Drought and the collapse of the Tiwanaku Civilization: New evidence from Lake Orurillo, Peru

T.E. Arnold, Aubrey L. Hillman, M.B. Abbott, J.P. Werne, S.J. McGrath, E.N. Arkush

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Tiwanaku was a regionally significant, state level polity in the south-central Andes from ca. 500–1000 CE. The development of complex society in the region was greatly facilitated through intensified agricultural systems that relied on monsoonal precipitation. At the end of the first millennium CE, the Tiwanaku political regime collapsed, and their raised field systems were mostly abandoned within 200 years or less. It has been suggested that a prolonged period of aridity contributed to the collapse, but questions have remained about its chronology and severity. In this study, we investigated the relationship between δ 2H wax and δ 18O calcite values, aridity and societal change. A period of nondeposition or erosion occurred between 915 and 1025 CE indicating a low lake stand exposing the core site. This extended and pronounced drought ending 1025 CE was recorded in the isotopic proxies extracted from lake sediments that show this period of aridity persisted into the 13th century. The broad agreement between our record and other regional paleoenvironmental archives of Holocene climate variability is consistent with Northern Hemisphere oceanic and atmospheric circulation patterns as a mechanism for driving centennial scale climate change in the Andes and supports the correspondence between prolonged drought and the collapse of Tiwanaku.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number106693
Number of pages11
JournalQuaternary Science Reviews
StatePublished - Jan 1 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors thank Sam Mark, Pratigya Polissar, Darren Larson, Nick Weidhaas, Roxanna Vaught-Mijares for assistance with sampling and data analysis. This work was supported by the National Science Foundation grant numbers BCS-1522824 to E.N.A., J.P.W., and M.B.A. and BCS-1623368 to E.N.A., J.P.W., M.B.A., and A.L.H.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Elsevier Ltd


  • Altiplano
  • Biomarkers
  • Drought
  • Holocene
  • Isotopes
  • Orurillo
  • Titicaca
  • Tiwanaku collapse

Continental Scientific Drilling Facility tags

  • PAT


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