The Significance of Chiripa in Lake Titicaca Basin Developments

By: Karen L. Mohr Chavez

Originally Published in 1988

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Them site of Chiripa is located in Bolivia on the southern shore of Lake Titicaca. A series of structures revealed by exca­vation there have long been inter­preted as ordinary houses of a residential village belonging to a relatively localized culture named Chiripa after the site. Using avail­able published data as well as unpublished evidence, I have re­interpreted this unusual Late Chir­ipa architectural complex (ca. 800­100 B.C.), with its structures sur­rounding a sunken court, as a temple-storage complex. In this article I examine how it served as a direct model for the monumental temple complexes belonging to the later Pucara culture (ca. 100 B.C.) that are found in Peru at Pucara in the northern Titicaca Basin. The occupants of the high-prestige temple/storage complexes at Chir­ipa and Pucara may have been involved in the administration of ritual and worship, and even of production, distribution, and con­sumption, perhaps regulated by periodic ceremonies associated with the temples.

Chiripa was part of the wide­spread Yaya-Mama Religious Tradi­tion, defined here for the first time, that appears to have unified popu­lations in the Lake Titicaca Basin. This tradition directly contributed to Pucara, and in many ways per­sisted into later, more powerful Tiahuanaco, Huari, and perhaps even Inca societies (see map and chronology, pp. 2-3). Beginning at least by Late Chiripa times, the Yaya-Mama Religious Tradition, named after the style of associated stone sculpture, was characterized by: (1) temple-storage centers such as at Chiripa, (2) Yaya-Mama style stone sculpture having supernatural images, associated with the temples, (3) ritual paraphernalia including ceramic trumpets and ceremonial burners, and (4) a supernatural iconography including heads having rayed appendages and a vertically divided eye.

Tialmanaco and the local societies that preceded it were set in the altiplano, a high, virtually -treeless plateau that surrounds Lake Titi­caca at over 3800 m. above sea level. This region provides both limitations and advantages in terms of subsistence (see Erickson, this issue). The most salient limitation of the cold and altitude was on agri­culture, so that crops included only native grains, like quinoa; and tu­bers, such as the potato. The open grasslands, however, were ideal for the hunting of wild guanaco, vicunas, and deer, and for the herding of domesticated llama and alpaca. In addition, the lake provided abun­dant resources like fish, fowl, and reeds used for such things as rafts for transport, roof thatching, and food.

The Tiahuanaco polity flourished between about A.D. 300 and 1200 and extended from southern Peru to parts of Chile and Argentina. It is named after the large urban and ceremonial site in the southern Lake Titicaca Basin that surely must have been its administrative and religious capital. Tiahuanaco religion, if not other aspects of the society, had a strong impact on the Hari state that expanded over much of high­land and coastal Peru between ca. A.D. 550 and 750, all preceding by many lmndreds of years the expan­sion of the well-known Inca empire between A.D. 1438 and 1532. Be­cause the two cultures focused upon here, Chiripa and Pucara, preceded and were related to Tialmanaco, they are crucial in understanding the origins of the Tialmanaco state. My aim is to demonstrate a much more important role for Chiripa, and the system of which it was a part, in integrating Lake Titicaca Basin societies prior to both Pucara and Tiahuanaco.


Located in the Department of La Paz on the Taraco Peninsula over­looking Lake Titicaca (Fig. 1), Chiripa is dominated by an arti­ficial mound measuring 60 m north-south by 55 m east-west and about 6 m high, the top of which is some 25 m above the lake level (see Biblio­graphical Note). Excavation of this mound by Wendell C. Bennett in 1934 revealed two Chiripa levels: (1) “pre-mound” strata, below (2) the mound or “house” strata. Ben­nett felt the two were indistinguish­able. He completely excavated two of the Chiripa structures of the upper “house” strata, and exposed part of a third (Fig. 2). These rectangular, once thatched buildings have double walls of adobe and rounded stones set in mud, and form a rough square or octagon around a central open area (Fig. 3). Bennett estimated there were 14 such structures, but more recent estimates include 15 (Kidder 1964) and 16 (Bowman 1978); his inter­pretation of these structures as houses of a village has persisted in the literature. Finally, in the central depression of the mound, Bennett also defined a semi-subterranean stone-lined temple that he, and later Kidder, regarded as Decadent Tia­lmanaco. The site yielded Inca and immediately pre-Inca remains as well.

