For my final day in Bolivia, I wanted to take a closer look into the region’s ancient history. Tiwanaku is the site of a once thriving Pre-Columbian civilization that died out long before it’s discovery by Spaniards in the mid 1500’s. Anthropologists estimate that this site was inhabited as far back as 1500 BC, having a classical high period in the several centuries on either sides of year 0.
Much of what is known today of Tiwanaku is speculation of disagreeing archeologists and anthropologists. A multitude of surviving ceramics and statues combine with the ruins of walls and a city center to give clues as to what this society might have been like. But because there appears to be no written language from the people of this region, speculation is what we have go by. But it is clear that this was once a wealthy, booming society with a complex agricultural system. The people also had to have an incredible network of traders for goods and services, which is evident by the recourses used in creating the artifacts that have survived to today. Without impressive man-power and long distance communication, many of the beautiful stone statues could not have found their way to this site from the homes native to such resources.
I took a bus to visit the ruins of Tiwanaku from La Paz (click to read about my time in La Paz), about an hour away. Once at the site, I visited two museums dedicated toward preserving artifacts and educating people on the history from the area. Afterwards a guide walked us around the ruins and explained what specific sites were (or might have been).
This was a really cool thing to experience. Most of the historical education I have picked up in my time in Bolivia (as well as northern Argentina) has been focused on the changes which occurred upon Spanish occupation, beginning in the 1500’s and thereafter. I have learned a little bit about how indigenous cultures have survived and adapted over the past 5 centuries. While wandering South America, it is almost impossible to avoid picking up on some of it, because this history is so deeply ingrained into the fabric of their contemporary culture.
Visiting Tiwanaku, however, is a different story. This ancient civilization existed, grew, thrived and fell, all in a time completely untouched by Western culture. There is something special about diving into a historical world that is so removed from everything remotely familiar to today’s global social structure.