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Tiahuanacu The Mysterious City

Once Called

The Baalbek of the New World

Written by R. Cedric Leonard

Tiahuanacu is in the Bolivian Andes lying 12,500 feet (over 2 miles) above sea-level. It is located several miles from the shores of Lake Titicaca. Archeology in general dates the city at c. 200 A.D., but it was not always so. Its first investigator, Prof. Arthur Posnansky, a Polish engineer who dedicated fifty years to its study, dated its origins to 15,000 B.C. As we shall see, this date is based on the convergence of several varieties of physical and astronomical data.


Strangely, Tiahuanacu appears to be a seaport (Posnansky, 1945), although the nearest body of water is Lake Titicaca, some 12-15 miles away (the distance depends on the level of the lake). There are several theories about how this happens to be. We will consider only one here.

On the rock cliffs near the piers and wharfes of the port area are yellow-white calcareous deposits forming long, straight lines indicating pre-historic water levels. These ancient shorelines are strangely tilted, although they must have once been level. The surrounding area is covered with millions of fossilized sea-shells. It appears, from the tilting of the ancient shoreline striations and the abundant presence of fossilized oceanic flora and fauna, that a tremendous uplift of land has taken place sometime in the ancient past. Geologists estimate that this happened roughly around 100 million years ago; but the data gathered from archeological and astronomical investigations indicate a different story.

Puma Punku stones

What appears to be the original seashore is strangely tilted, as if a tremendous geological upheaval has taken place. It has been pointed out that my source describing the salinity of the lake and its having an "oceanic" fauna was either faulty or out of date. As will be seen below, the lake periodically changes its waters over thousands of years, which could account for changes in both salinity and fauna over time. (See Note)

Huge building blocks thrown about in all directions at the ruins of Puma Punku. (Photo by Holly Ahlberg)

The port of Tiahuanacu, called Puma Punku or "Door of the Puma," is an area filled with enormous stone blocks scattered hither and yon like matchsticks, yet weighing between 100 and 150 tons! One block still in place weighs an estimated 440 tons! One wonders, how these blocks were quarried, how they were transported from the quarries to the building site, and how the builders managed to place such huge blocks so skillfully to form this massive complex of megalithic buildings? And above all, what tremendous forces could have tumbled these gigantic stones over one another as if they were light as driftwood? Archeologists have no answers.

One of several large meticulously carved Andesite blocks at
Puma Punku. (Photo by Holly Ahlberg, used by permission.)

The blocks, many of them weighing upwards of 200 tons, are in some cases held together by large metalic, I-shaped couplers, rather than enterlocking shapes as at Sacsahuaman or at Cuzco. Others were held together by silver rivets. The system used here is reminiscent of that used in the Egyptian ruins on Elephantine Island on the Nile. Most researchers believe that the metal was actually poured into I-shaped slots carved into the rock.

Some of the docks and piers in this area are so large that hundreds of ships could dock comfortably; yet there is nothing "oceanic" near these docks except a prehistoric coastline indicated by chalky deposits of ancient salt water fossils. Lake Titicaca, languishing miles away, is nearly 100 feet lower than the ruined docks. What tremendous geological upheaval has occurred in the last thousand years that could have tumbled these huge stones while heaving the entire altiplano region 2 miles into the sky? None at that recent date. But could a sudden, violent tilt of the axis of the earth occuring some 12,000 years ago have been responsible? Geologist will not admit to such an occurance in spite of the evidence (see my Geology and/or Paleontology page).


A quarter of a mile or so northeast of the port area are the temples, pyramids and palaces of the main city of Tiahuanacu. (Recent excavation is turning up evidence of a population of 30,000 to 40,000 people, although this may represent a much later influx of settlers.) The main part of the city consists of several buildings. The placement and proximity of several of them--the Acapana Pyramid, the Kalasasaya, the semi-Subterranean Temple, and a so-called "Palace"--indicate that they are components of a ceremonial center.


Map of the ceremonial center of Tiahuanacu. (Map redrawn from site report by Wendell C. Bennett.)

The Acapana Pyramid is a step pyramid (found in Egypt as well as Mesoamerica), and is aligned perfectly with the cardinal directions. It originally had a covering of smooth Andesite stone, but 90% of that has disappeared. The ruinous state of the pyramid is due to its being used as a stone quarry for later buildings at La Paz. Its interior is honeycombed with shafts in a complicated grid pattern, which incorporates a system of weirs used to direct water from a tank on top, going through a series of levels, and finally ending up in a stone canal surrounding the pyramid. The function of this hydraulic system is baffling to archeologists, who have drummed up a number of theoretical explanations.