The later excavations of Alfred Kidder II and William R. Coe in 1955 (Fig. 3) revealed structures below the upper “house” strata, confirmed that there were two superimposed Chiripa levels that were clearly distinguishable based on architectural features, and re­vealed evidence of a third, even earlier occupation (Kidder 1956, Mohr 1966). These excavations also yielded a series of radiocarbon dates indicating that the “Sub-Lower House Level” dated to ca. 1400-900 B.C., the “Lower House Level” 900-600 B.C., and the “Up­per House Level” to 600-100 B.C. I will simply refer to these three phases as Early, Middle, and Late Chiripa, respectively.

Chiripa sites are distributed pri­marily around the southern part of the lake. They are found near Chucuito on the northwest, on the Copacabana Peninsula, along the southern lake edge (including Chir­ipa and Pariti), on the east of the lake across from the Copacabana Peninsula, and northeast of Tia­huanaco somewhat farther inland.

There are several characteristics of the Late Chiripa rectangular structures and associated features that support the argument that they were part of a planned temple-storage complex. Browman dis­covered a rectangular subterranean temple or court under the Tia­huanaco one in the central area of the mound that he dated to his Mamani Phase (600-200/100 B.C.); it represents the earliest such struc­ture known in the altiplano (1978:809; 1981:414). Other evi­dence links this central sunken court to the structures themselves. There were a series of red and yellow clay floors that started at the front exteriors of Houses 1, 2, and 3 (here referred to as Structures 1, 2, and 3) and dipped down toward what we now know must have been the sunken temple in the center (Coe notes). Chiripa layers that dipped toward the central area may also be observed in Bennett’s profile of the mound, some of them terminating at a stone wall (1936:Fig. 24, 429). This wall might have been the retaining wall of a Chiripa sunken court, perhaps pre-Late Chiripa in date, and above it, other layers ended at a pit that may have once contained wall stones. The stone wall and the pit lie almost directly under the Tiahuanaco sunken terns plea wall. Furthermore, under the Tialmanaco temple floor were a series of horizontal, superimposed yellow clay floors apparently as­sociated with the wall and the pit that may have been the Chiripa temple floors. No colored floors appear to occur behind the Late Chiripa structures in either Coe’s or Bennett’s excavations, suggesting that the floors were an important characteristic of only the interior of the complex that linked the struc­tures with the subterranean court.

The exteriors of the Late Chiripa structures show evidence of decora­tive painting. Bennett found clay bricks with different sides painted green, white, and red near Structure 2, although not in position. Four bricks came from the southernmost bin at about existing wall height and a fifth was in the doorway (Bennett notes). These locations place them at the front of the structure and strongly suggest they may have decorated the outside wall facing the sunken court. Bennett also ob­served that the front exterior of Structure 2 near the door possessed a reddish clay wash. Finally, Coe recovered painted clay bricks among debris outside Structure 3 on the sunken court side, and found a yellow clay slab (37 by 18 by 3 cm) with red paint on its exposed side, interspaced between cobbles on the exterior front face of Structure 3.

Structure interiors have yellow clay floors (Structures 1, 2, 3, and 5), and walls have a thick yellow clay plaster or wash (at least Structure 1; Bennett 1936), or are in any case plastered (Kidder and Coe notes). The inner walls have nine window openings that provide access to individual bins. In Structure 2 there were also four decorative niches, two on the back inner wall placed in the dividing walls between the three bins, and one in each side wall also between bins (Fig. 2a). These niches are about 25 cm wide and 30 cm deep. On each side of every door (at least in Structure 1), window, and niche there is a decorative inset, perhaps 1.8 to 3 cm deep and 8 cm wide, forming a double jamb that has a double step fret at its top where preserved (Fig. 2b). These inset frets all face the central room interior, and also have a yellow wash (as in Structure 1) or are painted red-orange on yellow clay plaster (Structure C; Sawyer notes). A likely contemporary Epoch I whistle from Tiahuanaco also de­picts a structure having a similar double jamb doorway with single step frets (Ponce 1972:Fig. 81).

