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The circular monument discovered in Waskiri, Bolivia. Credit: Antiquity.

Ritual Site Connected to Ancient Andean Cults Discovered in Bolivia


Archaeologists in Bolivia have discovered 135 ancient hilltop sites including an enormous circular structure where they say members of ancient Andean cults would have once worshipped the sun. The sacred circle was in the middle of a vast ritualized landscape, which is only just coming to light.

Ancient Bolivia is perhaps most famous for its monumental architecture at Tiwanaku, located near Lake Titicaca, which holds the Gate of the Sun, the Akapana Pyramid, and Puma Punku, which were built between 500 and 1000 AD. However, a new study published in the journal Antiquity presents “135 hilltop sites” circled by concentric walls on terraces.

At these sites, the research team discovered large quantities of pre-Hispanic ceramic fragments dating to the Late Intermediate and Late Periods (1250 AD –1600 AD), which is when the Inca expanded south. And the new study suggests these ritualistic sites were once important ceremonial centres carefully located along a series of long-distance geodetic alignments.

The circular monument is in the center of a vast ritualized landscape. Source: Antiquity.

The circular monument is in the center of a vast ritualized landscape. Source: Antiquity.

Following Inca Patterns

The team of archaeologists discovered the large circular construction, measuring 140 metres (459 ft) in diameter, at a site known as Waskiri, which is located near the Lauca River and the Bolivian-Chilean border.

The circular structure has a perimeter ring comprising 39 adjoining enclosures. These served to enclose a plaza covering an area of around 1 hectare, which was scattered with abundant ceramic fragments, plates and small jars, associated with agricultural rituals. The site is both aesthetically and spatially associated with surrounding sacred mountains, multiple walled circular constructions, and burial towers which were decorated with patterns found on Inca fabrics.

The Inca Empire Was Bound By Ancient Alignments

The archaeologists speculate that these sites were part of one system, perhaps representing an adaptation of the Inca ceque line system which underlies the layout of their capital city of Cuzco.

Guaman Poma de Ayala and the priest, Bartolomé Álvarez, both travelled through the Carangas region during the 1580s AD, and Álvarez noted the existence of “a large circular building”, in which curacas and caciques (indigenous leaders) gathered to perform ceremonies dedicated to the Sun during Inti Raymi, a festival that marked the winter solstice and the start of the Inca new year. The festival was originally held in the capital city of Cusco but was banned by the Spanish colonizers in the 16th century.

The ceque line system of Cusco, known in Quechua as “siq'i,” was a series of ritualized astronomical alignments that extended outwards from the “Qurikancha” Temple of the Sun in Cusco across the Inca Empire, which was divided into four sections called “suyus.” The four principal Inca regions were bound by a total of 41 or 42 long distance alignments which were pinned onto the earth by sacred shrines known as huacas or wak'as, at which rituals were performed at specific times of the agricultural calendar.

Sacred Sites Pinning Down Alignments

Wak'as were outdoor ceremonial centres comprising temples and huge stylized rocks, but also water springs, significant bends in rivers and caves, which were arranged along the course of the siq'is lines. The number of wak'as located along each line varied from 3 to 13 or more per siq'i, and wak'a keepers served as caretakers for each one, performing offerings in conjunction with the high priests in Cusco.

According to the new paper, the ceremonial centers and the extended ritual landscape provide new and rich archaeological material for further study of the pre-Hispanic history of this part of the Andes. And all this was found in an area of Bolivia that has been greatly understudied.

Once the extent of the new siq'i system of alignments is determined, the hunt will be on for lost wak'as which at one time manifested the geodetic alignments of the landscape.

Top image: The circular monument discovered in Waskiri, Bolivia. Credit: Antiquity.

By Ashley Cowie

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Ashley is a Scottish historian, author, and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems in accessible and exciting ways.

He was raised in Wick, a small fishing village in the county of Caithness on the north east coast of... Read More

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