The desolate freezing altiplano of the high Andes in Bolivia is one of the last places you would expect to see the emergence of the first large-scale complex society in South America.

However, between AD 300 and AD 1000 the Titicaca basin witnessed the rise of the Tiwanaku culture built using innovative agricultural developments and bound together by a powerful unified ideology. An ideology encapsulated by the singularly dramatic ceremonial centre of Tiwanaku, the site from which the culture gained its name. After almost 2000 years, the ceremonial centre of Tiwanaku remains in use and is a focal point for the resurgent cultural practices of the modern day Aymara in Bolivia.

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    Kero, Tiwanaku, AD 300-1000 


    Ritual drinking and feasting was at the core of Tiwanaku identity as the seasonal festivals at which it occurred strengthened the social relationships at the heart of this society. Keros were the distinctive vessels used to drink the maize beer or ‘chicha’ and they are found at all Tiwanaku sites.

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    Tortora reed boat, Lake Titicaca, 1970s 

    New technology

    The technology of tortora reed boat construction transformed the Titicaca basin and the ability of the Tiwanaku culture to thrive. It allowed for the high-speed transport and movement of people and materials across the highest navigable lake in the world creating a hub of trade and interaction.

  • 3

    Chaquitaclla foot plough, Peru, AD 1430-1560 

    Farming... and friendship

    The success of the Tiwanaku culture was founded upon the development of innovative and intensive farming practices. This ceramic vessel from Peru shows a chaquitaclla foot plough that is also a cup for drinking maize beer and it encapsulates that relationship between agriculture and ritual drinking used to create the strong social relationships necessary to farm the land successfully.

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    Snuff pipe, Barasana, 20th century 

    A drinking tradition

    Many of the statues at the ceremonial centre of Tiwanaku have figures holding a kero in one hand and a snuff pipe for inhaling intoxicants in the other. These intoxicants come from plants traded up from the Amazonian lowlands and reflect the size and importance of the growing Tiwanaku culture.

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    Bolivian dance mask, Bolivia, 1980s 


    The size and scale of seasonal festivals and the ceremonial centres at which they were held increased exponentially through the Tiwanaku period. These festivals held at important times in the agricultural calendar continue today and play an important role in helping people to live in these desolate high Andean plains.

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