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June 2002-January 2005Interactive Dig at Tiwanaku
One of Tiwanaku's monoliths and the gateway to the Kalisasaya complex (Courtesy Alexei Vranich)
The Pumapunku temple (Courtesy Alexei Vranich)
Alexei Vranich, pictured here with workers at the site (top row, third from right), is a research associate at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology and works on a variety of archaeology and conservation projects around the world. His main interest is Tiwanaku, where he has been directing a project since 1996 (Courtesy Alexei Vranich)

Interactive Digs

by Alexei Vranich

Revealing Ancient Bolivia

The prehistoric city of Tiwanaku is located on the southern shore of the famous Lake Titicaca along the border between Bolivia and Peru. During the heyday of this city was between A.D. 500 and 950, religious artifacts from the city spread across the southern Andes, but when the conquering Inka arrived in the mid-fifteenth century, the site had been mysteriously abandoned for half a millennium. Even after its abandonment, Tiwanaku continued to be an important religious site for the local people. It later became incorporated into Inka mythology as the birthplace of mankind as the Inka built their own structures alongside the ruins. Tiwanaku remains an integral locale in the religious lives of Andean people in the turbulent present of modern Bolivia. Although dozens of national and international projects began to unlock Tiwanaku's secrets during the last century, we are only recently beginning to piece together the puzzle behind the origin of this architectural marvel and the people who built it.

The University of Pennsylvania project started collaborating with the Department of Archaeology of Bolivia (DINAR, directed by Javier Escalante) in 1995 on the monumental temple of Pumapunku, one of the finest examples of Precolumbian architecture. In the last few years, our project has grown to include the entire site (four square kilometers) with participation from the University of Wisconsin, Madison; University of Denver; MIT; and students from the UMSA, the Bolivian university in the capital of La Paz. Our project has not only focused on the impressive monumental remains; we have also been investigating the everyday lives of the site's inhabitants.

In the summer of 2004, the archaeology field school from Harvard University excavated the location known as La Karaña, an area north of the site's monumental core. They also continued to examine the layout of the city through geophysical investigation and excavation.

Click here for the conclusion to the 2004 season.

Update: Jan. 2005 - Penn Museum Begins Ground-breaking Project to Create Underground Image of Pre-Inca City

Tiwanaku: History & Context
This complex society existed high in the Andes hundreds of years before the Inka, and its remains are still important to Bolivia today. Read about the site's background.
Field Notes 2004
Excavations at La Karaña amnd west of the Akapana pyramid
The 2002 Season
During the summer of 2002, we focused on the Akapana pyramid and the Pumapunku temple.
What is it like to dig at Tiwanaku? Field school students tell all.
Photo Gallery
Take a virtual tour of Tiwanaku (24 photographs). See the map to get the lay of the land.
Our visitors get answers from archaeologists working at the site.
People of the Tiwanaku Project
Experimental Archaeology
How did the builders of Tiwanaku's pyramids get the stone to the site? We tested one theory using only traditional techniques and locally available materials.
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© 2004 Archaeological Institute of America

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