The Art and Architecture of Ancient America: The Mexican, Maya, and Andean Peoples

By George Kubler | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 16
THE SOUTH HIGHLANDS

THE principal urban centres in the southern highlands occupy three major basins: the region called the altiplano, surrounding Lake Titicaca at the boundary between Peru and Bolivia; the region from Ayacucho to Jauja in the Mantaro river valley basin; and the Cuzco region near the headwaters of the Urubamba river. The basin of Lake Titicaca supported early civilizations at Pucara and at Tiahuanaco from about 500 B.C. until after A.D. 500. Thereafter the style of Tiahuanaco spread to the Mantaro Valley and to the Cuzco region. A style like that of the Mantaro phase eventually appeared in the south coastal valleys beginning, as we have seen, about A.D. 900 in the Pacheco ceramics of the Nazca Valley. The terminal stage of pre-Columbian history in the Andes was dominated in the fifteenth century by the imperial expansion of the Inca dynasty from Cuzco through the entire central Andes and into Chile, north-western Argentina, and Ecuador.


THE EARLY ALTIPLANO

The plateau round Lake Titicaca (3812 m.; 12,500 feet) very early provided a subsistence for hunting folk and for pastoral peoples. The vicuña, llama, and alpaca supplied wool for textiles. The llama was probably domesticated here as the only native American beast of burden. Certain food plants such as potatoes, quinoa, and oca were also probably first domesticated here. The lake itself provided reeds for mats and boats, and fish for food. The surrounding mountains contain immense deposits of free metallic gold and copper, as well as silver, tin, and mercury ores for use by early metalworkers. An acclimatized people could easily achieve many fundamentals of civilization in this cold, treeless, and tundra-like country, but its limitations would eventually require the altiplano dwellers to expand to warmer climates either by commerce or by conquest.

Bennett demonstrated the lack of cultural unity in the basin when he divided it on archaeological evidence into six distinct provinces.1 Under Inca domination the region was united politically, but even then four groups speaking different dialects of Aymara still occupied the basin. During antiquity, before A.D. 500, distinct northern and southern Titicaca styles are apparent, centred respectively at Pucara and at Tiahuanaco. It was long believed that the two styles were contemporaneous, until radiocarbon datings showed that the Pucara style flourished several centuries before the Tiahuanaco style.2 Here we shall distinguish the site of Tiahuanaco from the style of the same name by referring to the site under its old Aymara name of Taypicala.

The Pucara site has monumental architecture of which only the foundations of red sandstone slabs survive. They form a C-shaped enclosure of irregular radial chambers

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