Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino

Cultures > Arid North > Tiwanaku in the north of Chile


Consumption of hallucinogenic substances and shamanism were of enormous importance in Tiwanaku and the empire’s initial contact with distant peoples would have been marked by those practices. Such contact included communities as far away as the Atacama Desert, where similar ceremonial practices were already in use. In fact, these two peoples shared a common ritual language that enabled the Tiwanaku elite to establish relations with their counterparts in the Atacama, making use of the tradition of Andean reciprocity. Under this tradition, the Atacameño elite would have been showered with rich gifts and would thereby have been obligated to respond in kind, sending a flow of goods to Tiwanaku that included the minerals they mined in their region. The later shift in ceremonial practices towards the use of fermented beverages would have strengthened ties with other groups. This occurred with the inhabitants of the Azapa valley, for instance, who grew corn and used chicha (fermented corn beverage) as an important element in their ritual practices. Relations between the local Azapa authorities and Tiwanaku are expressed in the kero ceremonial cups that were used for drinking chicha and are often found in the tombs of the Cabuza people of that region.
Thus, the Tiwanaku used different strategies to exert their dominion over different groups in the North of Chile. In Azapa they had a direct influence that impacted local styles, especially textile production and the local ceramic industry. The individuals found buried with four-cornered Tiwanaku hats also seem to demonstrate the presence of Tiwanaku representatives in Azapa. In the Atacama region, in contrast, the Tuwanaku established selective relations with key Atacameño groups. Here, the use of Altiplano-style objects never became common but was limited to certain individuals only. Around 1000 CE, the empire of Tiwanaku collapsed, and beginning in the north of Chile a process of restructuring and political, social and economic resurgence began among local people, which was to be known as the Period of Regional Development.