The Weeping God

The 10 ton Gateway of the Sun was first discovered beneath several feet of clay silt, face down, and broken in half (the result of seismic disturbance; Posnansky, 1945). It is monolithic, originally formed from a single block of Andesite granite. Its upper portion is decorated with beautiful and intricate designs, including a human figure, condors, toxodons, elephants and symbols. In the center of the gate is the so-called "Sun-god," with rays shooting from his face in all directions. He is shown holding a stylized staff in each hand.

This figure is sometimes referred to as the "weeping god" because of the tears carved on its cheeks. The figures flanking the centerpiece are themselves unfinished, leading investigators to wonder what could have interrupted the craftsmen working on the gate that it was left unfinished. How did this ancient monolith get broken in half, and why was it lying askew deep in silt until restored to its proper position in 1908 (in fact, all the ruins were covered in a deep layer of muddy silt until excavated and partially restored)? Some geologically significant event must have occurred which left these ruins in such disorder.

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A clue to the date of this event is revealed in the animals represented thereon, two of which have been extinct for at least 10,000 years. Jaguars and condors are still with us, but toxodons and elephants? During the Pleistocene era Cuverionius, an elephant-like proboscid thrived in the area; but both it and the toxodon disappeared with the Pleistocene Extinction some 11,000-12,000 years ago.


In 1934 the Peruvianist Wendell C. Bennett carried out several excavations at Tiahuanacu. Excavating in the Subterranean Temple he found two large stone images. One was a bearded statue. Depicted are large round eyes, a straight narrow nose and oval mouth. Rays of lightning are carved on the forehead.


The statue stands over 7 feet tall with arms crossed over an ankle-length tunic, which is decorated with pumas around the hem. Serpents ascend the figure on each side, reminding one of the Feathered Serpent culture-hero known as Quetzalcoatl in Central America. Strange animals resembling toxodons are carved up around the head.

An animal (toxodon?) carved on statue

Subterranean Temple

Beside the bearded statue was a much larger statue called in Bennett's report "the large monolithic statue". It is the largest--over 24 feet tall--and probably the most interesting. Sculpted out of red sandstone, it is generally covered with images of various kinds. He holds totally unidentifiable objects in each hand--numerous interpretations have been suggested. Having long been removed from the site, it now stands in a plaza in La Paz. Interestingly the lower half of its body is covered with fish-scales, recalling the Akkadian deity, Oannes.

A view of the semi-subterranean temple where the largest statue was found. In the center are three stelae.

This monolithic piece of work has a number of designs scattered over its surface, many of which resemble the running winged-figures found on the Gate of the Sun, only with curled-up tails. Also the "Weeping god" is depicted on the sides of the head of the statue. This is in addition to the tears already depicted on the cheeks of the monoliths face. The Weeping god seems to be a major theme at Tiahuanacu. One wonders what made their deities so sad (did they sense a major catastrophe looming on the horizon?). Other designs, although very artistic, are rather hard to describe.

Another large stone statue, usually called simply "the idol," stands (now that it has been re-erected) in the southwest corner of the Kalasasaya Temple. With the exception of the Sun Gate, it is the most picturesque of the sculptures at Tiahuanacu, since its 7-foot height is almost covered with hieroglyphic-like carvings (left at top of page). No one knows if these carvings represent a form of writing or are merely decorative. Should these carvings prove to be a form of symbolic writing, what a story they might tell! Still another statue popularly known as El Fraile (right at top of page) is almost devoid of carvings.

stone face

There are numerous other statues which have been found at Tiahuanacu, several of which have found their way into various museums. Most have the incomprehensible stiff designs scattered about on their surfaces in the typical Tiahuanacu style. Some are rather large, and others are small. Depictions of toxodons and several other extinct creatures are depicted on their surfaces. Images of these extinct animals are understandably reproduced on pottery and textiles (they could easily be copied by anyone using the stone monuments as a guide), but how would such images get carved on the original buildings unless such "models" were still living?


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The most important edifice for dating purposes is the Kalasasaya ("Place of the Vertical Stones"). It is built like a stockade with 12 foot high columns jutting upward at intervals, each of these being carved into human figures. Posnansky was familiar with the fact that the ancient Egyptians built many temples which incorporated astronomical alignments with certain celestial bodies for religious reasons. Early on he realized that the purpose of the Kalasasaya was to determine certain important solar alignments. Some simple investigations began to uncover near-alignments; then it was only a matter of "turning back the astronomical clock" until the alignments lined up perfectly.

One might wonder why Posnanky would suspect such an extreme age for these ruins that could cause him to look for such a thing as astronomical alignments? First of all, he couldn't miss the fact that the ruins in general were covered by a thin layer of lime deposits, indicating they had been underwater for a considerable period of time. Also, certain parts of the ruins were deeply buried in sediments, which indicated that a stupendous wave of water had washed over the entire area (the altiplano is almost totally devoid of rain).

