The Archaic Firmament of Tiwanaku

May 19, 2019

3800 meters above sea-level, some 70 km West from La Paz and 15 km South-East from Lake Titikaka, in a region of Bolivia called Collao, lie the last vestiges of an archaic and mysterious pre-Columbian civilization: Tiwanaku. The navel of the world which coordinates I had dreamed of visiting for a relatively insignificant timespan.

Modern archaeologists sustain that this site came into existence around 1500 BCE, coexisted with the Aymaran culture and lasted until briefly before the rise of the Incas in the Andean region. No written language was left behind or ever found, and all modern academic theories are based on C14-dated organic materials, found below the ground. As you must know, minerals and stones cannot be carbon-dated. You can calculate when a stone was geologically "forged", but not when our ancestors decided to sculpt or transport it. So how old is Tiwanaku?

The evident controversy of Time

Time is an important ingredient as it dissolves knowledge whenever natural catastrophism radically interrupts cultural heritage. The older the sites, the larger the stone blocks and the more precise the cuts. Yet, many contemporary archaeological studies do not find these simple observations, sufficiently disturbing to question their own sophisticated research methods.  

Unfortunately, the site has suffered from the destruction of the Spanish conquest and colonial period, amateur excavations and other severe damages that make it difficult to adhere to conventional techniques for dating it.

This said, as with the Stone of the Pregnant Woman in Baalbek (Lebanon), The Osireion in Abydos (Egypt), or the enigmatic underwater pyramid in Yonaguni (Japan), here too megaliths of over 130 tons were quarried at a far distance, lifted and delicately put into place after being fit together with iron-melted key-joints and layered like a giant vertical puzzle to precisely align with the firmament.

The complexity of this construction's science is found at various sites all over the world and seems to be the fundament of every great ancient civilization. Civilizations who have potentially inferred the science of mathematics and geometry from the observation of the night sky.

Maybe, the answer lies in the stars.

Why archeoastronomy is the key

Archeostronomy is the study of astronomical systems and methods of ancient cultures. It is the interdisciplinary study of how people of the past understood and used the phenomena in the sky.  Yet, it can also be used as an alternative and more accurate method to determine the age of an archeological site, whenever the precise alignment to celestial bodies and constellations is evidently deductible.

Other methods include surface luminescence and have been used in archeological sites in Turkey and Egypt. You can read how this other technique has revealed interesting new findings in this article I wrote on the Osireion Temple Complex in Abydos (Egypt).

During the mid-1900s, an Austrian eccentric engineer named Arthur Ponansky who had dedicated about half of his life to the study of Tiwanaku, controversially re-dated the site to a period that goes back to approximately 17,000 years ago. He had a scientific approach to explain how time had shifted the pre-Colombian masons' precision work. His results were based on the study of the difference in the obliquity of the ecliptic. In other words, how the axis of the earth rotation affects the perception of the terrestrial and so celestial equator and the angle to the orbital plane. Let me explain.

The Axial Tilt of Earth
Earth's axial tilt in relation to the equatorial plane

Every 41,000 years, the obliquity of the planet oscillates between 22.1 and 24.4 degrees. The 23.4 degrees tilt we all have learned in schools, is a simplified (constant) average over this large period of time. This subtle oscillation can have great effects on the alignment of megalithic buildings in relation to sun stations and their deified symbolism. Our ancestors considered vernal equinoxes and summer solstices, the two key stations of the sun, as divine moments of the year where God(s) would bring about dramatic changes on human-life-sustaining activities such as agriculture.

In short, Ponansky understood this unique relationship and armed only with rudimentary tools, searched back in time to find a constellation that suitably matched the architectural form factor of the site.

Today, these "margins of error" can be simulated and corrected using software like Google Earth and Marble and the same reasoning can be applied to the alignment of the Pyramids and the constellation of Orion, the Sphynx and the constellation of Regulus (Lion) and even the temple complex of Angkor Wat, and its heavily-debated alignment to the constellation of Draco.

What can cause changes in the Earth's axial tilt?

There are many factors that can influence the direction and angle of the Earth's axial tilt such as the impact of large asteroids, but one of these is quite interesting. Consider the following statement by a notable physicist:

"In a polar region, there is continual deposition of ice, which is not symmetrically distributed about the pole. The earth's rotation acts on these unsymmetrically deposited masses and produces centrifugal momentum that is transmitted to the rigid crust of the Earth".Albert Einstein

In fact, Antarctica has million-year old frozen forests under its thick layer of ice. It is possible to think at one time, the whole continent was in a temperate zone. National Geographic has written this interesting article on it.

