The Plant Teachers: Trichocereus and Anadenanthera in the Imagery of Tiwanaku's Bennett Monolith Open Access

Gross, Kendyll Sherrie (2014)

Permanent URL:


This thesis analyzes the iconography of the Bennett Monolith, a 24-foot figural stela found at Tiwanaku, the capital city of a vast state in ancient Bolivia. My project specifically focuses on the statue and its incised imagery, which feature two sacred plant motifs that have not been adequately identified and explored to date. The Bennett Monolith figure holds two ritual objects, a drinking kero and a snuff tablet, that were used to ingest psychoactive plant substances: the "San Pedro" cactus (Trichocereus pachanoi) and vilca seeds (Anadenanthera colubrina). Naturalistic and abstracted versions of the cactus and the seed pods occur on the many figures inscribed on the main figure as well. The presence of the ritual objects and sacred plants have caused scholars to mention that the Bennett's imagery is shamanic. Nevertheless, the main discourse focuses on the stela as a socio-political statement primarily agricultural in nature. Analysis of how these complementary sacred plants appear within the monolith is linked to the shamanic visionary experience: according to modern shamans, the cactus induces feelings of flying and peacefulness, while the seeds cause sensations of heaviness and restlessness. The common visionary perception of transforming into animal-selves, specifically the condor and the puma, is also expressed in the Bennett incised figures (part-avian, part-feline humans with wings). By linking the imported plants, the highland animals, the incised transforming shamans and the main shaman figure, I demonstrate that the monument is a spiritual object that the Tiwanaku installed centrally in their capital as a political statement of power in both the terrestrial and otherworldly realms.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Introduction ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 1

Chapter 1: The Bennett Monolith ----------------------------------------------------------------- 19

Chapter 2: The Sacred Animals ---------------------------------------------------------------- 24

Chapter 3: The Sacred Plants -------------------------------------------------------------------- 31

Chapter 4: The Shamanic Figures ---------------------------------------------------------------- 43

Axis Mundi ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 56

Bibliography ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 64

List of Figures ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 69

About this Honors Thesis

Rights statement
  • Permission granted by the author to include this thesis or dissertation in this repository. All rights reserved by the author. Please contact the author for information regarding the reproduction and use of this thesis or dissertation.
  • English
Research Field
Committee Chair / Thesis Advisor
Committee Members
Last modified

Primary PDF

Supplemental Files