Thursday, December 22, 2011

Collapse of Empires: the Tiwanaku

Tiwanaku is an Ancient civilization/culture found in what is now Bolivia from 300 AD to somewhere around 1000AD. There was clearly an empirical aspect to their civilization as they encorporated (rather than absorbing) surrounding groups as time went on.  On the map, the Andes look small because they sit next to the enormous Brazil-Amazon River basin, but as I noted earlier when talking about the Wari, it is the combined size of California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, and Montana.  Using a rough scale map of the Andes and comparing it to our map below, the Tiwanaku Empire very roughly encompasses about 600,000 square kilometers (232,000 square miles).  This would make it larger than France at 547,000 square kilometers.  Not Rome, but a lot more than a city state.

There largest city, may have had as many 30,000 inhabitants, and the Empire as a whole almost 1.5 million people. I am using the upper figures because they used a very labor intensive, but very effective method of “flooded-raised field” agriculture.

Though labor-intensive, suka kollus produce impressive yields. While traditional agriculture in the region typically yields 2.4 metric tons of potatoes per hectare, and modern agriculture (with artificial fertilizers and pesticides) yields about 14.5 metric tons per hectare, suka kollu agriculture yields an average of 21 tons per hectare.

I bring this point up because earlier, in a very different context, we had been discussing the manpower-fuel tradeoffs in intensive agriculture.

The Tiwanaku had some very impressive architecture built out of the enormous stone blocks. To the untrained-eye at least, it looks very similar to the latter Incan architecture.

But of course it did not last.  From Wikipedia:

The elites' power continued to grow along with the surplus of resources until about 950. At this time a dramatic shift in climate occurred, as is typical for the region. A significant drop in precipitation occurred in the Titicaca Basin, with some archaeologists venturing to suggest a great drought. As the rain became less and less many of the cities furthest away from Lake Titicaca began to produce fewer crops to give to the elites. As the surplus of food dropped, the elites' power began to fall. Due to the resiliency of the raised fields, the capital city became the last place of production, but in the end even the intelligent design of the fields was no match for the weather. Tiwanaku disappeared around 1000 because food production, the empire's source of power and authority, dried up. The land was not inhabited again for many years. In isolated places, some remnants of the Tiwanaku people, like the Uros, may have survived until today.

They were neighbors of the  Wari, who we have discussed earlier. The Wari were north of them, and we have described them as a classic expand-implode empire. The time frame for the rise of the Wari is similar to the Tiwanaku. The Map below shows what is known as the Middle Horizon, with the Wari (Huari) in violet and the Tiwanaku in blue.

The Middle Horizon- Tiwanaku in blue (from Wikipedia)
One final point to bring up.  They did hold on at the edges presumably to be absorbed by he Incans latter.  But they are another example of a large cultural entity, that lasted for hundreds (about 700) of years, and we don't even know what they called themselves.

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