The area may have been inhabited as early as 3500 years ago as an agricultural village, but there are no records, as the people had no written language. What they do know is that it served as the administrative and spiritual capital for about five hundred years (somewhere around 1500 years ago), and the theory is that a great drought about 1000 years ago sent people towards Lake Titicaca for better agricultural conditions.
Here's a look:
We were brought into a little museum with a mural of what the area would have looked like:
Here's a map of the continent (this area is in the red region):
I learned that the Native American population descends from Asians in a cool National Geographic genome project, but I was surprised at just how Asian these sculptures looked.
After the museum, we got to walk around and explore:
The "Gateway of the Sun":
There were faces randomly sticking out of some of the walls:
My favorite part of the visit were the statues:
I was impressed by the drainage system they had in place, too:
Sadly, tons of the huge stones of Tiwanaku were taken from the site to build a church nearby, and the few homes in the area were also constructed with large, reddish stones that look suspiciously like those of Tiwanaku.
We tried to imagine the place in its original glory, and it sounds like so much of it is still a mystery, even to the experts. The population, for example, has been estimated between 15,000 and 1.5 million. And ongoing research is slow-going-- there used to be a Harvard summer program that came and excavated, partnering with some local organizations and research groups, but the Bolivian government didn't like the idea of inexperienced students digging in their most valuable archeological site, and that was the end of that.