1,600-year-old ceremonial pots found in Bolivia

Archaeologists have discovered more than two dozen pottery vessels at least 1,600 years old at the ancient site of Tiwanaku in the Andes of western Bolivia. The vessels were discovered within the inner walls of the Kalasasaya temple courtyard behind the Ponce monolith (a monumental statue more than 11 feet tall that was once adorned in luxurious textiles and gold jewelry). The Minister of Culture and Tourism, Wilma Alanoca, notes that this is the first time in 60 years that such ancient objects have been discovered inside the Kalasasaya precinct.

The pots, decorated with animal motifs, were buried in a circle above platforms where the remains of prehispanic structures have been found. The circular shape in which they were buried may indicate they were an offering accompanied the funerary rites of high-ranking person.

Julio Condori, director of the archaeological center, said the vessels date from the time of Tiwanaku III, between A.D. 400 and 600, and include iconography of fish and birds.

He said the initial discoveries allowed one to “rethink what the actual function of the Kalasasaya temple was and redefine the interpretation of its origin.”

Located near the southern shores of Lake Titicaca, Tiwanaku is one of the largest archaeological sites in South America covering about 1000 acres. The city was founded around 100 A.D. and reached its zenith in the 9th century with a population between 10,000 and 20,000 people.

Tiwanaku is one of Bolivia’s most important archaeological sites, but while it has been excavated for more than a century, most intensively between 1950 and 1980, the digs have not revealed much about the original design and structure of the city.  Collapsed walls and monuments were extensively rebuilt and reinstalled, including toppled monoliths and the walls around Kalasasaya, but not in a historically accurate manner. This excavation is part of a larger program of conservation and exploration that aims to discover what previous digs did not: the original placement and purpose of monuments like the Gate of the Sun and structures like the Kalasasaya courtyard walls. The excavation season has only just begun. The team has been digging for two week and will continue to dig for another six weeks.

As of noon yesterday, three pots have been recovered from the site and will be conserved for exhibition in a future museum to be built at Tiwanaku. Archaeologists think there are at least 25 pots total.

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