Cultures & Traditions

Tiahuanaco (Tiwanaku)

In the history of the central Andes, the Middle Horizon (600–1000 CE) was dominated by two cultures, Tiahuanaco (Tiwanaku) and Huari (Wari). The names of the cultures derive from two imperial cities that flourished in the central and southern highlands—Tiahuanaco on the edge of Lake Titicaca in what is now northwestern Bolivia, and Huari near the modern city of Ayacucho in present-day Peru. Expanding their influence to other highland and coastal regions, they are often called the first Andean empires, since their political and administrative tactics paved the way for later expansive states—those of the Chimú and the Inca (Inka).

Tiahuanaco flourished from 300 to 1000 CE, reaching its Classic Period about 400 CE, and expanded outside its heartland by 550 CE. Although the status of Tiahuanaco began to diminish around 800 CE, Tiahuanaco art forms continued to influence textile and ceramic production for another 200 years, until the culture finally declined around 1000 CE. Tiahuanaco art articulated religious iconography that emphasized sky gods, features probably derived from the religion of earlier cultures. At the site of Tiahuanaco, an architectural feature called the Gateway of the Sun features a staff-bearing figure depicted with trophy heads, and flanked by winged attendants shown in profile. Huari art incorporated many of the themes expressed in Tiahuanaco art, but Tiahuanaco artists treated subjects fairly literally (or naturalistically—with clarity).

The nature of Huari and Tiahuanaco expansion and their cultural interrelation remain points of discussion among archaeologists—their coastal influence, nevertheless, defines the Middle Horizon. Social relations and status in this period were conveyed through clothing, ritual, and feasting. Huari and Tiahuanaco polities promoted feasting with maize beer—chicha in Spanish or aqha in Quechua—utilizing storage jars, serving vessels, and goblet-style cups. The cup form would remain popular throughout the Andes and was later appropriated by the Inca.

Drawn from

  • DMA unpublished material [2004.55.McD], 2004.

  • Getty Vocabulary, AAT (Tiahuanaco (Tiwanaku): AAT: 300017305)

  • Kimberly L. Jones, "Inca: Conquests of the Andes / Los Incas y las conquistas de los Andes," Label Copy (Foundations), 2015.