The combination of depictions of extinct Pleistocene animals, traces of an ancient shoreline--and to top it all, the paradox of a seaport existing at an altitude of 12,500 feet above sea level--led Posnansky to look for other indications that these ruins might be extremely old. He discovered alignments with the sun which were slightly "out of true," but which lined up perfectly once the skycharts were moved back in time, and this lead intensive astronomical studies. As recently as the 1990’s, Oswaldo Rivera, the Director of Bolivian National Institute of Archaeology, along with archaeoastronomer Professor Neil Steede, have come to agree that Tiahanacu is at least 12,000 years old.


Prof. Posnansky summed up his 50 year study in a 4 volume work entitled Tiahuanaco, The cradle of American Man first published in 1945. He explains his theories, which are rooted in archeoastronomy, as follows. Since Earth is tilted on its axis in respect to the plane of the solar system, the resulting angle is known as the "obliqueness of the ecliptic" (one should not confuse this with another astronomical phenomenon known as "Precession", as critics of Posnansky have done). If viewed from the earth, the planets of our solar system travel across the sky in a line called the plane of the ecliptic.

At present our earth is tilted at an angle to of 23 degrees and 27 minutes, but this angle is not constant. The angle oscillates slowly between 22 degrees and 1 minute miminum to an extreme of 24 degrees and 5 minutes. A complete cycle takes roughly 41,000 years to complete. The alignment of the Kalasasaya temple depicts a tilt of the earth's axis amounting to 23 degrees, 8 minutes, 48 seconds, which according to astronomers, indicates a date of 15,000 B.C.

Between 1927 and 1930 Prof. Posnansky's conclusions were studied intensively by a number of authorities. Dr. Hans Ludendorff (Director of the Astronomical Observatory of Potsdam), Friedrich Becker of the Specula Vaticana, Prof. Arnold Kohlschutter (astronomer at Bonn University), and Rolf Müller (astronomer of the Institute of Astrophysics at Potsdam) verified the accuracy of Posnansky's calculations and vouched for the reliability of his conclusions.

The conventional practice of dating Tiahuanacu as beginning c. 200 A.D. and collapsing c. 1000 A.D. started with Wendell Bennett's excavations, which turned up numerous examples of pottery, small statues and other artifacts. Since it is common for later arrivals to be awed by massive ruins (sometimes attributing their origin to supernatural beings, thus replicating the "sacred" images on their own pottery and textiles), I think it is a mistake to fuse the two cultures into one, implying that the later arrivals were the same people who built the original ruins. I believe Bennett and his successors are all guilty of such an error.


Archeoastronomy theories notwithstanding, there is only one solution that can satisfy the remainder of the mysteries in regard to the postulated age of Tiahuanacu. This is none other than a geological cataclysm which affected the entire globe geologically and climatically, resulting in the upheaval of the altiplano area and the scattering of the huge monoliths. If Tiahuanacu was built before that cataclysm, then the depiction of the numerous Pleistocene animals (extinct since that time) are readily explainable. Other indications of the extreme age of the city (lime deposits on ruins, deep silt deposits throughout the site, and tilted seashore features) can by no means be ignored, and are supportive of the general conclusion that Tiahuanacu and its associated ruins were originally built as a seaport at or near sea level—most likely toward the end of the Ice Age and well within the time-frame of Atlantis.


"Titicaca's waters are limpid and only slightly brackish, with salinity ranging from 5.2 to 5.5 parts per 1,000 . . . More than 25 rivers empty their waters into Titicaca." (UNESCO website) The lake overflows periodically in large cycles comprising thousands of years. Also noted is that "the bottom tilts sharply toward the Bolivian shore" reaching a maximum depth of 920 feet (280m).

The majority of fauna that inhabit its waters are trout, suchi, and carachi, as well as a giant amphibian known as the "Andean frog" (Telmatobius culeus), which, because of its oxygen-absorbing skin, can survive at great depths. (The Machu Picchu Gateway website) Trout found in the lake are described as "invasive" (introduced from elsewhere). I am indebted to my critics for pointing out this error. Thanks!


Advanced Ancient Civilizations of Peru and Bolivia, ONLINE, the pre-Inca culture of Tiwanaku and Wiracochas.
Bennett, Wendell, C., "Excavations at Tiahuanaco," Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History, Vol. xxxiv, Part III, 1934.
Posnansky, Arthur, El Gran Templo del Sol en los Andes: La Edad de Tihuanacu, Bulletin No. 45 of the Geographic Society of La Paz, 1918.
Posnansky, Arthur, Tihuanacu, the Cradle of American Man, Vols. I - II (Translated into English by James F. Sheaver), J. J. Augustin, Publ., New York, 1945; Vols. III - IV, Minister of Education, La Paz, Bolivia, 1957.
Willey, Gordon R., "An Introduction to American Aarchaeology: South America" (Vol. 2), Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs NJ, 1971.

Copyright © 2001 by R. Cedric Leonard
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Last Updated: 23 Oct 2013