This inset or double jamb with a double step fret continued in post ­Chiripa times and is characteristic not only of special Pucara archi­tecture, but also of the religious architecture and sculpture of Tia, as well as high prestige Inca masonry (see Niles, this issue). For this reason the Chiripa insets do not appear to be casual decorations for solely domestic houses.

The storage function of the peri­pheral compartments or bins within each structure was suggested by Bennett who found quinoa in one bin (Bennett and Bird 1964:106) and on the floor of Structure 1 (Bennett 1936:424). At the bottom of one of the compartments of Structure C there was a rounded impression of what looked like a basket (Sawyer notes). Both quinoa and ch’unu (freeze-dried potato), as well as cordage and basketry, were found in fire debris dumped in front of and outside Structures 2 and 3, and quinoa and potato on the floor within Structure 5 (Kidder and Coe notes). Based on this direct evidence (grain and possible container within bins) and the form and size of the compartments, the storage function seems likely. It may be added that fish and camelid remains were found in refuse associated with the Late Chiripa Level as well.

If the compartments were storage facilities, then the high proportion of internal floor and wall space devoted to them—not only in each structure but in a repetitive plan for all structures that was costly in labor, materials, and living space—demonstrates the importance of storage at the site. Each structure has nine peripheral bins that start at floor level or below, with Structures 3 and C having stone covers at about 95 cm to 1 m above the floor (Coe and Sawyer notes). Further­more, each structure has an elabor­ate inset entryway of greater width than the doorways (Fig. 2a). These entryways remove additional space that could have been used as inter­nal living area, especially if domes­tic function were of primary con­cern.

Specifically, 38 percent of the total internal open floor area of Bennett’s Structure 1 is used in peripheral compartments, while the central room constitutes 62 percent. Expressed in a different way, of potential living area (using internal dimensions of the outer walls) the central room is only 43 percent of that area, while 57 percent is de­voted to storage, inner walls to construct them, and to the inset entryway. Structures 2, 5, and C show this same proportion in the use of space. Storage space is not only abundant and costly, but it is also restricted by windows that are relatively small and certainly quite ornate. These characteristics argue against storage of items for use in ordinary domestic living.

One could not walk into any of the bins; rather, all bins were acces­sible only through small windows about 60 by 50 cm, and 30 cm above the floor. A person would have to bend over or kneel and reach across the approximately 30 cm wide win­dow sill to get to the items stored. The bin capstones at 95 cm to 1 m indicate an adult could not stand upright within them. Bulky items, such as large full sacks, would be difficult to maneuver through these ornate windows, and frequent deposi­tion and withdrawal of goods would likely lead to rapid window destruc­tion. Photographs (Kidder’s Struc­ture 5) seem to indicate lack of wear around the windows. Items would most easily be stored if they were small and readily manipulated. The impression is, however, that access was restricted to specified persons and occasions—perhaps during periodic use such as seasonally or as determined by ceremonial cycles.

In addition, the structures have no windows to the outside, and the front door that faces the sunken court provides the only access into them. The doors, perhaps of wood or reed, were unique; when open they would slide into a slot in the inner wall, on the left side of the doorway viewed from inside. When closed the door would fit into a vertical groove on the opposite side of the doorway. Structures 1 and 5 show that the sliding door had two panels, each only about 50-56 cm in height, one above the other and separated by a level of stones across the door slot; a stone in the vertical groove on the opposite side sup­ported the upper panel when closed (Bennett notes and 1936:424; Kidder notes). In Structure 1 there was also a second row of stones above what would have been the upper door panel. If this upper row of stones marks total door height, then the door opening would be only ca. 1.10 in high by about 80 cm wide. Structure 1 also has an awkward sill 30 cm high to step over as a person bends to enter. The curious double panel suggests that the upper half could be open while the lower was closed. This arrangement would serve well for receiving or distri­buting stored materials, such as between persons inside (likely seated or kneeling because of low door height) and outside in the inset entryway. Both door and entryway elaboration suggest some important function.

