No particular reason for writing about this trip to Peru some twelve years ago, other than it’s taken me that long to do so.
This was about all that remained of a village built by an ancient Peruvian culture known as the Chachapoya, when I traveled there in 1999. Ranchers had uncovered the village in 1997 when clearing the forest for cattle, “huaqueros” subsequently raided the nearby burial tombs searching for valuable pottery and gold.
The main “chullpas”, or burial tombs, are perched in cliffs high above a lake, across from the village. The overhanging cliffs and high altitude (10,000 ft.) helped preserve the burial tombs and their contents. It’s impossible to say exactly what the “huaqueros” made off with, but we know what they left behind. Over two hundred of the most well preserved mummies ever found.
Not to fret, pictured here is a replica mummy.
The mummies had been removed by a previous expedition and were stored, safely awaiting the completion of the Museo Leymebamba for display.
It was a bit difficult to get good pictures of the burial tombs. Perched high on the cliff, I kept wanting to step away to get a better view. But when you see how we got there, you understand why we stayed close to the cliff face.
The trail started out along the lake edge innocently enough, but then quickly turned up the cliff, a gentle rain ensuring no surface was dry.
This set of burial tombs is comprised of seven structures. Familiar with Anasazi ruins back in the States, I was immediately struck by the similarities of both the construction techniques and the wall paintings.
On another day we were fortunate to visit a smaller, but undisturbed burial tomb deep in the jungle. While this site had been spared a visit by huaqueros, piles of animal bones and hairy scat suggest that large cats have been using the site as shelter, which adds to the excitement of jungle exploration.
It seems appropriate that one of the undisturbed pieces of pottery we saw at that site was that of a large feline. This small vessel has been still for so long there appears to be lichen growing on it.
Founder of the Museo Leymebamba, Adriana von Hagen, gave us a tour of the partially completed museum. In the photo above, the use of stone and rammed earth walls showcase the regional building techniques and masonry styles of the Chachapoya.
The diamond-shaped stone inlay in this picture is a typical masonry detail of the Chachapoya, who thrived in the region for some seven centuries before they clashed violently the Incas and fell to the empire.