Tiahuanaco culture: origin, characteristics and contributions

When the history of pre-Columbian America is studied, areas of cultural expansion are distinguished, among these the most prominent are those where the well-known great Amerindian empires emerged: Mesoamerica and the central Andes. Both places were full of cities, roads and diverse cultures, being today great archaeological attractions. Among the cultures of the Andean region is the Tiahuanaco culture.

Tiahuanaco culture is understood as a pre-inca civilization It developed in the central Andes region and covered part of Bolivia, Peru and even areas of northern Chile. It arose between 1,500 BC and 1,100 AD, starting from a nuclear zone located on the shore of Lake Titicaca. From there they began a kind of expansion leveraged on the advancement that their civilization signified among the peoples of the surrounding region.

Origin of the Tiahuanaco Culture

The Tiahuanaco culture emerged in the southern region of Lake Titicaca with a small village named Tiwanaku, which would be transformed in successive centuries into a ceremonial and monumental city of supreme importance for this civilization. Its origin dates back to the sun XV AC and influences from other human groups that populated the basins of Lake Titicaca converge on it.

Specifically, the researchers point to the influence exerted by the Chiripá and the Pukara in the nascent village of Tiwanaku. The safest thing is that the waters of the lake served as a vehicle for objects and ideas to bring these three cultures that shared the Bolivian Altiplano together. The Chiripas and Pukaras societies provided many ideological schemes to the future Tiahuacanos, but they assimilated and reinterpreted them in a new way.


In its almost 3,000 years of uninterrupted development, the Tiahuanaco culture reached important quotas of technological development, social division and a complex worldview of the world. They even developed a system of wide roads to streamline communication between the different regions they occupied.

Tiahuanaco culture: origin, characteristics and contributions

Their legacy survived in later towns and the monumental ruins they left can still be seen today. Therefore, here are some of the highlights of the Tiahuanaco culture.

Socio-political organization

Although originally the Tiwanaku village did not denote a social stratification, with the subsequent development and expansion of the Tiahuanaco culture, class differences began to accentuate.

Society became theocratic. At the top of the pyramid was a noble caste made up of priests, administrators and warriors who had control of the means of production and asserted their supreme authority using force if it became necessary.

In this society, the middle class was made up of highly specialized artisans who made objects for the consumption of the privileged class. The artisans lived in the cities, in special neighborhoods. Then, at the end, there were the peasants.

Farmers had to dedicate part of the year to the construction or maintenance of ceremonial complexes and large monumental works. In this short time they abandoned agricultural work. During those months, they were fed with a part of the surplus administered by the bureaucrats of the city of Tiwanaku. They were also alienated by the fantastic rituals of the priests.

Economic characteristics

This culture began in the Titicaca basins, and therefore, had great contact with trade routes that mixed agricultural products from different ecosystems. That is why they had control over the distribution and trade of species from the lower regions: such as the coca and corn.

However, the base of its economic system continued to be the agriculture of the typical products of the highlands: potatoes and manioc. To obtain better yields, they used ridges, raised fields that safeguarded the planting from floods and conserved moisture.

The domestication of the alpaca and the llama was also decisive, since they worked with beasts of burden to transport goods through the different regions. On the other hand, it was livestock accumulation that facilitated social differentiation and stratification, since the ruling elite managed large herds from which they obtained colorful fabrics and the means to transport consumer goods.


They were worshipers of the so-called God of Staffs or Viracocha, a supreme and creative deity that can also be identified with the celestial God of the Incas. Starting from this cult, an entire animistic worldview develops according to which the phenomena of nature have their ultimate origin in phenomena of a sacred nature.

The city of Tiwanaku was the center of pilgrimage and worship, which reached very advanced degrees of sophistication. The priestly caste was in charge of carrying them out and from there comes its symbolic power and influence to maintain social cohesion.

It is known that in rituals the priests used hallucinogenic plants to induce a state of ecstasy, this appears in the bas-reliefs and other representations of the Tiahuanaco culture. Among the plants they used were the seeds of huila and cebil, which produce important alterations in perception, but without depressive or stimulating effects.

Likewise, dismembered and decapitated human remains have been found in a clear sign that this culture practiced the religious sacrifices. It seems that the severed parts were buried in the harvesting places to ensure good planting or where new ceremonial buildings were to be built.

They even had a God who is closely linked to sacrifices, the Chachapuma. This deity was represented as a puma with a human body, which refers to the butchering habits of that feline, holding the head of someone sacrificed.


As they were a culture that spread over such a wide territory, They left a whole network of roads that would be used and expanded by the future Incas. Likewise, they perfected navigation through Titicaca and that was used by other peoples who later inhabited the region to keep trade routes open and to reduce travel times.

As well they developed agricultural techniques that allowed to optimize potato crops and their traditional clothing, ponchos, are still in use in Peru. From there, due to the impact of tourism, migration and cultural exchange, the poncho reached new geographical horizons.

His worldview is equally decisive in later history, since Viracocha continues to be worshiped even today in the countryside and in the most remote rural areas. Viracocha was the celestial God of the Incas too, a mythological figure that creates and gives life to all things that exist.

In metallurgy they bequeathed a greater knowledge about the work of bronze and how to use it in the manufacture of weapons. In that sense, they were awesome blacksmiths. In the end, its monumental megalithic architecture had to exert some influence on the Incas, as they continued to develop similar styles of construction.

Keep reading about the Chavín culture.

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