A reef in the middle of Lake Titicaca in Bolivia was the location where many people’s valuable items were placed approximately 1,200 years ago. Underwater archaeologists discovered the ancient items in 2013 and now they believe that they finally know what they represented many years ago – a mysterious religion that is believed to have aided the Tiwanaku state grow into a powerful force in that part of the world.
The Tiwanaku state was in existence between 500 A.D. and 1000 A.D. and at its height it was extended all the way to Chile and Peru. The state was also thought to have had a lot of influence because of trade and religion. While a lot of evidence has been recovered in regards to their religious beliefs, archaeologists are still trying to figure out the deeper meaning behind their religion as well as how it may have helped the expansion of the state.
Khoa reef, which is located close to the Island of the Sun, is believed to have been used as a ritualistic site as gold objects, semiprecious stones, metal ornaments, and incense burners have been found there. Other artifacts include two gold medallions that show Tiwanaku’s ray-faced deity, as well as metal plaques that have a mythical puma-llama hybrid on them. The divers even found the remains of several animals, including the bones of at least three young llamas that appear to have been sacrificed.
Five of the items that were discovered were made from Spondylus shells (and one complete shell) which surprised the team, as they’re only found in the Pacific Ocean – more than 1,200 miles away from Lake Titicaca. The discovery indicates that the shells were quite valuable and that the Tiwanaku people had a prominent trading relationship with others.
There’s still the question of why such valuable items were placed into the lake. José M. Capriles, who is an anthropologist and assistant professor of anthropology at Penn State University, believes that the sacrifices are proof of a religious tradition that helped the Tiwanaku state. Since the worshipers sacrificed their valuable objects, it showed how committed they were to the new religion. “These deities that people are creating are becoming institutions that govern behavior,” Capriles stated.
Behaviours and morality were very important with this new religion. “If you behave well, you are immortal,” explained Capriles, “But if you’re bad, you are going to get punished by the chief’s deity.” And with the religious followers moving to different places, they could share their beliefs with others and that’s what helped expand the Tiwanaku state.
The society once had political, economic and cultural power before collapsing in 1000 A.D. Paul Goldstein, who is an archaeologist in the Department of Anthropology at UC San Diego, said, “The Tiwanaku is the greatest Native American empire that many Americans have never heard of.” He continued on by stating, “Every time we find something that reflects the complexity of the society, it adds to our deeper knowledge of the origins of complex societies worldwide.”
Although the Tiwanaku state no longer exists, the discovery of these ancient artifacts allows us to learn more about them and their religious beliefs. Capriles said it best by stating, “They were grateful, they made offerings. They were just people like you and me.”