Chachapoyas Culture of Peru

by / Martes, 28 Junio 2016 / Published in Travel

Chachapoyas Culture of Peru

The Chachapoyas culture of Peru was a pre-Inca culture that developed in the current Peruvian department of Amazonas
It has left an important number of large stone monuments, as llacta Kuelap, Grand Pajatén, funerary buildings, tombs and mausoleums such as the Lake of the Condors and other hard to reach places.

The historian Pedro Cieza de Leon (1553) offers a number of colourful details in his description of the Chachapoyas. He describes them as “the whitest and most handsome of all the peoples I have seen in the indie through which I have travelled, and their women were so beautiful that many of them were chosen by the Incas and taken to the temples of the sum (…)”. He goes on to say that “they and their husbands dressed in woolen clothing and wore llautos on their heads, by which they were recognized wherever they went”. In terms of the structure of their society, the Chachapoyas were basically divided into two strata: the ruling class and their subjects. Their colossal public works, such as kuélap, are indisputable testaments to this social model, without which they simply would never have existed. Whether we like it or their rigid class structure.

In terms of the role played in society by each class, we can state categorically that among the Chachapoyas those who formed the ruling class assumed the primary responsibility of safeguarding food production surplus was considered indispensable in order to confront the years when crops failed – a recurring problem due to the El Niño phenomenon.

The author has dedicated careful study to efforts to establish the origin of the Chachapoyas culture. Although there is evidence of human settlement in the region they occupied going back some 8000 years before their emergence, the Chachapoyas culture itself began to develop from around the second half of the first millennium after Christ. Such a hypothesis assumes that the people who occupied what would become the territory of the Chachapoyas moved there from the Andes. This theory is based on the fact that elements of the Chachapoyas culture are of Andean rather than Amazonian origin, although of course their new environment, so different from the highlands, meant that new modes of behaviour emerged, such as the pattern represented by the funerary statues that remain to this day, and analysis of which indicates that they were inspired by Tiahuanaco-Huari funerary bundles (Middle Horizon period).
We will describe later some of the Chachapoyas archaeological sites of particular interest scattered all over the present-day departments of Amazonas and San Martin.


Kuelap - The Chachapoyas Culture of Peru

Kuelap – The Chachapoyas Culture of Peru

Located on the left bank of the Utcubamba River in the department of Amazonas, Kuelap is the name of an archaeological site remarkable for the enormous scale of its architecture. The construction dates from approximately 1000 AD, when the Chachapoyas culture was flourishing.

Through his studies of kuelap in the context of pre-Hispanic architecture, the author has concluded that the site was not a fortress, but rather a great administration Centre for the production of foodstuffs and the performance of the rites the inhabitants believed essential to that production.

This representative example of Chachapoyas architecture remained unknown to the outside world until 1843, when Juan Crisostomo Nieto was guided to the site locals who had always known of the existence of the magnificent ruins. Subsequently, kuelap would draw the attention of a few scholars and other visitors interested in antiquities, the most notable of whom were Adolf Bandelier, Louis Langlois and Henry Reichlen.
The ruins of kuelap are situated on the summit of a hill at the following geographical coordinates: 6º 24´ 26” and 77º 54´ 16”, according to the engineer Herman Corbera.

Kuelap is monumental in character. The site comprises a great platform, running from south to north and set on a crest of calcareous rock. The platform is almost six hundred meters long and is sustained by an up to nineteen meters-high wall.

Access to the first platform was only possible via two doorways, both of them located in the western, or main, façade; a third door, located the one side of a west-facing, cliff, would have been an “exit” to the cliff, rather an entrance; its location suggests it led to an area used for offerings and sacrifices.
The best-preserved, and probably the principal doorway, is located on the south side of the west-facing façade. The base of this doorway is three metres wide and its jambs taper to the entrance´s full height of ten metres. To facilitate access to the platform already mentioned, this doorway cuts through the platform, leaving a wedge-shaped hole: perhaps this structure was meant to symbolize the vagina of the Earth Goddess.

