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DELAERE Christophe

Photo de profil Christophe Delaere           

Post-doctorant (FNRS)

CReA-PATRIMOINE - Centre de Recherches en Archéologie et Patrimoine
Université libre de Bruxelles • CP 133/01, avenue F.D. Roosevelt, 50, B-1050 Bruxelles
+32 (0) 498 29 47 25

Underwater Archeology in Andean Lakes

The Andes mountain range or Cordillera stretches along thousands of kilometers in western South America and is characterized by a diversity of ecological areas between the Pacific Ocean coastline and the highest peaks of the mountain range and by the presence of hundreds of lakes and lagunas of tectonic, volcanic, or glacial origin. From an Andean archaeology perspective, the socio-ecosystems of Andean lakes represent unique case studies because natural resources (e.g., aquatic plants, avifauna, etc.), access to water (e.g., for pastoralism), or ritual issues (e.g., the Andean concepts of paqarina or wak’a) have favored various human activities or long-term occupations inside a semi-arid area.

While Andean archaeology has been developing for over a century, underwater archaeology and underwater cultural heritage are still undeveloped fields of research in South America. Considerable efforts have been made over the last three decades, not only in the Andes, but also throughout Latin America. Our recent archaeological results, especially findings from Lake Titicaca, now highlight the presence of an abundant material culture. During the last decade, the ULB-led project carried out 152 restricted test pits for a total surface area of 507 m2 excavated between 2012 and 2022. Over this area, compared with the 5,600 km2 of Lake Titicaca, exceptional and unexpected results were achieved thanks to predictive models with the discovery of more than 21,000 artifacts (objects and fragments) and ecofacts (bones, organic elements, etc.). The archaeological surveys of 40 sections along more than 300 km of the continental and insular coastline of the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca Bolivian side of the lake was accomplished during the course of nive fieldwork campaigns. At least 30 underwater archaeological sites were identified, which constitutes the first inventory of underwater archaeological sites of Lake Titicaca (Fig. 1). With the exception of offering sites [intentionally submerged] and shipwrecks [accidentally submerged], all the cultural material observed and studied belongs to submerged cultural landscapes [artifacts and remains naturally submerged due to lake level changes].

My current project (2024-2028) aims at examining the Holocene submerged cultural landscapes of two of the largest lakes in the Andes - Titicaca and Poopó - and elucidate the territorial impact of lacustrine fluctuations on settlement dynamics through a diachronic human-environment interactions perspective. Extending our study to the Poopó socio-ecosystem will enable us to balance two culturally distinct regions interconnected by the Désaguadero river, the unique outflow of Lake Titicaca and the main tributary of Lake Poopó. While the quantitative reconstruction of lake elevation has been the focus of sedimentology, diatoms, and geochemistry studies for decades, particularly through sediment cores, submerged archaeological contexts remain largely unexplored from the perspective of cultural anthropology, especially in South America. Centered around data acquired from underwater archaeological operations and future samples, my project specifically focuses on the development of cultural and environmental scenarios within the Titicaca-Poopó system. This region holds unprecedented importance due to the extraordinary archives of natural and cultural remains preserved anaerobically. Alongside climate models, we argue that it is essential to conduct reconstructions considering (pre)historical water levels to reassess in balance both the natural and cultural conditions that have contributed to the evolution and diversification of distinct Andean societies.


Figure 1: (A) Location of Lake Titicaca (16°S, 69°W) in the tropical Andes. (B) General map of Lake Titicaca with the location of the archaeological sites surveyed since 1950 (black circles), the underwater archaeological sites surveyed between 2012 and 2022 (red circles), and the sediment cores sampled between 2014 and 2017 (dark orange circles). The coastline is defined as the average modern lake-level (3810 masl). (C) Location of five pre-Hispanic ports discovered between Copacabana peninsula and the Islands of the Sun and the Moon. (D) pre-Hispanic navigation artefacts (anchor and ballast stones) discovered underwater at Puncu (PU). (E) Remains of tools belonging to a Tiwanaku stonecutter's workshop discovered underwater in Ok’e Supu (OKE). (F) Remains of a pre-Tiwanaku tomb discovered underwater at Puncu (PU). Photo credit images D to F: T. Seguin.


  • Elkin, D. and Delaere, C. (2023). Underwater and Coastal Archaeology in Latin America. Gainesville: University Press of Florida; 978-0-8130-6982-1.
  • Guédron, S., Delaere, C., Fritz, S. C., Tolu, J., Sabatier, P., Devel, A. L., Heredia C., Vérin C., Alves E. Q. and Baker, P. A. (2023). Holocene variations in Lake Titicaca water level and their implications for sociopolitical developments in the central Andes. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 120 (2), e2215882120. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2215882120
  • Delaere, C. and Guédron, S. (2022). The altitude of the depths: use of inland water archaeology for the reconstruction of inundated cultural landscapes in Lake Titicaca. World Archaeology 54 (1): 67-83. https://doi.org/10.1080/00438243.2022.2077827
  • Delaere, C. and J.M. Capriles (2020) The context and meaning of an intact Inca underwater offering from Lake Titicaca. Antiquity 94 (376): 1030-1041 https://doi.org/10.15184/aqy.2020.121
  • Delaere, C., J.M. Capriles and C. Stanish (2019). Underwater ritual offerings in the Island of the Sun and the formation of the Tiwanaku State. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 116 (17): 8233-8238. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1820749116

Site web : https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Christophe-Delaere

Liste des publications encodées dans DI-Fusion (dépôt institutionnel de l’ULB)