The Sentinel Sarcophagi of the Warriors of the Clouds

In 1928, a powerful earthquake shook the hills surrounding the Utcubamba valley in Peru, revealing a seven foot tall clay statue, which came crashing down from the cliffside. Researchers were stunned to find that the figure was in fact a sarcophagus, and inside it were the remains of an individual carefully wrapped in cloth.

Following this discovery, more of these sarcophagi were uncovered. They became known as the purunmachu, where the ‘Warriors of the Clouds’ placed their dead. Many sarcophagi had already been destroyed by looters, but a number of purunmachu were found untouched and intact due to being placed out of sight and out of reach, high up on a cliff ledge.

The Warriors of the Clouds, also known as the Chachapoya people, were a culture of Andean people living in the cloud forests of the Amazonas region of present day Peru. Archaeological evidence suggests that people began settling the region at least as early as 200 AD, but the Incas conquered their civilization shortly before the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century. Their incorporation into the Inca Empire led to the complete decimation of their culture and traditions, and less than a century after the arrival of the Spanish, they had been effectively wiped out – only 10 per cent of the region’s estimated 300,000 people remained. However, one thing remained behind as a monument of their existence – the purunmachu.

The purunmachu sarcophagi were carefully prepared using clay which was built around the wrapped up body of the deceased. The structure was then covered in a mixture of mud and straw and painted white or cream before adding on details such as necklaces, feathered tunics, and faces, painted on in shades of yellow and red ochre. The sarcophagi were placed on a low circular wall on the ledge of a high cliff face and, lined up, the purunmachu were like a row of sentinels guarding the dead.

Once their culture had disappeared the sarcophagi were no longer sacred and so most were desecrated and destroyed by looters in search of any riches might lie inside.

April Holloway - Ancient Origins

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