Kuelap - The Chachapoyas Culture of Peru

Kuelap – The Chachapoyas Culture of Peru

Upon entering, the visitor is led along a passageway in the form of a ramp flanked by high walls and resembling an alleyway. This space becomes narrower along its twenty-metre length until it is finally just wide enough to allow one person to pass at a time, like a narrow tunnel. Although the jambs almost touch at their highest part, the sidewalls of the passageway produce an “alleyway”, roofless, with the walls inclined inwards.

Clearly, kuelap existed before the rise of the inca state. Given its monumental character, it doubtless performed an important role in the history of the Chachapoyas culture. In fact, kuelap´s architecture is, in general terms, the same as that found throughout the territory occupied by the Chachapoyas culture. What has not been established to date is in what moment of the long process of the development of the Chachapoyas culture, which may have begun as early as the 8th century, kuelap was constructed. Nor do we know for how long Kuelap flourished or when and why it was abandoned.

There are other aspects of kuelap which have not been clarified: the effort needed for the construction of a site as enormous as kuelap and the skill of the engineers who were able to provide it with a sophisticated drainage system. Today, because the ducts are blocked, the site shows signs of wear. The great platform has swollen and the stone of the walls that surround it are working loose. The great majority of the buildings would have been food stone.
No completely satisfactory explanation of kuelap´s function has yet been proposed. The site popularly described as a “fortress”, due to its location and the height of the walls that support the main platform. Adolf Bandelier, and particularly Louis Langlois, tried to demonstrate that kuelap, rather than just a fortress, was actually a fortified place designed as a refuge for the local population in case of emergency. They drew an analogy between the function of kuelap and that of the fortified towns of medieval Europe.

By taking into account the function of monumental architecture in the Peruvian past in general – which was related to the socio – economic necessities of the time – it can be concluded that Kuelap was basically a pre – Inca sanctuary where the powerful aristocracy resided, carrying out the primary mission of managing food production and overseeing the magical practices designed to ensure the cooperation of the supernatural powers that governed atmospheric phenomena, and which, when not correctly honoured, could bring excessive rains or drought to bear that threatened human existence.


The Sarcophagi of karajia -  Chachapoyas

The Sarcophagi of karajia – Chachapoyas

Although the Chachapoyas custom of using sarcophagi (coffins that followed the human form) to bury their dead was first mentioned as early as 1791 (in the Mercurio Peruano), and interested Louis Langlois(1939) and the archaeologists Henry and Paule Reichlen (1950), this funerary practice was subsequently practically forgotten. In 1985, an expedition led by Federico Kauffmann Doig managed to located, at karajia, the most important group of sarcophagi discovered to date and preserved intact. We reached the site though information provided by Carlos Torres Mas.

The sarcophagi of Karajia -1 are unique in terms of their colossal size – they are up to 2.50m high – and also their careful design.

Thanks to the assistance of members of the Peruvian Andean Club, the archaeologists were able to scale the 24m vertical rock wall and access the cave where the sarcophagi had been placed, some 200m above the bottom of the ravine. Karajia-1 comprises seven sarcophagi. The eighth was demolished at some time – probably during the earthquake of 1928 – and collapsed into the abyss. Because the sarcophagi were joined side by side, the collapse of the eighth structure opened holes in the sides of its neighbours. This event permitted the study of the contents of these tombs and conclusions to be drawn regarding the content of the other sarcophagi without the need to violate them in any way. Inside the opened sarcophagi a mummy was found, seated on an animal hide and wrapped in funerary garments. Pottery objects and several offerings accompanied the deceased. Radiocarbon dating of the organic remains produced the date of 1460 AD +60. Rodents and scavenging birds had disturbed the tomb. Sarcophagus 1 was empty because the mummy and its offering had been devoured and dragged from the chamber. The sarcophagi are shaped like large anthropomorphic capsules, and were modelled from clay mixed with twigs and stones. Only the head and part of the chest are solid. Both the head and the body are decorated with two- toned red pain applied over a white base.

