Skip to comments.Pre-Inca Ruins Emerrging From Peru's Cloud Forests (Chapapoyas)
Posted on 09/23/2004 8:09:38 PM PDT by blam
Pre-Inca Ruins Emerging From Peru's Cloud Forests
for National Geographic News
September 16, 2004
On the eastern slope of the Andes mountains in northern Peru, forests cloak the ruins of a pre-Inca civilization, the size and scope of which explorers and archaeologists are only now beginning to understand. Known as the Chachapoya, the civilization covered an estimated 25,000 square miles (65,000 square kilometers). The Chachapoya, distinguished by fair skin and great height, lived primarily on ridges and mountaintops in circular stone houses.
Sean Savoy, leader of the Gran Saposoa-El Dorado IV Expedition (July-August 2004), points out a stone cross in bas relief at the main plaza of the "Las Cruces" citadel at Gran Saposoa in the Andes mountains of northern Peru. The site, originally uncovered in September 1999 and excavated in 2001, was further explored and cleared this year. The latest expedition estimates at least 200 structures at the Las Cruces citadel, one among a half dozen main citadels at Gran Saposoa.
"The cohesiveness of the nation is still not scientifically proved, but it was definitely a civilization that covered a large area," said Sean Savoy, vice president of operations for the Reno, Nevada-based Andean Explorers Foundation and Ocean Sailing Club.
The organization was founded in Trujillo, Peru, in 1957 by Savoy's father Gene Savoy. It has brought widespread attention to the Chachapoya, beginning with Gene Savoy's discovery in 1965 of Gran Pajaten, a ceremonial center atop a jungle-covered peak.
In addition to Gran Pajaten, the organization claims responsibility for recovering and exploring more than 40 Chachapoya ruins, including the Twelve Cities of the Condors in 1967, Gran Vilaya in 1985, and Gran Saposoa in 1999.
Chachapoya architecture is distinguished by circular buildings of stone and cliffside tombs for mummified dead.
While the Chachapoya were skilled masons, Savoy said their stonework was not as fine as that of the Inca, which is renowned for its precision craftsmanship. "What's very interesting is the size of the [Chachapoya] cities themselves. They are megalithic [very large prehistoric stone structures]," he said.
Explorers and archaeologists are venturing deeper into the cloud forests, so called because of their relatively high altitude and persistent mists. And they continue to find more ruins hidden beneath the trees, bromeliads, and orchids.
In August Sean Savoy led a return expedition to Gran Saposoa that uncovered an additional five hilltop citadels at the sprawling metropolis. "Gran Saposoa was even more inhabited, even more built up, than we had originally thought," he said.
Some of the newly discovered ruins date to the seventh century, making them the oldest Chachapoya ruins yet known.
The ancient metropolis is located about 335 miles (540 kilometers) north of Lima and several days' walk from the nearest road. It is thought to cover more than 25 square miles (65 square kilometers). Preliminary estimates put the population at about 10,000 people.
To date, the Andean Explorers Foundation and Ocean Sailing Club has registered with Peru's National Institute of Culture about 30 sites at Gran Saposoa, the sites include several mountaintop citadels with hundreds of circular stone houses, cliffside tombs, agricultural terraces, and stone watchtowers.
In addition to the Chachapoya ruins, the explorers uncovered an Inca settlement within the Gran Saposoa complex, a find that could help prove theories that the two civilizations intermingled prior to the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in the late 15th century.
"As far as the historical record goes, the Chachapoya were never really conquered. The Inca were more like Romans: an empire based on many cultures they incorporated into their own," Savoy said.
The discovery of yet more citadels at Gran Saposoa is helping this region of northern Peru steal some of the tourist trade from the Inca strongholds in southern Peru, such as the citadel of Cusco and the spiritual retreat of Machu Picchu.
By some estimates, 99 percent of the tourists who visit Peru each year go only to the southern cities. But tourism operators in little-visited northern Peru say uncrowded ruins await travelers seeking adventure and exploration.