In broader perspective, one could argue that access to stored mate­rials, and hence their protection, within the entire complex was con­trolled on three levels. First, based on current evidence, passage into the complex was restricted—shared walls between the three eastern structures (D-F), adjoining walls in two western ones (4 and 5), and abutting interior corners of two to three diagonal structures (1 and C and apparently G) prohibited en­trance. Second, access to each structure was restricted by the low, specially constructed doorways. Third, access to the contents of each bin was limited by a single small, ornate window.

High-status individuals likely re­sided and carried out special activi­ties in the structures. The consider­able amount of refuse found in and around the Chiripa structures (es­pecially behind them), including food remains and sooty cooking pots, suggests residence, but such refuse may also have accumulated during seasonal public gatherings for ceremonial and economic activi­ties, for example. If these structures are not ordinary houses, then such houses may be located elsewhere off the mound, perhaps to the north where Bennett found Chiripa refuse.

Associated remains also support the inferred ceremonial function of the complex. Sergio Chavez and I (1976) isolated and defined the Yaya-Mama style of stone sculpture based on a group of slabs and stelae, including pieces from Chiripa (Fig. 4), found all around the lake but concentrated at its southern end. The style was named after a stela found at Taraco, Peru, at the north­ern end of the lake (Fig. 5). We argued that the style was pre­Pucara in date, and iconographi­cally antecedent to Pucara, and was related to Late Chiripa pottery. It best dates to Early Horizon 9-10, and is at least partially contem­porary with Epoch I at Tialmanaco (Early Horizon 10). This pre-Pucara position and Chiripa association were confirmed by the discovery at Chiripa of a carved grinding slab in the Yaya-Mama style (Fig. 6), with the same raised border forming a cross fornee as decorated slabs (Fig. 4b). This slab was found by Coe 10 cm above the floor of a Middle Chiripa structure on ash from burning of the structure, and under the Late Chiripa structures. While it could belong to Middle Chiripa times, it could also have been placed there by Late Chiripa builders. In any case, it is no later than the Late Chiripa occupation. Bowman also found a stela and a wall plaque fragment evidently associated with the Late Chiripa temple (1978:809).

Some or all of these pieces of stone sculpture may have been sacred objects, some even bearing depictions of supernaturals that were part of the Yaya-Mama reli­gion, such as on the Taraco stela (Fig. 5). Rowe (Chavez and Chavez 1976:66) has interpreted Stela 15, belonging to the Yaya-Mama style, as the principal cult object of the Semi-subterranean Temple at Tia­huanaco, a shrine likely built by people using Qalasasaya-style pot­tery corresponding to Early Hori­zon 10 or Epoch I. Although depic­tions of these supernaturals do not occur at Chiripa itself to my know­ledge, other elements found on sculpture there directly relate to them (Fig. 4). The fact that stone sculpture with religious icono­graphy was found in the hiripa complex also supports the inter­pretation that the complex func­tioned as a temple.

All excavated Late Chiripa struc­tures appear to have had associated ceramic tubes or trumpets which, I would argue, are ritual parapher­nalia (Bennett notes and 1938:443, Fig. 28g; Mohr 1966:Figs. 43-45). Their careful manufacture around grass molds, well-smoothed ex­teriors, and special decoration make them stand out from the rest of the Chiripa pottery inventory (Fig. 7). They have a small vertical handle near the wider bell end for carrying or suspension. Decoration consists of modeled felines or ducks, as well as raised decorative bands. Grooves and punctation contain red and white paint applied after firing. Most are black or brown in color, but some are red. We have ex­cavated similar trumpet fragments from pre-Pucara levels at the site of Taraco. Bennett also encountered them in the Chiripa levels at Pariti (1936:449 and Fig. 28h).

