The prehistoric location of Tiwanaku is located near the southern shore of Lake Titicaca near the border between Bolivia and Peru. In 1945, Arthur Posnansky estimated that Tiwanaku dated to 15,000 BP as a powerful empire using archaeoastronomical techniques. Later, because of the reevaluation of the techniques that Posnansky used to estimate the age of Tiwanaku, expert archaeoastronomical archaeologists concluded that they were invalid as they were a "poor example of misused archaeoastronomical evidence." Nevertheless, people were living in the area at this time but not in the sense of a powerful empire.
Tiwanaku ancient village Hut
The early Chirpa mound on the shore of Lake Titicaca dates from 1500-1200 BC. There the first organized construction of stone structures appeared on the Taraco peninsula on Lake Titicaca. The area around Tiwanaku may have been inhabited as early as 1500 BC as a small agriculturally based village. According to most Tiwanaku began as a small settlement, in what is known as its 'village period', around 1200 BC. It was self-sufficient, with a non-irrigated form of farming based on frost-resistant crops, essential at this high altitude, producing tubers such as potatoes, and cereals, notably quinoa.
Quinoa is a grain-like crop grown primarily for its edible seeds. It is a pseudo cereal rather than a true cereal, or grain, as it is not a member of the true grass family. As a chenopod, quinoa is closely related to species such as beets, spinach, and tumbleweeds. In more sheltered locations near Lake Titicaca, maize and peaches were also cultivated.
Beginning about 2500 BC, the maize crop spread through much of the Americas. Maize known in many English-speaking countries as corn is a grain domesticated by indigenous peoples in Mesoamerica in prehistoric times. The leafy stalk produces ears that contain seeds called kernels. Though technically a grain, maize kernels are used in cooking and as a vegetable or starch. Maize breeding in prehistory resulted in large plants producing large ears.
The Tiwanaku Altiplano
The high altitude of the Titicaca Basin required the development of a distinctive farming technique known as "flooded-raised field" agriculture (suka kollus). This method of farming developed during the early village period around 850-600 B.C. This also indicates a community expansion from the original village.
Fossilized Tiwanaku Farmland from the Above (Suka kollas)
They comprised a significant percentage of the agriculture in the region, along with irrigated fields, pasture, terraced fields and qochas (artificial ponds) farming. Shallow canals filled with water separated artificially raised planting mounds. The canals supplied moisture for growing crops, but they also absorbed heat from solar radiation during the day.
Tiwanaku flooded pre-raised fields
The natural setting determined ancient life, more so than it is of modern life. The relationships of topography and climate, of landscape diversity and the unequal distribution of natural resources, and the variation in the productivity of the environment and its distinct ecological zones, all these factors impact human interaction with the landscape, effect settlement patterns and, ultimately, play a role, albeit debated, in determining the relationships of cultures and the environment. The structure and spatial organization of the environment in the Andes is a mosaic of numerous ecological zones. The largest body of water in the South American highlands, Lake Titicaca, is formed where the two mountain chains of the Andes are furthest apart. This largest drainage basin in South America, known as the Altiplano, spans 800 km from north to south and between 120 and 160 km. from east to west.
Tiwanaku in the rainy season
Rainfall is seasonal, with around 700 mm. of average rainfall in the area around the lake. The region is subject to prolonged and severe droughts and seasons of disastrous heavy rains.
Tiwanaku in the dry season
Hail and winds also affect crops. In the Titicaca basin, natural resource distribution is very much a function of altitude. Humans exploited the Altiplano after the Pleistocene (10,000 B.C.). Tiwanaku's location between the lake and dry highlands provided key resources of fish, wild birds, plants, and herding grounds for camelidae, particularly llamas.
The Titicaca Basin is the most productive environment in the area with predictable and abundant rainfall, which the Tiwanaku culture learned to harness and use in their farming. As one goes further east, the Altiplano is an area of very dry arid land.
The alpaca (Vicugna pacos) is a domesticated species of South American camelid. It resembles a small llama in appearance. Exploitation of the diverse ecological zones and resources diminished risk for humans, and a mixed pastoral-agricultural-and a lakeshore economic base developed. Llamas and alpacas were domesticated by about 7000 B.C. These camelids graze on the higher elevations, allowing exploitation of areas unfit for agriculture. Agriculture is only feasible in the lowest elevations of the basin.