Anthropology •  Archaeology •  Latin America and Architecture and Historic Preservation

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The Stones of Tiahuanaco: A Study of Architecture and Construction

Jean-Pierre Protzen
Stella Nair

The world’s most artful and skillful stone architecture is found at Tiahuanaco at the southern end of Lake Titicaca in Bolivia. The precision of the stone masonry rivals that of the Incas to the point that writers from Spanish chroniclers of the sixteenth century to twentieth-century authors have claimed that Tiahuanaco not only served as a model for Inca architecture and stone masonry, but that the Incas even imported stonemasons from the Titicaca Basin to construct their buildings. Experiments aimed at replicating the astounding feats of the Tiahuanaco stonecutters—perfectly planar surfaces, perfect exterior and interior right angles, and precision to within 1 mm—throw light on the stonemasons’ skill and knowledge, especially of geometry and mathematics. Detailed analyses of building stones yield insights into the architecture of Tiahuanaco, including its appearance, rules of composition, canons, and production, filling a significant gap in the understanding of Tiahuanaco’s material culture.


Jean-Pierre Protzen, professor emeritus of the department of architecture at the University of California, Berkeley, has written extensively about the architectural and construction practices of the Inca.

Stella Nair, assistant professor in the department of the history of art at the University of California, Los Angeles, has published on Inca architecture, Tiahuanaco construction, and colonial Andean paintings.

Published By The Cotsen Institute of Archaeology Press

8.5 x 11 in. 264 pages 266 figs., 7 tables