Elements of Yaya-Mama Reli­gious Tradition iconography are found on both Chiripa pottery and Yaya-Mama style stone sculpture. A sherd excavated by Bennett from the field north of the Chiripa mound in Chiripa levels has a modeled anthropomorphic face with at least two attributes that indicate super­natural status—a divided eye and a tear band or eye ornament (Fig. 10). This face, to my knowledge, dis­plays the earliest known occurrence of the vertically divided eye in Andean iconography (the sherd also has grass temper, typical of Chiripa pottery). Moreover, there are indications of at least five grooves emanating front around the face that might represent rayed appendages, another indicator of supernatural status, Heads with such appendages are a prominent constituent of Yaya-Mama religious iconography and occur  on slabs (Fig. 4) and on stelae (Fig. 5). Animals having a profile body and unturned tail. which Bennett railed pumas, also occur on Yaya-Mama style sculpture (Fig. 4) and as modeled appliques on Chiripa ce­ramic trumpets (Fig. 7) and vessels. Front-faced, profile-bodied felines, although clearly spotted (unlike pumas), also occur on Epoch I (Qalasasaya style) pottery (Ponce 1971). Other religious elements that occur on Chiripa pottery and/or Yaya-Mama style stone sculpture include checkered crosses, relief rings, serpents, frogs/toads, and the cross formée formed by raised borders of slabs (Figs. 4 and 6).


Characteristics of the Yaya­Mama Religious Tradition, as es­pecially exemplified at the site of Chiripa, continued into and con­tributed toward the Early Inter­mediate Period Pucara culture (see chronology, p. 2). The Pucara cul­ture is named after the site located on the Pucara River some 60 km from the northern end of Lake Titicaca in the Department of Puno (see cover of this issue). Pucara includes both residential and cere­monial areas and is one of the largest early sites in the region. It is known for its elaborate stone sculpture, fancy incised polychrome pottery, and finely dressed stone masonry resembling Tialmanaco materials in Bolivia.

Alfred Kidder excavated six loca­tions at the site in 1939 (Fig. 8; see Kidder biography in this issue): Excavations I, II, and III in river bank midden deposits; IV in a complex of structures on the plain west of the river and south of the modern village; V in the largest structure at Pucara (designated as Enclosure 4); and VI where he completely exposed Enclosure 2 (Chavez and Chavez n.d.). He mapped six such enclosures, each a building complex interpreted as a temple. These enclosures were built on a massive stone platform system he called Qalasaya, nestled at the font of an impressive cliff.

The plan of Enclosure 2, where Excavation VI took place, is shown in Figure 9. There are striking similarities in overall plan and con­ception to the Late Chiripa temple complex (Fig. 3). On the top con­struction level (Kidder’s Level 1) a series of structures or rooms enclose a central sunken court below (Level 3), with a level in between (Level 2). Except for passageways from the exterior that provide entry into the enclosure, the adjoining struc­tures (Divisions A-I of Kidder) share walls as at Chiripa (Structures 4 and 5 and D, E, and F). Divisions A through I repeat in general plan, and form a U with three rooms on the west, two on both north and south, and a diagonally oriented division at each corner. The major difference is the U-shape of the Pucara complex, its open side over-looking

the terrace wall and facing the river. Based on surface indica­tions, other Pucara enclosures may have had four sides, however. Also, unlike Chiripa corner structures that have open exterior spaces on each side, the corner divisions at Pucara have inner spaces accom­modated within an angled outer wall. The prepared floors of Level 1 divisions are smoothly plastered, pebbly red adobe.

The overall plan of the enclosures at both Chiripa and Pucara is slightly trapezoidal, and outside dimensions are very similar: for Pucara a reconstructed maximum of 47.4 m (north-south) by 44.0 m (east-west, to terrace wall); for Chiripa, projected from existing or reconstructed structures, 48.4 m (east-west) by 44.8 m (north-south). The sunken court at Chiripa is projected to be ca. 22 by 23.5 m and 1.5 m deep (Brow man 1978:809), while at Pucara it is smaller, ca. 15 m by 16 m and 2.2 m deep. Other enclosures at Pucara, however, vary in outside dimensions and in the size of their sunken courts. The Semi-subterranean Temple at Tiahua­naco is largest, its sunken court measuring 26.0/26.1 by 28.5/28.6 m and 1.7 m deep (Ponce 1969:56, 58).

Just as at Chiripa, each division at Pucara has inner walls that define compartments; in Enclosure 2 most appear to have had eight peripheral compartments, while the corner

rooms have nine as at Chiripa. In the case of Divisions E and F, peripheral compartments between them were evidently shared. Fur­thermore, the entryways into each division, like those at Chiripa, were wide and set in from the exterior walls facing the sunken court; at Pucara entryways are trapezoidal in plan rather than rectangular.

