

Lake Titicaca Discoveries Provided Explanations on How the Titicaca State Expanded Rapidly

Charles Stanish, anthropologist at the University of South Florida, and member of the exploration team said the undisturbed ceremonial materials provided explanations on how the Tiwanaku state expanded so effectively during the first millennium. Stanish, explained that pilgrimages leading to the Titicaca basin, took part in elaborate ceremonies regarded as critical aspects of the state structure.

As a way of promoting cooperation and preventing rebellion and freeloading among pilgrims, rituals took place, not only for worship but also in bringing out “supernatural punishers (pumas?).” Stannish remarked that

“Ritual and religion structured people’s lives, the economy and the whole of society. This was how these people were able to to get along in spectacular ways and establish a very successful society.”

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About Xamira Zuiderwijk