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Buried at 2,000 meters high: the inaccessible sarcophagi of Karajia in Peru

3 min read

Between the steep gorges of the Andes and the immense rainforests of the Amazonas region in Peru, there are surprising historical sites that document the history of the Chachapoya people, who had to surrender to the Incas, just a few years before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors.
The premiere scene from the legendary film “Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark”, Indiana Jones searches the booby-trapped ruins of a Chachapoyan temple for a golden idol. Probably this is a Hollywood classic scene, but the history behind the mysterious Chachapoyan civilization is just as fascinating.

Very little is known about this mysterious people: they are known only by the name used for them by the Incas, Chachapoya. This name comes from the Amerindian language, Quechua and It is a combination of two words: sach’a, meaning “tree/forest’”, and phuyu, meaning “cloud”. This is perhaps why they were also called “cloud warriors”, a nickname that emphasizes their warlike character, in defense of their foggy territory: even after the conquest, many rebel groups remained active, which for many years gave the invaders a hard time.
Most of what we know comes to us from either Inca or Spanish sources, and the Chachapoyas were known as fierce warriors and incredible architects.

One of the most extraordinary archaeological sites of this people is that of Karajia, about 60 km northeast of the city of Chachapoyas, in Luya Province, where seven sarcophagi look proudly towards the abyss that opens at their feet.
The funerary monuments are located in an almost unreachable position, over 2000 meters high, and the inaccessible place, above the gorge of a river, has preserved these extraordinary finds of an almost lost civilization. The “Purunmachos” as the local people call “the old sages”, were exposed to the world in 1984 after their discovery by Peruvian archaeologist Federico Kauffmann.

The sarcophagi, which resemble the outline of a human body, have the appearance of a large capsule, 2.5 meters high, and were built of a mixture of clay, straw and gravel spread on a wooden structure, and each has room to house one mummy.
Apparently, the mummies of important people were buried in these sarcophagi, placed in the fetal position, wrapped in a cocoon of wild cane stalks tied up with twine. This structure was then covered up with a thick layer of clay and straw as a binding material.
According to radiocarbon dating, the sarcophagi date back to the 15th century, shortly before the conquest of the Incas. Originally, there were eight sarcophagi but two were destroyed by earthquakes and other natural elements, and their inaccessible location high above a river gorge has thankfully preserved them from destruction by looters.
The funeral capsules are painted white, and decorated with yellow ocher and red pigments, which define some details, such as the plumed tunics and the genitals. Some of the headpieces are embellished with horns, imitating deer antlers, while others have encrusted human skulls, which are presumed to be trophy heads, a proud testimony of the clouds warriors.

The Sarcophagi of Karajia are not the only ones in the Chachapoyas area, but they are the most important ones. On the western bank of the Utcubamba River north of Kuelap many other sarcophagi of varying sizes have been recorded. However, the sarcophagi are so inaccessible that only a few archaeologists and TV crews have managed to get close to them….

Images from Web – Google Research

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