Finns uncover major Bolivian relics
Scientists from Helsinki University have discovered what are being considered as the most significant relics of Bolivian antiquity in the South American country’s long history. This announcement was made via the university’s well-developed communication services, which include news of the week on science and research topics and knowledge databases.
In their excavations of a site on Pariti Island in Bolivia, a team of archaeologists from Helsinki University (HU) discovered well-preserved ceramic remnants in what appears to be a ritual site. The find adds substantially to what is known about the Tiwanaku culture, which flourished before the Incas and for which the island was probably an important religious site.
|Fragment of a vessel representing a noble Tiwanaku woman found on Pariti in 2004|
© Helsinki University’s Antti Korpisaari
Little is known about the Tiwanakus because they left no writings and their culture died out in the 11th century. Records show they settled on the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca in the Andean mountains around 400 BC. They built their administrative centre – the city of Tiwanaku which is around 75km west of Bolivia’s capital La Paz – between 300-500 AD, and their influence on the region continued to grow for several centuries.
Surveys of the island, which took place over the summer, uncovered a cache of about 300 kilograms of deliberately broken ritual ceramics which, radiocarbon dating reveals, were buried some time between 900-1050 AD. “Some twenty vessels have been preserved intact,” says Antti Korpisaari, an archaeologist at HU’s Renvall Institute who participated in the dig. “The objects can be compared with the best china of a royal household or sacramental communion vessels,” he notes.
Bases of knowledge
Many fragments and ornamental elements of vessels discovered on Pariti were completely new to scientists. Representations of the people on the objects are very realistic, the scientists explain, providing a rare glimpse of how Tiwanaku’s elite may have lived. Comparing small details, such as the clothing they wore, their jewellery and even facial characteristics, with other finds from the highland area, the Finns are building a picture of the ethnic identity of these ancient people.
Together with Bolivian archaeologists, the Finnish university has carried out excavations in the area around Lake Titicaca – the second largest in South America and the highest navigable by large vessels – for some 15 years. “The discovery demonstrates that the Tiwanakus made the highest quality ceramics in the Andean region, with very naturalistic portraits,” professor Martti Paerssinen, the leader of the dig, is quoted as saying.
The discovery provides new information on the relationship between the Incan and Tiwanaku cultures, adds Korpisaari. The project also included an extensive general survey of the Bolivian highlands during the fieldwork season of 2004. This led to the discovery, among other things, of the location of ancient Paria, the lost southern centre of the Incan state.
Much of the detail provided in this article came from press material produced by Helsinki University itself. Through its weekly science and research news, readers can follow the progress of this dig and other activities at HU. The site also provides links to several ‘knowledge databases’ through which visitors can get a picture of research projects and activities, publications, patents and expertise at the university. According to the site, the databases are used by the Ministry of Education and for compiling statistics and university annual reports.
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