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Beyond Stone & Bone

A Chilling Fantasy at Tiwanaku
by Heather Pringle
June 5, 2009


tiahuanacogateegsquier1877Last week, while travelling in Bolivia, I spent two days at one of the New World’s most important archaeological sites, marveling at its massive, sculpted megaliths and shaking my head at the blindness of some of its early investigators.  Tiwanaku, as many of you may know, was once the heart of a large and powerful Andean empire that stretched as far south as northern Argentina and Chile and reached the height of its power some 1500 years ago.   According to some modern archaeologists, Tiwanaku boasted a population as high as 50,000 people, many of whom earned their living by herding llamas and alpacas and tending fields reclaimed from lakes and swamps. 

But what most impressed 19th-century European visitors were the huge carved figurines and the massive stone ruins that sprawled over nearly 1000 acres.  Ignoring the indigenous Aymara people who cultivated fields and herded livestock in the area, many of these travelers concluded that Tiwanaku was the work of foreign invaders.  Francis de Castelnau, for example, proposed in the mid-19th century that Tiwanaku was the work of wandering Egyptian pharaohs, as opposed to the “imbicilic race that inhabits the country today.”

This was not only blatantly wrong, but terribly racist.  Tiwanaku was clearly born from the genius of Andean peoples.  But such racist fantasies often tend to take on lives of their own, evolving in strange and ever more poisonous ways.  This is certainly true of Tiwanaku, as I discovered a few years ago while researching Nazi scientific expeditions of the 1930s for my book, The Master Plan:  Himmler’s Scholars and the Holocaust.    

My research showed that Heinrich Himmler, one of the most powerful men in the Third Reich and the head of the SS, approved and agreed to finance a large scientific expedition to Tiwanaku under the leadership of Edmund Kiss.  Kiss, a German building contractor and novelist, was a fantasist.   He believed that a mythical Aryan master race, based in Atlantis, had planted a daughter colony in Bolivia more than one million years ago.   According to Kiss, these Aryan invaders  first subdued and conquered the local people, then built a great city—Tiwanaku.     

Kiss spent more than a year drawing up bizarre, detailed plans for the expedition:  Himmler approved them.  In 1939, however, the Second World War intervened and the expedition was postponed—forever, as it turned out.   But by then, Kiss had published two novels and one technical book (which Himmler had bound in leather as a Christmas gift for Adolf Hitler) on this crackpot theory.  Moreover,  Nazi magazines presented Kiss’s fantasies as if they were scientifically proven facts.

All of this may sound silly and laughable today, perhaps even harmless.  But I think that it’s important to remember that these ideas were part and parcel of a massive Nazi propaganda machine intended to convince all Germans—and particularly the SS-men who guarded the concentration camps and carried out the Final Solution—that they were members of a master race whose destiny was to conquer, control and ultimately liquidate those of “inferior blood.”

As I walked the great plazas and courtyards of Tiwanaku last week, I felt a deep chill.  It wasn’t the Andean cold that bothered me.  It was the ghost of Edmund Kiss. 


Comments posted here do not represent the views or policies of the Archaeological Institute of America.

7 comments for "A Chilling Fantasy at Tiwanaku"

  • Reply posted by Daniel Molitor (June 6, 2009, 4:17 pm):

    Not so silly or laughable in this day and age. Substitute pretty much any culture or nation-state for the Nazis, and you’ll find among them those who are convinced their way is THE way, their past is glorious and divinely inspired, and their future is more important than anyone else’s.

    BTW, do you know if Edmund Kiss’s work was ever published in English? I’ve seen German editions, but my German’s a bit rusty for such ethereal works.


  • Reply posted by Heather (June 7, 2009, 9:09 am):

    Daniel: I don’t believe that any of Kiss’s novels or other books have ever been translated into English. They are not particularly well-written– quite apart from the bizarre ideas that inform them–and do not seem to have found any kind of audience outside Germany.


  • Reply posted by Graham (December 18, 2009, 3:12 am):

    Hi, Kiss influenced many pseudo-archaeologists after World War II, such as H.S. Bellamy and P. Allen, Zecaria Sitchin, Graham Hancock and Erich von Däniken. They make use of his diagrams and ideas on the Gateway of the Sun. I have not seen his works published in English.


  • Reply posted by Alejandro G (June 6, 2010, 11:31 am):

    dear Mrs Pringle

    Thnak you for this archaelogical trip personal impressions in Tiwuanaku. I am reading your spanish edition and in it the archive work you made concerning Kiss. My side I am studying Kiss biography, from archival and printed documents. I think Kiss was a symptom of this post WWI germany. Kiss,should be put in the context of general Ludendorff secret society ideology realted with the Thule Gesselschaft where he was very active.I think one of his early novels “Der Weg aus der Nacht” (The way through the night) is a kind of autobiography for the WWI period and introduce his frustrated relationships with women (he was finately single and lived dreaming for a second great southamerican expedition with his mother in Kassel as you may know. He succeded convincing Himmler for an Ahnenerbe support, maybe through his book on Tiwanaku from 1937. Some of Kiss novels like the atlantis tetralogy get some interest today and traductions are regularly printed and get so some renewal in te context of NS myths in south american neonazism context.

    kindly regards


  • Reply posted by Mallku Huyustus (October 31, 2011, 3:22 pm):

    You are doing a very good work; it is very important for us to know about some people who are trying to see more dimensions in their points of view.
    I didn’t read your book, I’ll try to find it in spanish edition. I hope to find in the real influence of Arthur Posnansky in all those who were his followers from the early twentieth century.


  • Reply posted by Mallku Huyustus (October 31, 2011, 3:25 pm):

    Please let me take your article (with the references) to the Tiwanaku Page in Facebook.

    Thank you very much.


  • Reply posted by Francisco (June 2, 2012, 6:33 am):

    I live in La Paz-Bolivia, 3 hours from Tiwanaku, place where I go several times in a month, the Germans were right, because we found 4 years ago what They were looking, an “ancient instrument”


About Our Blogger:

Heather Pringle is a freelance science journalist who has been writing about archaeology for more than 20 years. She is the author of Master Plan: Himmler's Scholars and the Holocaust and The Mummy Congress: Science, Obsession, and the Everlasting Dead. For more about Heather, see our interview or visit

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