The Titicaca Basin of southern Peru and Bolivia has one of the richest archaeological histories in the Andes.  This high, cold, semi-arid plateau between the two Andean cordilleras was first inhabited by small bands of Archaic hunter-gatherers by 5000 BC or earlier.  By about 2000 BC, early farmers in the basin were living in settled villages, growing quinoa and potatoes and other tubers, and herding domesticated llamas and alpacas.

The Titicaca Basin was distinguished by the early, independent emergence of large towns participating in a regional religious tradition of sunken rectangular courts, earthen mounds, beautifully carved stone monoliths, fine ceramics, and other ritual paraphernalia.  As the greatest of these centers, Pucará, declined, a new power came to preeminence: the state of Tiwanaku, based on the southern lake margin in what is now Bolivia.  At Tiwanaku, commoner, elite, and artisan neighborhoods surrounded a ceremonial core of monumental mounds, beautifully finished sunken courts, and spectacular monoliths on an unprecedented scale.  The produce of hundreds of acres of state-built agricultural fields poured into the city, as well as long-distance shipments of valued crops and preciosities from far-flung Tiwanaku outposts.

The collapse of Tiwanaku at around AD 1000 ushered in a turbulent time of political fragmentation, high levels of warfare, and new ceremonial and mortuary practices.  Severe droughts afflicted the region, crippling the harvests and making people more dependent on herds.  Defensive, fortified sites high on hills are testament to intense conflict.

Around AD 1450, the Incas conquered the region. They introduced major changes to the Titicaca Basin, establishing towns on a formal road network, bringing in new populations of colonists, and building grand facilities at the sacred centers of Copacabana and the Islands of the Sun and Moon.

After the Spanish conquest the Titicaca Basin remained a bustling crossroads, where even as local populations struggled to meet heavy tribute and tax burdens, native lords grew rich off of the traffic between Cuzco, Arequipa, and the great silver mines of Potosí.

the late intermediate period

This project places special emphasis on the period after Tiwanaku’s collapse, a time when, according to later Spanish chronicles, powerful realms ruled by hereditary warlords arose in the northern and western basin.  These accounts have strongly shaped later scholarly impressions of Titicaca Basin societies, especially the Colla and Lupaca of the northern and western basin.  Yet recent archaeological research on the Lupaca paints a picture of political fragmentation, loose confederacy, and deemphasized status differences that contrasts with the chronicles (Frye 1997; Frye and de la Vega 2005; Stanish 2003; Stanish et al. 1997).

Research on the Colla has been more limited, consisting of early non-systematic reconnaissances (e.g., Kidder 1943; Neira 1967; Tschopik 1946), Julien’s excavations at Hatuncolla (1983), and excavations at the cemetery complex of Sillustani (Ruiz 1973, 1976; Revilla and Uriarte 1985; Ayca 1995).  Several recent surveys have also taken place.

Arkush’s fieldwork has investigated regional patterns of pukara (hillfort) settlement and intrasite spatial organization.  Patterns of pukara placement suggest that the Colla can best be thought of as small regional polities each based around a network of hilltop forts, and probably forming larger confederacies at times.  Indications of status differentiation in surface architecture are present but limited.  On the surface, the Colla look very different from earlier societies of the Titicaca basin, which had used ceremonies and the dissemination of high-prestige goods to integrate dispersed communities.  Proyecto Machu Llaqta was designed to investigate this question more closely.