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Architecture, Landscape, and the Archaic State

Alexei Vranich, University of Pennsylvania, Fellow 2007–2008

This fellowship was spent transcribing and combing a decade of archaeological and archival work into a single publication that chronicled the development of the monumental core of the Pre-Columbian site of Tiwanaku, Bolivia. Descriptions of architecture and construction techniques became the foundation for a series of claims on the ritual and religious organization of Tiwanaku and ultimately, a model of the political and social nature of this early complex society. I found that the development of the site—from a small but important ritual local to a fully developed urban center—was characterized, from the point of view of architecture and space, by an increased capacity to accommodate larger groups of people and expose them to a variety of awe-inspiring events. Large plazas replaced areas of residences and a series of raised platforms with defined courtyards were arranged into a linear complex where people were hosted and presented with ritual performances. Elaborate architecture framed views of important landscape features and served as reference points for measuring and observing astronomical events. I concluded that the driving force behind the growth of the site of Tiwanaku and the expansion of its influence across the southern Andes was the presentation of ritual and spectacle.