The sarcophagi of Carajia, emblematic of the lost Chachapoya culture. Source: BigStockPhoto

The Cloud Warriors: Sarcophagi Sentries Perched on the Cliffs in Peru

(Read the article on one page)

Researchers would have never guessed what they would find inside a seven-foot-tall statue when it came crashing down the Peruvian cliffside in the Utcubamba valley in 1928. The sculpture was a sarcophagus holding a carefully wrapped mummy. Its discovery was just the beginning to the fascinating story of the Cloud Warriors.

Chachapoya mummies.

Chachapoya mummies. (pmoroni/ CC BY SA 2.0 )

As more of the sarcophagi were found, they became known as the purunmachu, where the ‘ Warriors of the Clouds ’ placed their dead. Although looters had reached many of the sarcophagi before archaeologists, several purunmachu were discovered intact, hidden high up on cliff ledges.

Sarcophagi on a cliff face, Chachapoyas, Amazonas, Peru.

Sarcophagi on a cliff face, Chachapoyas, Amazonas, Peru. (Jorge Gobbi/ CC BY 2.0 )

The Chachapoya people, commonly known as the Cloud Warriors, began living in the cloud forests of the Amazonas region of present day Peru as early as 200 AD. The Inca culture conquered their region shortly before the Spanish arrived. It only took about a decade for the Chachapoya people to lose most of their cultural traditions following the Inca conquest. Then the Spanish arrival decimated the remainder of the Cloud Warriors. Yet the purunmachu remained patiently standing on the cliffsides.

The Karajía Six, Chachapoya sarcophagi.

The Karajía Six, Chachapoya sarcophagi. (A. Davey/ CC BY NC ND 2.0 )

Purunmachu sarcophagi were made in a series of steps. First, clay was sculpted around the carefully wrapped bodies of the dead. Then a mixture of mud and straw was applied. Finally, the sarcophagi were painted cream colored of white and decorative details such as necklaces, feathered tunics, and faces were painted on in yellow and red. When placed on a ledge of a high cliff, the sarcophagi look like sentries guarding the dead.

Chachapoya mummies wrapped in cloth.

Chachapoya mummies wrapped in cloth. (C-Monster/ CC BY NC 2.0 )

Eventually, the Chachapoya people were forgotten, what they held sacred had been lost in the years that passed, and many of their sarcophagi were destroyed by looters in search of treasure.

Top Image: The sarcophagi of Carajia, emblematic of the lost Chachapoya culture. Source: BigStockPhoto

By April Holloway

Comments

Wow! Imagine all of the work that went into those mummies!

malisa wright

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Myths & Legends

The ride to Asgard" by Peter Nicolai Arbo. 1872.
In the beginning there were only native forests and wasteland. The Aesirs, one main group of Norse gods, cleared places to stay, both for themselves and the humans. They named the human’s home Midgard – because it is placed in the middle of the world. And in the middle of Midgard

Ancient Technology

The Ancient Invention of the Water Clock
Today, the ability to keep track of time seems to be taken for granted. One just simply needs to glance at a watch, clock, or mobile phone to know the exact time, even down to the nearest second...

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article