Visions of Tiwanaku

Aug 20th, 2015 | By | Category: 27-1: Tribal College Communities, Media Reviews

visions-of-tiwanakuEdited by Alexei Vranich and Charles Stanish
Cotsen Institute of Archaeology Press (2013)
245 pages

Review by Christine A. Hastorf

This 13-chapter volume brings together a variety of scholars who study the Middle Horizon region in the central Andes Mountains, with a specific focus on the site of Tiwanaku, a large Indigenous city in the Titicaca Basin dating to about the year 400 A.D. This site and polity has received less attention than others in the Andean region, but was actually prominent longer than any other Middle Horizon center. Tiwanaku deserves a thoughtful assessment and this book is a major step in that direction. The first and last chapters are overviews of the site, the polity, and the present state of our knowledge. This volume includes several scholars who have concentrated on Tiwanaku’s better-studied sister polity, the Wari, providing a more three-dimensional view on this very important phase in the Indigenous history of the Andes, with specific reference to Tiwanaku.

This book has a tight, well-focused framework, as every author was asked to address the question, “What kind of a state was Tiwanaku?” Given that the authors include those who have completed research at the site itself, nearby, and also quite far away, the book provides a nuanced view of our current knowledge about this ancient city, including some new and insightful interpretations on the site and polity. We learn about the demographic buildup of the settlement ca. 400 A.D.; we learn about the ontology of the religion that was clearly a large part of the center’s pull on communities both near and far; and we learn about the impact and spread of the material evidence for this spiritual belief in regions to the north, east, and west of the Titicaca Basin.

At Tiwanaku, there were specific neighborhoods surrounding a ceremonial core area of the city. Studies show these neighborhoods reflected the cultural and geographical diversity of the populace residing there. Archaeological evidence has revealed many workshops at this center, as well as a sense of constant movement, with llama caravans coming and going with food, medicines, raw materials, as well as finished items—items that helped carry Tiwanaku ideology far and wide.

There are a few controversial issues upon which all the authors clearly do not agree, and these were the most interesting. The extent of Tiwanaku’s regional influence, the demography of the region before Tiwanaku grew as a center, and the dates of its growth are all debated. What I missed most in this volume were Indigenous authors from Bolivia and their viewpoints on this long-lived and elegant state. Perhaps there will be a second volume that will focus on their thoughts.

Christine A. Hastorf, Ph.D., is a professor of anthropology at the University of California at Berkeley who employs archaeobotanical material to study Indigenous life in the Andean region of South America.

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