The center stage is age-old symbolism

Although it is now agreed that Tiwanaku was once a port on the shore of Lake Titikaka, it is hard to understand how so much water could have retreated in recent history. Stupendous relics have recently been found underwater by marine archeologists, and more than a dozen new sites have been discovered on Isla del Sol (one of the islands on Lake Titikaka). You can read more on that in this article. Also, back in 2017, a study by UNESCO using topographic imagery and satellite technology found that Tiwanaku's archaeological complex is far larger than previously thought.

Nearby discoveries left-aside, the core structures of Tiwanaku are filled with undeciphered symbols, that univocally hint to an unknown iconography and culture. Let's briefly explore some of these.

The Gate of the Sun, a megalithic solid stone gateway stands  3 meters tall. The Lintel (superior block of stone composing the arch), is adorned with enigmatic reliefs with 48 squares (32 effigies with human faces and 16 with condors' heads) surrounding a central motif: the mysterious figure of a man with his head surrounded by 24 linear rays, which seem to convey some sort of calendrical purpose. A calendar that does not fit into the solar year as we divide it at present. This calendar has 290 days, divided into twelve months of 24 days each. I know, you wonder: Wouldn't it be interesting to know how the Earth's axial tilt has influenced the length of days and seasons in other epochs of our lost past?

If you happen to visit this incredible site one day, I suggest you also take a few hours to explore the Kalasasaya, one of its major structures. Descend into this low platform mound with a large courtyard and admire its orientation on the plain, only to realize you are standing inside a sophisticated celestial observatory. Certain structures within its walls (and the walls itself) appeared to have been lined up to particular star groups and designed to facilitate measurement of the amplitude of the sun stations. By the way, this was the central object of study for Arthur Ponansky and his ingenious observations.

Also, before hiking up the Akapana Pyramid, take some time to walk all the way over to the world-oldest representation of the Chakana. The Chakana (from the Inkan language Quechua), also commonly referred to as the Inca or Andean Cross by later Catholic conquistadores, is a strong symbol of the old cultures of the Andes. The Incas saw in it the center of the universe, as it was easy to find at night (constellation of the Southern Cross). In fact, the Chakana can be also found on many buildings, temples, and artifacts across Peru (Condor Temple in Machu Picchu, Pisac, and Ollantaytambo).

Selfie with the Chakana at Tiahuanaco
A Selfie with the world's oldest Chakana, Tiwanaku

According to local sayings, each side represents a 3-stepped pyramid that connects the real world to the godly world and the underworld, and that each world has an animal as a mediator (the condor, conduits to the godly world, the puma for the earthly world and the serpent for the underworld). The 4 edges represent the cardinal points (North, East, West, and South), and the inner 4 corners of the square inside, our 4 seasons. But these are recent Incan tales.

Extra tip: Make sure you bring a physical compass with you when approaching the Chakana. Incredibly, the stone is made of magnetite, a mineral that will inevitably confuse your compass' due north. I've tried this myself and felt quite bedazzled.

Puma Punku: The Gate of the Puma

Located several hundred meters south-west of Tiwanaku, lies an abandoned esplanade filled with inexplicable stone structures. If you think you have already witnessed one of the most bizarre construction styles and masonry at the Gate of the Sun, wait until you walk around the H-shaped megaliths of Puma Punku.

High-precision holes and incredible straight cut-lines characterize a multitude of rectilinear blocks of such uniformity, that they could be easily interchanged for one another while maintaining a level surface and even joints. It feels like you are walking alongside a jigsaw puzzle made of small and large granite blocks. In fact, the largest stone at Puma Punku weights 130 stones! That's the equivalent of over 100 SUVs.

The great Creator God, Viracocha, decided to make a world for men to live in. First, he made the earth and sky. Then he began to create the people who would inhabit the earth, carving great stone figures of giants which he brought to life. It all went well for some time until some giants began to fight among themselves and refused to work. And so, Viracocha decided to destroy them. Some he turned back into stone, and the rest he overwhelmed with a great flood.

Alas, all seem to have been either abandoned in a great rush or destroyed by a powerful natural force. The megaliths are all lying in the same direction. An earthquake, or perhaps a tidal wave? Maybe just another cyclic "punishment" from above. In any case, the firmament up there lies undisturbed and we can't recall.