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June 2002-January 2005Interactive Dig at Tiwanaku
Laying out excavation trenches near the Pumapunku temple. (Zachary J. Christman)

We first removed backfill from our old excavation trenches. If we did not refill our trenches each year, the delicate archaeological remains would be damaged by rain, wind, and curious visitors to the site. (Zachary J. Christman)

Stones were removed from the terraces of the Pumapunku temple to build a Colonial church. (Courtesy Alexei Vranich)
by Jason Yaeger

Pumapunku Temple Update
June 29, 2002

We've just finished our second week of excavation, and things are going quite well. We spent much of the first week removing the backfill from the excavation trenches we dug in 2000 and 2001. Once they were exposed, we were ready to begin new excavation units. We chose the location of our units according to the results of our last three seasons of research and those of a Bolivian government project in 1989.

In past seasons, we had demonstrated that the Inka focused their settlement around the Pumapunku, virtually ignoring other monumental buildings like the Akapana and the Kalisasaya. They also radically reorganized the sacred space around the Pumapunku, creating at least five distinct activity areas:

  1. a formal audience chamber
  2. food storage and preparation areas
  3. probable feasting facilities
  4. small chambers on the north terraces
  5. the Pumapunku temple itself

We investigated three of these areas fairly extensively in previous seasons, and this year we plan to focus our attention on the two areas that we haven't had a chance to fully investigate, the area that was likely used for feasting and the chambers built on the Pumapunku itself. We also have some loose ends to tie up around the formal hall and food preparation area.

To meet our goals, we assigned two crews to excavate new units around the formal hall, two crews to investigate the chambers located on the first terrace of the Pumapunku pyramid, and five crews to work around the apparent feasting area. Each crew consists of five men and women from the local archaeologists' union, the Asociación de Trabajadores en Arqueología de Tiwanakua (ASTAT). Some have as much as 50 years of experience working in archaeology! Each crew works in an excavation trench, usually 5 meters (15 feet) square, with a professional archaeologist from Bolivia or the U.S. By working together with ASTAT, we get the best of both worlds--the insight and intuition that years of hands-on excavation experience bring, plus the intellectual vision and the ability to tie in-field excavation decisions to larger project goals that one gets from a formal education in archaeology.

Although we've been excavating new units for over a week, we don't have anything new about the Inka settlement to share with you yet. The first reason is that the area of the Inka settlement we're excavating is next to the Pumapunku temple, and it is covered by a thick layer of earth, over three feet deep in places. That layer is the earthen fill of the Pumapunku's monumental platform that has eroded and washed down onto the Inka settlement since the stone retaining walls were dug up for building stones during the Colonial period. Because of this, we have not yet gotten to the Inka layers around the formal hall or on top of the first terrace of the Pumapunku. On Friday afternoon, though, we just got to the level of the burned roof collapse on the top of the Pumapunku's terrace, where we found fragments of a large Inka ceramic vessel. It should be exciting when we clear off that floor on Monday!

The second reason for our delay is that we found a later occupation in the Inka feasting area. We excavated the remains of a house or encampment, built on top of the collapsed walls of the Inka buildings, that probably date to the early part of the Colonial period. Although we have not found any walls, we have excavated hearths where the inhabitants burned wood and sheep or goat dung to cook their foods, as well as scattered remains of llamas and other animals they cooked. In a shallow pit, we found two bronze statuettes of women, which in Inka and Colonial times were tied to the ends of women's braids.

Although this occupation is later than the one that interests us most, we have to excavate it and record it with as much care as we would the Inka settlement, because our excavations will necessarily remove it. We're just finishing that, and now we'll begin moving into the stratigraphic levels of the Inka settlement. We'll share our findings with you in our next update! [Next...]

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