We believe that these sarcophagi are evocative of the type of funerary bundle typical to the coast and highlands during the Tiahuanaco-Huari period. In both cases, the shape of the human trunk, without representing the extremities. It should be pointed out that the heads of the sarcophagi are sculptural, and that the faces are the result o clay copies of funeral masks originally made from wood cut in a half-moon shape to represent the jaw.
Other groups of sarcophagi, such as those of Tingorbamba and Chipuric located nearby, have been well documented by the expeditions led by the author.


The Gran Pajaten - The Cultura of Chachapoyas

The Gran Pajaten – The Cultura of Chachapoyas

The ruins of Gran Pajaten were discovered in 1963 a group of villagers from pataz who ventured into the surrounding Amazonian Andean region.

Ostensibly, they were in search of land and pasture, but it is believed they actually crossed the high plains and travelled down into the forested eastern slopes of the Andes is search of a “lost city” and its gold, hidden in the thick tropical foliage.

What is certain is that this was no mere legend, for the group did in fact come across architectural remains in an area popularly believed to have been the location of a lost city. However, the walls were not made of gold or silver as they had hoped. Nevertheless, the find was a sensational one, given the singular nature and majesty of the architectural complex they discovered.

Gran Pajaten is situated on a tributary of the Abiseo river basin, at 2.850 metres above sea level, in the province of Mariscal Caceres (San Martin). It was not located, as had first been thought, on the Pajaten River. The Abiseo River, a tributary of the Huallaga, was once known as the Apisuncho and also the Unamizo.

The ruins of Gran Pajaten comprise some twenty circular chambers which, given their architectural design , must have belonged to the Chachapoyas culture, which emerged near the 8th century and was incorporated into the Inca state around 1470 AD. According to the author´s hypothesis, the culture grew from migrations from the highlands to the Amazonian Andes, centuries before the rise of the Inca state, of groups in search of agricultural land, due to the fact that in Peru land suitable for cultivation is limited and increasing population levels meant solutions had to be found.

The constructions at Gran Pajaten are towers typical of Chahcapoyas architecture. The walls exhibit decorative elements. These are remarkable in that they ingeniously present the desired motifs with blocks that are part of the walls themselves. The only anatomical motif represented sculpturally is the head.

The most spectacular iconographic motifs are those found at chambers 1 and 5. These are female anthropomorphic figures, which appear seated, with their knees apart is if they were about to give birth. Their abdomens are swollen like those of pregnant women. The author has classified these human figures as anthropomorphic representations of Pachamama, the Earth Goddess. Usually, Pachamama was not represented in human form in ancient Peru, but rather with a stepped symbol alluding to agricultural terracing.

The figure of Pachamama at Gran Pajaten is shown in a row, one next to another. The position of their arms suggests wings, as if they were capable of flight.

The figure are posed nude, but they wear enormous headdresses of two types: while one seems to represent a feathered headdress, the other is shaped like the wings of a bird about to take flight. The author noticed a similarity between these designs and others representing birdlike figure with outspread wings in chamber 2 of Gran Pajaten.

The ruin of Gran Pajaten have been the subject of archaeological research on four occasions: the first was in 1965, by an expedition led by Victor Pimentel and Pedro Rojas Ponce; the second, in 1966, included the archaeologist Duccio Bonavia and provided a detailed description of the site; the third was led by Federico Kauffaman Doig on trips made in 1980, 1982 and 1986, and concentrated on the series of mausoleums near Gran Pajaten, knows as Los Pinchudos; the fourth research project was organized by the university of Boulder, Colorado, and it discovered a new complex in the vicinity, now known as Cerro Central, as well as evidence of human occupation prior to the Chachapoyas, according to Tom Lennon and , more particularly, Warren Church


the pinchudos of ChachapoyasWhen in 1980 we travelled through the area of Gran Pajaten, in the River Abiseo Park, we came across mausoleums on the outside walls of which were hung anthropomorphic woodcarving.

These remains were already knows to our guide, Manuelasho, who had visited the site in 1976.they had also been referred to by the archeologists Jaime Deza Rivasplata and ,earlied, Duccio Bonavia , who made references to rumours which had reached the ears of Victor Pimentel Gurmendi. However, they were not lucky enough to be able to sisit this archeological marvel. After our first reconnaissance, In 1980, we returned three times to Los Pinchudos and made the first studies of the site.

