Andean Centre of Underwater Archaeology – ACUA

Introduction to the Titicaca Project

Proyecto Huiñaimarca (PH13)

Underwater excavation of the smaller sub-basin of Lake Titicaca, Bolivia.

Historical Background

Archaeological site of Tiwanaku (A.D. 500-1050)

One of the major ceremonial centres of South America, located at the junction between Bolivia and Peru, is the well-known Tiwanaku site. Since 2007, this archaeological structure has been studied by scholars from the Université Libre de Bruxelles and they have promptly revealed that there was a strong relationship between developmental, zenithal, and collapsing periods of the ceremonial /residential terrestrial zones and climatic variations accompanied by level fluctuations of Lake Titicaca (situated 12 kms away from Tiwanaku). A particular interest in the lake has rapidly arisen among the scientific community because data from limnology and sedimentology could be key features in the comprehension of the coastal occupation. Indeed, a global understanding of the culture which was living in this area necessarily includes a good understanding of the underwater heritage present into the lake.


Lake Titicaca is a high altitude lake, culminating at 3812 m (12500 ft), which physically marks, in the Andean cordillera, the border between the Bolivian high plateau and the fertile Peruvian valleys. The archaeological remains present in this area seem to confirm that during each period of occupation, from the Formative period (≤500 PCN) to the Colonial period (1550-1825), an intense commercial and religious activity was common between the coastal and the more insular sites of the region.

Scientific preceding


Divers at the Isle of the Sun (Bolivia)

The idea of trying to explore and use the underwater heritage of this zone in order to explain the development of the local civilization, which has left tremendous cultural examples such as a splendid channeling system, is not innovative. Indeed, 15 underwater explorations of the lake were made between 1966 and 2003. However, none of them were aimed at understanding the exact Precolumbian management of the nautical environment in all of its aspects. In this regard, it appears that the comprehension of all the characteristics of Lake Titicaca is 30 years behind analyses made on similar sites in the Mediterranean region.

Proyecto Huiñaimarca

After reading a large part of all the previous scientific publications that have written about Lake Titicaca, it is clear that the main concern has often been its sacred aspect for past and present local communities. This project is definitely more centred on the local socio-economical role of the lake with a particular focus on the environmental context through the underwater, insular, and coastal archaeological material.

The Proyecto Huinaimarca (PH13) is an underwater archaeological project organized on a 3-year period and is the result of the fruitful collaboration between the ACUA instiution itself and the Université Libre de Bruxelles, and the Bolivian Ministry of Cultural Affairs. This underwater archaeological excavation project of the smaller sub-basin of Lake Titicaca (Bolivia) is the first of its kind in South America.

terrasse agricole

Immerse agricultural platform from the Tiwanaku or Inca culture

Thanks to preliminary explorations in April 2012 (Geophysical explorations) and in February 2013 (In situ explorations), 6 immerse archaeological sites were located in the smaller sub-basin of the lake and identified as potentially promising.

They exhibit strong evidence of artifacts and built structures linked to domestic and ceremonial functions which confirm the ULB hypothesis, that is the potential presence of coastal sites that were immerged during historical periods of water level fluctuation.

The main objective of the 2013 campaign can be articulated around 4 major axes:

  1. Refine the water level fluctuation model through identification and excavation of the former underwater stratigraphic layers related to each period of occupation (Formative, Tiwanaku, Inca, and Colonial).
  2. Identify the exact nature and extent of the Precolumbian occupation of the immerse zones.
  3. Quantify the amount of underwater archaeological material in order to study it, but also to enhance its value and to protect it.
  4. Analyse the state of preservation of the archaeological remains.

Prospects and Discoveries

  • As aforementioned, in February 2013, 6 immerse archaeological sites were located. These remarkable spots can be described as:
  • A multi floor platform from the Formative period (1st millennium ACN)
  • A 4m wide channeling made of stones from the Tiwanaku period (A.D. 500-1050)
  • A paleo-island “immerged” around 1947 presenting remains of domestic structures from the Tiwanaku period
  • Several agricultural platforms from the Tiwanaku or Inca era and dumps containing ceramics.

2013 investigations will be focused on these specific zones.