The Sarcophagi of Karajia

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About 60 km northeast of the city of Chachapoyas, in Luya Province, in Peru, lies the archaeological site of Karajia, where the funeral tombs of the “ancient wise men” are located. Perched high on a ledge by the side of a limestone cliff, the six sarcophagi (coffins carved in stone and displayed above ground) resembling six limbless torsos with large heads and enormous jaw lines, stand proud with their chin up and facing the abyss. Some of the headpieces are embellished with horns, imitating deer antlers, while others have encrusted human skulls, which are presumed to be trophy heads. Each sarcophagus is 2.5 meters tall.

The sarcophagi were built by the Chachapoya people to house the remains of important individuals in their culture, about 600 years ago. Originally, there were eight sarcophagi but two were destroyed by earthquakes and other natural elements.  Their inaccessible location high above a river gorge has thankfully preserved them from destruction by looters.

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The sarcophagi are shaped like large capsules built of a mixture of clay, straw and gravel spread on a wooden structure, and each has room to house one mummy. The deceased were 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. Afterwards, the head was sculpted and placed on top. The sarcophagus body was painted white, while the head and headpiece were decorated with delicately brushed ocher strokes. Feathered tunics, also painted with ochre, adorned the body of the sarcophagus. The gender of the deceased was also displayed on the cone-shaped body of each sarcophagus.

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. The sarcophagi are so inaccessible that only a few archaeologists and TV crews have managed to get close to them.

The "Purunmachos" as the local people call them were exposed to the world in 1984 after their discovery by the archaeologist Federico Kauffmann.

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Sources: Peru This Week / kuelapnordperu.com / Vilayatours

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