The anthropomorphic woodcarvings were intact and in their original location, except for one, which shortly before our arrival had been cut from its place with a machete.

The Los Pinchudos mausoleums are situated at 2,800 metres above sea level in dense forest. They are protected by a cave cut from the side of a ravine. The microclimate in the cave has meant that the wood has not been adversely affected by the humid environment of the forest. Other factors have also contributed to their good state of preservation, such as the hardwood used by their creators and the fact that they were originally covered with a fine layer of clay and possibly painted in the manner of Chimu idols.

Seven mausoleums form the los Pinchudos site. Their walls were built from slabs of slate. The internal walls are decorated with motifs formed by projecting stone. The walls were also covered with coloured clay of varying tones. These iconographic elements are similar to those found a Gran Pajaten and permit us to speculate that its walls were also originally painted.

The decorative motifs are in the form of frizzes, and we were able to distinguish the symbol of water, which common in Andean iconographic.

The funerary bundles placed in these mausoleums were looted long ago. The majority of the fragments of pottery found at the site are in the style of Cuzco ceramics, which would seem to indicate that Inca expansionism reached as far as the area of Gran Pajaten. But the mausoleum of Los Pinchudos de Chachapoyas manufacture, and were probably still being used during the Inca period for the burial of Inca Administrator.


The Lake of The Mumies - Chachapoyas

The Lake of The Mumies – Chachapoyas

In the middle of the cloak of thick tropical vegetation that covers the rolling slopes of the Amazonian Andes, where humankind never established itself, workers from the Ullilen ranch in Leimebamba, in the department of Amazonas saw by chance, at the beginning of 1997, a group of pre- Inca mausoleums. Little did they know that these important funerary constructions jealously guarded in their interior a true archaeological miracle.

On learning of the existence of that forgotten necropolis, thanks to the diffusion of the new by the journalist Alvaro Rocha, we immediately began to organize an expedition.

It was in May 1997 that the first expedition including professional archeologists, after the inspection by staff from the city of Chachapoyas office of the National institute of culture, left for that remote site. The expeditions was led by the author and supported by the Peruvian government through PROMPERU.

From Leimebamba to the site of the mausoleums is some fifteen hours, the first half of which can be made by mule. From there, the route becomes more difficult, with dangerous swamps and the thick tropical vegetation of uninhabited virgin forest which it is only possible to travel through on foot.

Surrounded by a sepulchral silence, the mausoleums occupy a natural cave difficult to access, in the wall of a cliff that rises from a lake unnamed on geographical maps of the region but now popularly known as the Lake of the mummies. The tombs themselves resemble dwelling, and were built by the ancient Chachapoyas to inter their deceased nobles.

The mausoleums of the lake of the Mummies were filled with a total of approximately two hundred funerary bundles. Only a small number had been removed by the looting when they found none of the gold they had hoped for. This virtually undisturbed site was therefore an authentic archaeological miracle.

The recommendations made in writing to the National Institute of Culture by the author that only a few of the mummies be removed from the mausoleums for study and the rest be left in their original positions, were ignored. The funerary bundles were all taken from their mausoleums and transferred by mule to Liemebamba, were they are now housed in the local site museum.

The funerary bundle consists of a mummy is a seated position, wrapped in textiles both plain and decorated. The process of mummification would have involved sophisticated techniques, judging by the excellent results obtained in such a humid climate.

The mausoleums housed the remains of members of the Chachapoyas culture´s highest-ranking members and, in some cases, of their prematurely deceased offspring. During the Inca´s dominion of the region, Cuzco-born functionaries who had lived in Cochabamba, a day´s journey from the lake of the Mummies, were also interred at the site in keeping with Chachapoyas traditions. The funerary chambers of the mausoleums have three walls, with the fourth side formed by the cliff face. They are some six metres high and are two-storey. In each chamber were piled, on a kind of dais, some thirty funerary bundles.

Six mausoleums form Group 1 of the Lake of the Mommies. Built with joined masonry, the exterior walls were covered with a while clay paste which was then painted in some parts with red bands.

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