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Tiwanaku Research Project: 3D Printing the Past 


The ruins of Tiwanaku (AD 500-950) in the modern republic of Bolivia are an archaeological challenge due to intense colonial period looting that nearly destroyed the site. Descriptions of ruins focus on two areas located east and southwest of the modern town of Tiahuanaco. To the east sits the main core of seven impressive buildings: the Semi-subterranean Temple, the Kalasasaya, the Putuni, the Chunchukala, the Kherikala, the Kantatallita, and the Akapana platform. To the southwest lies the focus of this research, a raised T-shaped platform renowned for a collection of large sandstone slabs surrounded by a tumble of intricately carved andesite blocks. Known as the Pumapunku (Gateway of the Puma) this impressive collection of shattered and overturned architecture was described by several Spanish conquistadors and travelers of the 16th and 17th centuries, who wrote of a wondrous, though unfinished, building with gateways and windows carved from single blocks.


For the last 500 years, treasure hunters have ransacked this building to the point none of approximately 200 blocks of andesite are in their original place. Over the last century and a half, several different scholars have carefully measured the blocks and even managed to joined several fragments to form complete pieces. However, a full reconstruction has not been convincingly proposed, and instead the incredible precision of the stones has spawned theories of mythical lost civilizations and extraterrestrial technologies.


This research revisited the Pumapunku with a view to transform this century and a half of historical field notes into virtual and 3D form. These measurements were entered by hand into an architectural modeling program. The virtual form was subsequently printed in 3D form at 4% reduced scale. Once printed, these blocks were easy to manipulate and formed a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle that saw the refitting of several more important architecture configurations. For the purposes of publication, the results are presented virtual form.


The final reconstruction is far from complete, and many elements remain, and will likely remain, unplaced. However, we had enough to we recreated a general ground plan of an amazing building that represents the apogee of pre-Columbian architecture.  The implications for Tiwanaku and the rise of civilization in the Andes will be described in detail in an upcoming academic publication, but methodologically, this research has show how useful 3D printing can be for reconstructing ancient architecture. 

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