Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Impossible

While in Peru (Machu Picchu of course) and Bolivia back in 2004, I did make it up onto the altiplano to Tiahuanaco, an ancient city that has been undergoing formal excavation and study for almost 100 years. The ruins of the Kalasasaya (see the map on this page) have been partially restored, and the adjacent Acapana pyramid was just beginning excavation when I was there. In observing the dig, I was struck at how deliberate the excavation work was, the trenching followed precisely in the plan of the uncovered stones, rather than being a single large hole or random diggings.

I consulted our Aymara guide, Rose Marie, about this, and she showed me the cruciform-shaped tablet that was being used like a compass to direct the excavation. This tablet image has been passed on down through the oral and graphic traditions of the Tiahuanacota people who had no written language. But clearly they had a geometric and graphic record of their methodologies in constructing the city, and rules about how things were to be oriented and scaled. So this tablet provided all the instructions needed to accurately excavate the pyramid, which the local Aymara laborers were doing under the direction of the Bolivian government. It is now a World Heritage site.

There are questions as to its exact age and purpose, but it's clearly a ceremonial site with statues and the Gate of the Sun covered in geoglyphs. It appears to have been oriented according to skycharts regressed back 15,000 years through a study of archeoastronomy, and its "sound holes" that magnify voice and its framed statuary in concise orientation are all indicators of a highly evolved understanding of geometric structure and celestial positioning.

The more conventional description of its age and its cultural context dates the construction to around A.D. 200, but that could be the time when the Aymara moved into the existing site and its ruins, primarily due to its agricultural resources, capable of supporting a large population.

Lake Titicaca, 12 miles away, has many ancient beliefs attached to it, particularly at the Island of the Sun. In the ancient Andean myths, the world is recreated after a massive natural holocaust by the god Viracocha who emerged from the lake.