Puma Punku Bolivia the Gateway to the Sun

Puma Punku (Aymara and Quechua which literally means ‘Gate of the Puma’) is a 6th-century T-shaped and strategically aligned man-made terraced platform mound with a sunken court and monumental structure on top that is part of the Pumapunku complex, at the Tiwanaku Site near Tiwanacu, in western Bolivia.

The Pumapunku complex is an alignment of plazas and ramps centered on the Pumapunku platform mound. Today the monumental complex on top of the platform mound lies in ruins.

It is believed to date to AD 536. After Akapana, which is believed to be “Pumapunku’s twin”, Pumapunku was the second most important construction in Tiwanaku. Among all the names for the areas in Tiwanaku only the names “Akapana” and “Pumapunku” have historical relevance.

At Pumapunku several miniature gates which are perfect replicas of once standing full-size gateways were found. Additionally to these miniature gateways, likely, at least five gateways (and several blind miniature gateways) were once (or were intended to be) integrated into the Pumapunku monumental complex.

The foundation platform of Pumapunku supported as many as eight andesite gateways. The fragments of five andesite gateways with similar characteristics to the Gateway of the Sun were found.

Tiwanaku is significant in Inca traditions because it is believed to be the site where the world was created. In Aymara, Puma Punku’s name means “Gate of the Puma”.

The Pumapunku complex consists of an unwalled western court, a central unwalled esplanade, a terraced platform mound that is faced with stone, and a walled eastern court.

At its peak, Pumapunku is thought to have been “unimaginably wondrous,” adorned with polished metal plaques, brightly colored ceramic and fabric ornamentation, and visited by costumed citizens, elaborately dressed priests, and elites decked in exotic jewelry.

Current understanding of this complex is limited due to its age, the lack of a written record, and the current deteriorated state of the structures due to treasure hunting, looting, stone mining for building stone and railroad ballast, and natural weathering.

When the Spanish arrived at Tiwanaku there was still standing architecture at Pumapunku. Bernabé Cobo reports that one Gateway and one “window” was still standing on one of the platforms.

The Pumapunku is a terraced earthen mound faced with blocks. It is 167.4 meters (549 feet) wide along its north–south axis and 116.7 meters (383 feet) long along its east–west axis.

On the northeast and southeast corners of the Pumapunku, it has 20-metre (66-foot) wide projections extending 27.6 meters (91 feet) north and south from the rectangular mound.

The eastern edge of the Pumapunku is occupied by the Plataforma Lítica. This structure consists of a stone terrace 6.8 by 38.7 meters (22 by 127 feet) in dimension.

This terrace is paved with multiple enormous stone blocks. It contains the largest stone slab in the Pumapunku and Tiwanaku Site, measuring 7.8 metres (26 feet) long, 5.2 metres (17 feet) wide and averages 1.1 m (3 ft 7 in) thick.

Based on the specific gravity of the red sandstone from which it was carved, this stone slab is estimated to weigh 131 tonnes (144 short tons). The remarkable aspects of the sandstone slabs, including their size and smooth surfaces have drawn comments for several centuries.

The other stonework and facing of the Pumapunku consists of a mixture of andesite and red sandstone. Pumapunku’s core consists of clay, while the fill under parts of its edge consists of river sand and cobbles instead of clay. Excavations documented three major building epochs plus repairs and re-modeling.

The area within the kilometer separating the Pumapunku and Kalasasaya complexes was surveyed using ground-penetrating radar, magnetometry, induced electrical conductivity, and magnetic susceptibility.

The geophysical data collected from these surveys and excavations indicate the presence of numerous man-made structures in the area between the Pumapunku and Kalasasaya complexes.

These structures include the wall foundations of buildings and compounds, water conduits, pool-like features, revetments, terraces, residential compounds, and widespread gravel pavements, all of which are buried and hidden beneath the modern ground surface.

After the area was mapped with a drone in 2016, the results showed the site has a size of seventeen hectares of which only two hectares are unearthed. There are two additional platforms still underground.

Archaeologists dispute the transport of these stones was by the large labor force of ancient Tiwanaku. Several conflicting theories attempt to imagine the ways this labor force transported the stones, although these theories remain speculative.

Two common proposals involve the use of llama skin ropes, and the use of ramps and inclined planes. In assembling the walls of Pumapunku, each stone interlocked with the surrounding stones. The blocks were fit together like a puzzle, forming load-bearing joints.

The precise cuts suggest the possibility of pre-fabrication and mass production, technologies far in advance of the Tiwanaku’s Inca successors hundreds of years later. Some of the stones are in an unfinished state, showing some of the techniques used to shape them.

Pumapunku was a large earthen platform mound with three levels of stone retaining walls. Its layout is not square in plan, but rather T-shaped.

To sustain the weight of these massive structures, Tiwanaku architects were meticulous in creating foundations, often fitting stones directly to bedrock or digging precise trenches and carefully filling them with layered sedimentary stones to support large stone blocks.

Modern engineers argue that base of Pumapunku was constructed using a technique called layering and depositing. By alternating layers of sand from the interior and layers of composite from the exterior, the fills overlap at the joints, grading the contact points to create a sturdy base.

The architectural historian Jean-Pierre Protzen from University of California, Berkeley states that in the past it often haven been argued that among the buildings at Ollantaytambo the monumental structures (e. g. the Wall of the six monoliths) were the work of the earlier Tiwanaku culture and have been reused by the Incas.

At least five gateways (and several blind miniature gateways) were once (or were intended to be) integrated into the Pumapunku monumental complex.

The foundation platform of Pumapunku supported as many as eight andesite gateways. The fragments of five andesite gateways with similar characteristics to the Gateway of the Sun were found.

There also exist miniature gateways at Pumapunku which are perfect replicas of once standing monumental full-sized gateways. When reducing the full-sized monumental architecture to miniature architecture the Tiahuanacans applied a specific formula.

There also exist replicas of larger monumental structures. For example it has been shown that the much-admired carved block known as the “Escritorio del Inca” is an accurate and reduced-scale model of full-scale architecture.

Some of these model stones like little Pumapunku are not isolates stones but, rather, seem to fit in the context of other stones and stone fragments. According to Protzen and Nair the fact that many of these model stones were executed in multiple exemplars bespeaks mass production.

At Pumapunku and other areals of Tiwanaku such as Kantatayita doubly curved lintels with complicated surfaces were found.

Jean-Pierre Protzen and Stella Nair point out that the “steep parabolic curve” of the doubly curved lintels (like the one of the Kantatayita lintel) would be difficult to replicate for modern stonemasons (would tax any stonemason’s skills today)

There are at least two monoliths associated with the Pumapunku platform mound. One of these monoliths is the Pumapunku monolith (or Pumapunku stela).

It was discovered west of the Pumapunku campus and first documented in photographs in 1876. There is evidence that like in the case of Akapana sculptures known as Chachapumas once were guarding the entrance to Pumapunku.

According to some theories, the Pumapunku complex and surrounding monumental structures like Akapana, Kalasasaya, Putuni, and Kerikala functioned as spiritual and ritual centers for the Tiwanaku.

This area might be the center of the Andean world, attracting pilgrims from far away to marvel in its beauty. These structures transformed the local landscape; Pumapunku was integrated with Illimani mountain.

The spiritual significance and the sense of wonder might be amplified into a mind-altering and life-changing experience, through the use of hallucinogenic plants.

Examinations of hair samples exhibit remnants of psychoactive substances in many mummies found in Tiwanaku culture from Northern Chile, including babies as young as one year of age, demonstrating the importance of these substances to the Tiwanaku.

Wikipedia / ABC Flash Point News 2022.

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