Explorer Keith Muscutt has announced the existence of a previously unknown pre-Columbian ruin in Peru: the Huaca La Penitenciaría de la Meseta.
Located in the cloud-forested eastern slope of the Andes mountains, the ruin is believed to belong to the ancient Chachapoya -- a civilization that flourished in the upper Amazon, between its Huallaga and the Marañón tributaries, from about the ninth to the fifteenth century AD. Muscutt delivered the news at the annual Institute for Andean Studies conference at the University of California, Berkeley.
The Chachapoya are renowned for their mountain-top citadels, such as Kuelap, Gran Pajatén and Vira Vira, and for well-preserved mummies recovered from cliff tombs at the Lake of the Condors and Lake Huayabamba. The ruin, consisting of a ceremonial platform (approximately 100 ft. x 200 ft. x 24 ft.) overlooking a plaza (approximately 200 ft. x 300 ft.), as well as numerous rectangular and circular buildings, is of particular interest because of its unprecedented form, size, and the remoteness of the area in which it was found.
First discovered by local pioneers, Octavio, Merlin and Edison Añazco, the site was nicknamed the "Huaca La Penitenciaría" (Penitenciary Ruin) because of its impregnable appearance. News of their discovery was relayed by them to Muscutt who, guided by the Añazcos, arrived at the site and made a preliminary survey of it in August of 2006.
"This is an exciting development for Chachapoya archaeology. The main building is a stepped, rectangular structure made up of three tiers. This building is about two-hundred feet long, a hundred feet wide, twenty-four feet high, and oriented to the cardinal points of the compass. As far as I can tell, apart from some drainage shafts, it's completely solid. I imagine it served as a ceremonial platform -- a stage for Chachapoya rituals," said Muscutt.
Summary of Facts
Discoverers: Octavio, Merlin and Edison Añazco, descendents of the pioneer Benigno Añazco, who first reached and settled La Meseta in the 1980s.
Members of the August 2006 Expedition: Eyner Añazco, Robinson Añazco, Patrocino Añazco, Clever Añazco, Alan Añazco, Merlin Añazco, Edison Añazco, Cheyver Garrido, Keith Muscutt.
Location: La Meseta, a plateau in otherwise mountainous territory, between the Río Verde (also known as Río Chilchos) and Río Huabayacu, both tributaries of the Río Huallabamba, in the Department of San Martín, Peru; approximately 7 degrees South of the Equator, and 77 degrees and 30 minutes West of Greenwich. The village of La Morada, an annex of Chuquibamba, Chachapoyas, Amazonas, is two days on foot or by mule from La Meseta.
Elevation: 2,000 meters above sea level (approx. 6,000 feet).
Natural Environment: Lower mountain cloud forest. High rainfall and humidity. Vegetation: trees, thorny shrubs, bamboos, palms, vines, bromeliads, orchids, tree-ferns. Large animals include jaguar, spectacled bear, spider monkey. Birds include toucans, turkeys and parakeets.
Cultural Affiliation: Chachapoya
Date: 850AD to 1475AD.
Who were the Chachapoya?
An agriculturally-based, stone-building, metal-working culture that occupied the highlands and the cloud forests, or "ceja de la montaña" (eyebrow of the jungle), along the spine of the Andes, between the Marañón and Huallaga drainages, in North-Eastern Peru. They flourished for several centuries, probably acting as middle-men in the trade of items such as coca leaves and feathers between the lowland tribes and the coastal civilizations. They were overwhelmed by the Inca empire in the late 15th century. Always rebellious, they quickly allied themselves with Spanish conquistadores to throw off the Inca yoke, but they themselves soon fell victim to European epidemic diseases.
Their population decimated, their culture disappeared entirely except for the ruins and artifacts they left behind. Archaeological research into the Chachapoya is scant. Scarcity of scientific information about them has unfortunately caused them to become the object of much speculation and fantasy – with unsubstantiated reports of vast Chachapoya metropolises, claims that the Chachapoya realm was El Dorado, and so forth. They have also been fictionalized in Clive Custler's novel "Inca Gold."
Keith Muscutt has been exploring the upper Utcubamba, Pusac, Huabayacu, Huayabamba, Yonan, Huambo, Imaza, and Lejia drainages, in the Peruvian Departments of Amazonas, San Martín and La Libertad since 1981. Among the sites he was the first to document are: the walled citadel of Vira Vira; Pampa Hermosa; and the cliff tombs of Laguna Huayabamba, Cueva de Osiris, Casa de Oro, Brillante Luna, Tres Ojos, and Casa Blanca. He was a member of the official reconnaissance expedition that recorded the looted Chachapoya-Inca burial sites at the Lake of the Condors. Founder of an NGO, Fundacíon Benéfica Niños Pobres de Chuquibamba, he is Assistant Dean of the Arts at UC Santa Cruz, a member of the Institute for Andean Studies, and a Research Associate of the Museum of Man in San Diego.
Further information will be provided in Discovery Channel's new series, Chasing Mummies, premiering January 2008.
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