A comparison of open floor areas between Chiripa and Pucara struc­tures shows that the relative pro­portion of central room to peri­pheral compartments is very similar, averaging 65:35 percent in Chiripa and 64:36 percent at Pucara.While these internal areas at both sites overlap, there is a tendency for Pucara floor spaces to be larger. At both sites, floor areas of corner structures are larger than side structures. The peripheral compartments at Pucara were more accessible than those at Chirp since entrance to them was through doorways, frequently having raised sills, rather than windows, but their function may also have been for storage. Furthermore, rear compartments were almost I m wide, providing greater maneuverability than the approximately 50 cm wide Chiripa bins. The same stepped fret and double jamb combination also occurs at Pucara in the entrances to four grave chambers, one in the center of each wall of the sunken court. These entrances consist of stone slabs, stepped ones in front and rectangular ones behind (Fig. 12). Furthermore, the stones on each side of many doorways into the hack, side, or front peripheral compartments have been vertically notched, creating insets or double jambs. The doorway into Division E also has a vertically notched jamb on its exterior. In the center of each short wall of each division are flat-topped blocks Kidder called altars, although they essentially form niches between two compartments. There is evidence they were boxed on three sides and open toward the central room; there is no direct evidence for a top cover preserved. Their placement resembles the niches between interior windows in Ben­nett’s Structure 2 at Chiripa (Fig. 2a).

There is no evidence of sliding doors in Enclosure 2 at Pucara, and doorway plans are trapezoidal, both into the divisions and into the peripheral compartments. Pucara masonry is also different, being much more elaborate than that at Chiripa. Blocks are cut, well-dressed (reflecting greater labor expenditure), and laid in adobe; walls were likely higher than pre­served, perhaps of adobe or stone set in mud.

As at Chiripa, stone sculpture was directly associated with the Pucara temple. Kidder recovered six bro­ken statues and two carved slabs within the sunken court, as well as fragments of large carved stone bowls (Chavez and Chavez nod.). These pieces clearly show a power­ful religious ideology. Other Pucara ritual paraphernalia include ce­ramic trumpets that are very similar in form, size, and manufacturing technique to Chiripa ones (Fig. 11). Pucara trumpets have the same small handles and raised decorated bands, and blackened interiors also show the impressions of the wrap­ped grass mold used to make them. In addition, more elaborate ceramic pedestal-based bowls or ceremonial burners continue in Pucara from Qadasasaya-style ones and pre­Pucara ones from Taraco.

Yaya-Mama Religious Tradition-iconography found on Yaya-Mama style stone sculpture and Chiripa and Qalasasaya-style pottery also continues into Pucara stone sculp­ture and pottery. Furthermore, although decorated Chiripa pottery is usually painted cream on red, some sherds (with the diagnostic grass temper) have polychrome geometric designs in red, black, and cream outlined by incision. This same tri-color incision characterizes Pucara-style pottery, and designs are geometric and/or representa­tional. Commonly, elaborate in­cised polychrome supernatural fe­lines, having profile bodies and modeled front-view heads, deco­rate Pucara trumpets (Fig. 11) and, in pairs, opposite sides of pedestal-based bowls. Although not very realistic, the relief felines on Chir­ipa pottery resemble Pucara-style ones in their general configuration, occasional occurrence of what ap­pear to be spots, and in their placement on trumpets (Fig. 7) and bowls (although without pedestal bases) apparently in pairs. Qalasa­saya-style pottery (Ponce 1971) comes closer to Pucara in having profile-bodied, front-faced (but not in relief) spotted felines in colors outlined by incision; these vessels were associated with the pedestal-based bowls noted pre­viously. Pucara-style pottery, how­ever, is more complex than Chiripa or Qalasasaya-style pottery and possesses new mythical themes.

