Tiwanaku Excavation Unearths 1400-Year-Old Ritual Vessels
At Tiwanaku, Bolivia, archaeologists have excavated a number of vessels that are believed to be 1,400 years old making them amongst the very oldest artifacts to be found at the site. Tiwanaku is one of the most important pre-Columbian archaeological sites in Latin America, famous for its extraordinary construction methods with advanced stone-working techniques. The vessels are expected to help experts to have a better understanding of one of the most significant pre-Hispanic cultures and empires.
The finds were made by a team of Bolivian archaeologists and researchers who have been working on the renowned Tiwanaku archaeological site. This is the ruins of an ancient city “which is about 47 miles (75 kilometers) from the capital of La Paz, near the southern shore of Lake Titicaca ” reports CT Post . The archaeologists work was part of the “Comprehensive Conservation Plan of Tiwanaku that was prepared by Bolivian and UNESCO experts”, according to Pagina SIETE .
Archaeologists uncover vessels at the Tiwanaku archaeological site. (Ministerio de Culturas y Turismo de Bolivia )
Vessels Found in an Ancient Temple
Archaeologists were working inside the Kalasasaya temple which was once in the heart of the ancient city and is located near the ruins of other monumental pre-Hispanic buildings. The temple consists of a low platform enclosed by stone walls.
Over a dozen vessels were unearthed by the local researchers. The vessels were found carefully positioned in the form of a circle.
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The vessels were buried inside the ruins of the Kalasasaya temple. (Ministerio de Culturas y Turismo de Bolivia / Facebook)
According to SBS News the team had found “1400-year-old vessels”. Earlier media reports mistakenly stated that the vessels were 300 to 400 years old. The CT Post states that they date “from the time of Tiwanaku III, between 400 and 600 AD, and include iconography of fish and birds”.
Tiwanaku was once a major political and religious center. It was the capital of the Tiwanaku Empire, which dominated western Bolivia and parts of Peru from about 500 to 1000 AD. Some academics believe that it was not an empire but rather a federation in which rituals and festivals were used to bind people together. ABC News reports that it was “one of the most important pre-Hispanic empires”.
Were the Vessels for Religious Offerings?
Researchers believe that the fact that the vessels were buried in a circular shape is very telling. An archaeologist who works at the Archaeological Investigations Center of Tihuanaco Mary Luz Choque, stated that “the circular shape in which the objects were buried suggests they formed part of an offering made at the funeral of a person of noble lineage” according to ABC News .
The vessels were placed to form a circle. (Ministerio de Culturas y Turismo de Bolivia / Facebook)
The vessels are allowing the archaeologists to better understand the role and function of the Kalasasaya temple and the other sacred sites in the ancient city. Their discovery may also lead to new interpretations of the role of the urban center in the ceremonial and religious life of the Tiwanaku Empire .
According to the Bolivian Minister of Culture and Tourism, Wilma Alanoca, the discoveries are “very important” reports Pagina SIETE . It is believed that the objects are among the oldest artifacts ever uncovered at the archaeological site, in over six decades of excavations. The minister has personally visited the area in order to receive a first-hand report from the team who discovered the precious vessels.
Vessels Retrieved with Contemporary Aymara Ritual
Tiwanaku is still very important to many of the local indigenous communities, especially the Aymara people . They consider the ruined city to be of major religious and cultural significance. The archaeologists were very sensitive to the beliefs of the community during their work. ABC News reports that “an Aymara priest presided over a ceremony dedicated to Mother Earth before the objects were extracted”.
Vessels unearthed at site in Tiwanaku City, Bolivia. Source: Ministerio de Culturas y Turismo de Bolivia / Facebook.
Further excavations are continuing at the site and the archaeologists will publish a report on their discoveries at some future date. The vessels are adding to our understanding of the Tiwanaku culture.
Furthermore, it may prompt a re-evaluation of the city and its role in the Tiwanaku Empire in the past. The latest finds are also illustrating once again the importance of the archaeological site to the heritage of Bolivia, especially its indigenous communities.
Top image: The local Aymara held a ritual before the vessels were removed. Source: Ministerio de Culturas y Turismo de Bolivia / Facebook
By Ed Whelan