Nighttime Sky and Early Urbanism in the High Andes

Author(s): Alexei Vranich

Year: 2016


Popular understanding of the relationship between the rise of early civilization and astronomy emphasizes the observance of particular moments in the cycle of the sun. This pattern is particularly strong at the Bolivian highland Andean site of of Tiwanaku (AD 500-950), a megalithic site known for its “Temple of the Sun”, “Gateway of the Sun”, and solstice festival that attracts thousands. Recent research throughout the Titicaca Basin documents a wide range of celebrated astronomical observations during the initial development of social complexity. While early sites developed at the confluence of such predictable variables as nearby water sources and fodder for animals, they were also preferentially located where alignments between the nighttime sky and sacred mountains could be seen. This initially modest public architecture formed the setting for structured encounters between transhumance groups and dispersed sedentary peoples. Most of these locations were cyclically occupied, with communal gatherings defined by small-scale architecture. A rare few became the nucleus for settlements that reached monumental proportions. The rituals that defined social interaction in these locations, as well as the relationship of attendees to the sacred world, developed into the complex institutions that became the basis for the development of the primary state.

Cite this Record

Nighttime Sky and Early Urbanism in the High Andes. Alexei Vranich. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Orlando, Florida. 2016 ( tDAR id: 402929)


Geographic Keywords
South America

Spatial Coverage

min long: -93.691; min lat: -56.945 ; max long: -31.113; max lat: 18.48 ;