Antecedents and Continuities of the Yaya-Mama Religious Tradition

Excavating the Late Chiripa struc­tures, Coe encountered remains of two structures belonging to the Middle Chiripa occupation (900­600 B.C.), with features antecedent to the Late Chiripa patterns. The two Middle Chiripa structures were single-walled, oriented north-south, and separated from one another. They were beneath but not coin­cident with Structures 2 and 3 of the Late Chiripa Level, and the one under the diagonally oriented Structure 2 was not so oriented. Simi­larities include an interior niche in the corner of the north wall of one structure, measuring 53 cm deep by 35 cm wide and at least 66 cm in height. As with Late Chiripa bins, its floor approximately coincided with the floor of the room itself. Other niches may have existed, but only one quarter of this structure was uncovered. The niche was plastered with yellow clay on its floor and walls, and the floor of the room was painted red on yellow clay. This kind of plastering and use of color continued in the Late Chiripa constructions, and suggests a special function that may have been at least in part ceremonial. Such deep and high niches enlarged in width would have the form of the Late Chiripa bins, but necessitate a double-wall construction since the niche structurally weakened the wall. The size increase suggests a greater storage capacity was re­quired.

In a cross-section of the Chiripa mound in the same area he ex­cavated, Coe recorded a red clay floor, probably representing the exterior of one of the Middle Chir­ipa structures. This floor extended eastward toward the center of the mound and, like the yellow clay floors above it, suggests the exis­tence of an earlier central (sunken?) temple. Browman noted that during his Liusco Phase a series of houses surrounded what evidently was an open plaza area (1978:808).

As for iconographic antecedents to the Yaya-Mama Religious Tradi­tion, there are checkered crosses on pottery and bone from the site of Marcavalle near Cuzco dating to about 1000-650 B.C. Similar sherds come from the surface of early sites such as Qaluyu and Taraco in the northern Lake Titicaca Basin. Tear bands or eye markings on pottery figurines from the surface of Marca­valle also likely date to between 850-650 B.C. Finally, on a series of metal objects from the Cuzco area (the Echenique collection and the Disco Oberti), the anthropomor­phic head with rayed appendages, the cross forme, quadrupeds, tear bands, and other motifs occur; if their date as Early Horizon 6 is correct (Rowe 1977), they may also date to about 900-600 B.C. Evidence of early contact between the Cuzco region and the southern end of the Lake Titicaca Basin is reinforced by the discovery at Marcavalle of what appears to be a Chiripa grass-tempered sherd in Phase D (ca. 650 B.C.).

Yaya-Mama Religious Tradition architectural, artifactual, and icono­graphic continuities with Pucara have been discussed in the previous section, and it has been pointed out that the double jamb with double step fret became part of high-prestige Pucara, Tialmanaco, and even Inca masonry. The Pucara­style stone bowls found by Kidder in the sunken court at Pucara have anthropomorphic heads with ap­pendages, providing a stylistic and temporal link between Yaya-Mama style heads with appendages and those so prominent in the Tiahua­naco and Huari styles. Tialmanaco stone sculpture and ceremonial burners become much more ela­borate during the Middle Horizon, while ceramic trumpets appear to drop out altogether after Pucara times. Continuities between Yaya­Mama, Pucara-, and Tialmanaco-style stone sculpture have been dealt with elsewhere (Chavez and Chavez 1976:67). Crosses, relief rings, quadrupeds, serpents, and anthropomorphic personages con­tinue from Yaya-Mama to Pucara and Tiahuanaco, although with differences, and frogs/toads disap­pear after Pucara times. The di­vided eye and tear bands persist in Pucara, Tiahuanaco, and Huari pot­tery styles, as do felines. At Chiripa, at least the archi­tectural part of the Yaya-Mama Religious Tradition continued, as shown by a three-sided (all but rear) cobblestone foundation super­imposed above and virtually con­gruent with Structure 5 (Fig. 3); it was precisely aligned with the Tiahuanaco central sunken temple excavated earlier by Bennett. The alignment of the cobble wall with this sunken court argues for their contemporaneity. Both Ponce (1970: 59) and Browman (1978:809-810) have recently dated this sunken temple, previously regarded as Decadent Tiahuanaco in age, to Early Tiahuanaco or Epoch III. The fact that the three-sided foundation was so precisely situated above the Late Chiripa structure suggests its builders knew the older overall plan and were intentionally repeating some of the traditional canons of the ceremonial complex; it further suggests that not much time had elapsed between the disuse and abandonment of the Late Chiripa temple complex and the later three-sided structure and new sunken temple. The correspondence be­tween Structure 5 and the cobble foundation above, as well as the latter’s alignment with the Epoch III (or older) sunken temple, also pointed to the possible existence of a Late Chiripa sunken court, which was indeed found.

