The eternal guardians on the cliff

The scenery of the Chachapoyas region is just breathtaking. It is full of mountains which are covered by a dense tropical forest. Dozens of rivers have carved steep cliffs and large clefts among the mountains as well as endless deep dry canyons. Certainly, it would not have been easy to live in this harsh environment. Even today, it is difficult to reach towns in this area as there are only rough unpaved roads. However, the Chachapoyas people (700 to 1500 AD) managed to conquer this land.

“This is surely a region which overwhelms even Machu Picchu in grandeur and mystery”.
The Cloud People, an Anthropological Survey by Morgan Davis.

The most remarkable feature of this culture was the relationship between the surrounding landscape and the deceased. On the narrow clefts on the mountains, the Chachapoyas people built inaccessible tombs as they believed all their ancestors would become beings of worship in the height of the hills.

In the cliff face of steep mountains, they built sarcophagi as well as mausoleums (see next post). A sarcophagus is known as purun-machu by the local people nowadays, and this word is translated as wild man. Federico Kauffmann Doig, a Peruvian archaeologist who has studied these tombs thoroughly lately, states that most of the sarcophagi were arranged in groups of 4 to 10. In quite a few cases, there is just one sarcophagus. They were made in situ using the clay of the very mountain. To build the walls, they mixed together clay, straw (the ichu), sticks, and stones.

There was only one body in each sarcophagus placed in fetal position. The body was first wrapped in woolen cloth and then in animal skin. As they believed in life after death, they put around the corpse his personal belongings such as weaving tools, ceramic vessels, and pumpkins.

Most of the sarcophagi had a fake head on top. The face had peculiar features such as a big nose, a prominent chin, mouth and eyes. Some of them had a skull  on top. The Chachapoyas people painted the face and body of the sarcophagi, and these paintings and drawings evoke cloth and male sexual organs. The sarcophagi still look impressive as their maximum height is 2.5 meters. It is still a mystery how these people managed to build these tombs on the very cliffs of the mountains. Archaeologists needed the help of climbers to study these sites.

The Chachapoyas people also built mausoleums on the mountains (see next post).

Related posts:

The peaceful life

Chachapoyas landscapes

The cloud forest

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About Peru En RoUte

Natural-born backpack traveller around Peru
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