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.
Hmmm... Media do tend to generalise -- When we say European, at any point in time, that would mean at least 3 different ethnic groups, ditto for the term Asian.
Sound's like you see Gene Savoy as Alan Quatermain, and the Chachapoya ruins as Great Zimbabwe. Don't you think Savoy taps into those old adventure stories for self-promotion? It's not really original, and the King Solomon - Great Zimbabwe connection has been exposed as a racist denial of black African achievements.
Anyone else see this?
These guys claim to have built the Great Zimbabwe , The Lemba (Black Jews Of Southern Africa.)
An update. The PhD who was working on this DNA (and said they were 'European') has now said that the samples were contaminated with modern DNA. Someone else is working on the DNA project now.
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