The association of a surrounding series of structures with a subter­ranean court in Chiripa, Pucara, and post-Chiripa times suggests that there could be comparable, unexcavated structures around other such sunken courts, including the Semi-subterranean Temple at Tiahuanaco itself. This temple likely dates to Epoch I and belongs to the Yaya-Mama Religious Tradi­tion. It and Stela 15, belonging to the Yaya-Mama style, were reused in Epoch IV when the Middle Horizon Bennett Monolith, or Stela 10, was erected next to Stela 15 in the temple (Ponce 1989:88). This prominent reuse shows the con­tinued importance of the sunken temple and this Yaya-Mama style sculpture in the Middle Horizon.

Other complexes like Chiripa should be found, perhaps buried under later temples, most predict­ably where Yaya- Mama style sculp­ture has already been located. In fact, the 1970s excavations by a Peruvian-UNESCO project at Pu­cara revealed a platform dated to ca. 800-200 B.C. underlying the one upon which Kidder’s Enclosure 2 was built (Lynch 1981). This earlier construction may provide evidence for another temple complex belong­ing to the Yaya-Mama Religious Tradition; it was also associated with sculpture and polychrome incised pottery (Mujica 1987). The use of ancient sunken temples has continued to the present in the alti­piano, as documented by two such temples on Amantani Island in the northwestern part of the lake, one associated with a male and the other with a female deity (Niles 1987).


The evidence supports the inter­pretation that Chiripa was a temple-storage complex planned as a unit. The central sunken temple was linked by colored floors to the enclosing structures that were deco­rated on their front exteriors. Ela­borate doorways, interior windows into bins, and wall niches, all having double jambs with step frets, as well as inset entryways, yellow plas­tered interior walls, and yellow clay floors, argue against ordinary domes­tic use of the structures. Similarly, storage space is abundant and yet made relatively inaccessible by elaborate windows. The associated ceramic trumpets and Yaya-Mama style stone sculpture further rein­force the ceremonial nature of the complex and relate it to other altiplano sites that, in addition to trumpets and sculpture, also had ceremonial burners.

Chiripa was a significant part of a regional religious system, the Yaya­Mama Religious Tradition, that unified groups around and near Lake Titicaca who appear to have used different pottery styles (e.g., Chiripa and Qalasasaya styles). The site provides a unique opportunity to examine the development of this tradition from Late Chiripa, and earlier, to post-Chiripa times, a span of some 1000 years or more. Chiripa must have been a- sacred center for hundreds of years, serving as a source for later, more centralized Pucara and Tiahuanaco developments. Detailed similarities between Chiripa/Yaya-Mama and Pucara temple complexes, ritual paraphernalia, and stone sculpture demonstrate that the tradition per­sisted in many ways. Storage of some significant kind, and high-status activities appear to have occurred at the temple complexes at both sites, and at Pucara at least six enclosures were involved.

Many questions emerge about what kinds of social, political, and economic organization were in­volved in the unification that the shared religious ideology reflects. What was being stored in the com­partments at Chiripa and Pucara, who controlled these items, and how? Careful contextual data, bin by bin, are necessary to answer such questions, but the quinoa and bas­ket impression at Chiripa are sug­gestive. The work of Erickson (this food may have been used in ceremonies, offerings, public feast­ing, and maintenance of the high-status authorities and their families, as well as other activities. Special seeds for planting, sacred objects, wool, textiles, or other goods may also have been stored. The predomi­nantly lakeside localities for the Yaya-Mama Religious Tradition (riverine for Pucara) would have provided a setting with diverse and abundant resources for these de­velopments. The Yaya-Mama religious ideology may have served to unify otherwise diverse groups by exacting participation in cere­monies, determined by a ritual cycle and coordinated by persons of high rank, that also involved economic and social activities.

Cite This Article

Chavez, Karen L. Mohr. "The Significance of Chiripa in Lake Titicaca Basin Developments." Expedition Magazine 30, no. 3 (November, 1988): -. Accessed February 25, 2024.

This digitized article is presented here as a historical reference and may not reflect the current views of the Penn Museum.

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