Today, the view from above the Tiahuanacu archaeological site doesn't look like much. However, the secrets and rich history holds make this pre-Inca land a particular source of curiousity.
Looking closer, Puma Punku, a complex of temples within the site, displays some of the most intricate and advanced examples of stonework from the era. Let's explore the mysteries of Puma Punku together and learn more about how natural stone was pivotal to this ancient culture.
What is Puma Punku?
In Western Bolivia, Puma Punku is part of the Tiahuanacu historical site, host to numerous ancient temples. Its name translates literally to "Doorway of the Puma", and is widely known for the extraordinary precision of the cutting and placement of stone that went into its construction.
The stonework at Puma Punku is thought to have been done in the years following AD 536-600, as Andean specialist, W. H. Isbell, used radiocarbon dating to determine this period as the start of the site's preparation.
What's so unusual about the stones at Puma Punku?
There are a number of curious facts about the stones at Puma Punku.
Firstly, they've been carved with precision not expected from primitive civilisation. Each stone in the walls of Puma Punku was cut to perfectly interlock with the next and hold together without the support of mortar. Many publications report the stones to be carved with "machine-like" finesse, and some even postulate the use of technology far more advanced than we believe contemporary civilisations to have known.
Secondly, the stones are of megalithic proportion – with the largest reportedly weighing 131 tonnes. These larger blocks consist of red sandstone, which were determined by chemical analysis to have been transported up a steep incline from a quarry near Lake Titicaca, almost 10 kilometres away.
Perhaps more curious is the way andesite was used in the temple's construction. Smaller andesite stones were used throughout Puma Punku, not as large structural pieces but for facings and carvings. Many andesite carvings were used to depict an entity many archaeologists believe today to be a pan-Andean deity and forerunner to the Incan god of creation, Viracocha.
The most notable of these depictions is in a structure referred to as the Gate of the Sun. Thought to have been a calendar used to track a solar year different from what we use today, the Gate of the Sun was carved from a single slab of andesite estimated to weight almost 10 tonnes. The central figure is depicted as a person holding two staffs, wearing a headdress or perhaps with rays of light emanating from its face.
Two things make the use of andesite so unique: First of all, archaeologists believe the andesite at Puma Punku could only have originated from a quarry roughly 90 kilometres away, on the other side of Lake Titicaca. For the time, this seems to be an enormous distance to move as much stone as there is at Puma Punku, let alone in solid slabs up to 10 tonnes. Secondly, the decision to use this stone from so far away, as opposed to the sandstone, for example, when depicting deities may suggest some cultural significance of andesite to the ancient society of Tiahuanacu.
Puma Punku leaves countless questions in the minds of archaeologists even today. What technology was used for such immaculate stonework? How were these enormous volumes of stone transported so far and up a steep incline? What importance did andesite hold to the Tiahuanacu culture?
More secrets – and possibly answers – may still lie in wait at Puma Punku.
Until then, why not bring the essence of this glorious ancient site into your own home? BauMart Natural Stone can supply you with sandstone and andesite to design your very own pre-Incan paradise in your backyard. Contact us today to discuss getting natural stone to your door.
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