"This zone has more ruins than anywhere else," said Charles Motley. With his wife Tina, Motley operates a lodging and guide service to the accessible Chachapoya ruins of Kuelap and Gran Vilaya in Amazonas state.
Today the tourist traffic to the region is a growing trickle. The Motleys said approximately 50 high-end tourists per year sign up for their packaged tours. About 300 budget travelers, mostly backpackers, stay at the Motleys' lodges and take day trips to the ruins.
Savoy said that though he applauds the Motleys' outfit, he is concerned that tourism in the region lacks coordination and cooperation between operators and the local, regional, and national governments. "Are they preserving the ruins? Are they working to make a protected zone? Or are tourists going there with no regard for the ruins?" he said.
The ruins at Kuelap and Gran Vilaya are open to anyone and unregulated. Other sites such as Gran Pajaten and Gran Saposoa are difficult to reach and officially closed to tourism, but they do attract the occasional foreign visitor and are constantly scoured by looters.
None of the sites have been formally preserved and restored, and only Gran Pajaten enjoys official protectionit lies within the Rio Abiseo National Park.
The Motleys' outfit, known as Los Tambos Chachapoyanos, is working with Peru's ministry of tourism to have a positive impact on the villages surrounding Kuelap and Gran Vilaya.
Income from the lodges, which the couple donated to the local villages, goes toward improving the local infrastructure and preserving the ruins. The couple hires local guides to conduct tours.
Other lodges are beginning to sprout up in the region, mostly catering to budget travelers. While Savoy worries that the growing interest will lead to exploitation, Motley is optimistic that the increased tourism will be a boon to the region.
"Hopefully, as the zone gets more popularprobably starting with the backpackersthen the herd-mentality instinct will kick in. I think that tourism is more likely to save the zone than ruin it," Motley said.
They were the exiled members of King Solomon's miners.
"Andean Explorers Foundation and Ocean Sailing Club." It does have an Indiana Jones sort of ring to it.
Excellent find this sort of stuff is very cool
Thanks for posting this
Were they known to be tall??
My son went there last year and still has a stomach bug he suspects he got there.
Thank you for the post.
This is really awesome. I used to study archaeology.
Now, however, after being tainted by the experience of living in San Francisco, I'd love to do the following:
Visit there, late at night, and bury a few "crystal wands" and other "new age" items.
I can just see it: Hippies from around the world, gathering there to see the "proof" that ancient, utopian, cultures were visited by Atlantean aliens and worshipped crystals for their "powers". Maybe I'd bury a few small pyramids as well.
That would be so much fun for a good laugh, don't you think? :)
Yup. I lived in that area during the hippie period.
Please FREEPMAIL me if you want on, off, or alter the "Gods, Graves, Glyphs" PING list --
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I marvel at the amount of time and money we spend studying long dead savage societies having no bearing on modern life. Egyptian, Greek ... ok. they have relevance. S. American, African, Eskimo? Waste of time and resources.
Those that ARE interested should fund the studies with their own money. Not tax payers. If they come up with something grand perhaps they can sell it for a profit.
How do they know the people were fair skinned and tall? I wonder if they were blue-eyed, too? Could they be kin to the "white tribe" of the Amazon?
Like you, I was wondering where they could have come from - especially using a cross like that.
I hope you find more information on this. It is intriguing!
My folks are leaving for Peru Sat.
How do ancient pharoahs have a bearing on modern life?
Who decides which ancient civilization has a bearing on modern life, anyway? Apparently, you?
Could you feel the way you do because ancient Egyptians and Greeks were "white", whereas the other societies you mentioned are "people of color"? Sure sounds racist to me.
There are some 7' skeletons in the region. Maybe even 8'.
I would like you to explain your speculation to me...Please
I'll be glad to but, not tonight, I'm dead tired...still digging out from the hurricane. Now, you'll have to ask me again later, I'll surely forget.
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