These are not your typical type of sarcophagus, which is fitting because nothing seems to be typical about the Chachapoyas people. They built massive cities atop mountains that more so resemble castles than the typical South America Pre-Inca Ruins you find.
The Chachapoyas buried their dead in remote cliffs that look impossible to access even today. They created large (some more than 3 meters or 9 ft all) sarcophagi to hold the bodies of their rulers perching them in impossibly treacherous locations to protect their remains.
Chachapoyas Burials at Karija
A couple of hours outside of the town named for the Chachapoyas lies Karija, one of the more well preserved burial locations that you can somewhat easily access. I arrived on a tour after seeing the Pueblo de los Muertos , or City of the Dead and you almost have to take a tour to these two sites just to find them. Karija is located outside of a small village that is still fairly impressed by the site of gringos. The children chase after you in cars, smile and point, unlike in most other places in Peru. It’s nice to be a novelty sometimes. As you walk down the path towards the cliff side, you pass quaint houses and farming fields and will probably be followed by children on their horses just hoping you won’t want to walk back up. For a handful of Soles you can catch a ride back up on one of the horses, but the walk isn’t very difficult unless you struggle with the altitude.
When I first saw Karija, the thought that ran through my mind, probably like most people, is how the heck did they get these massive sarcophagi up there in the first place? I can only imagine there were men hanging off the sides of the mountain by ropes and scaling the tiny ledges to place their rulers here. It’s pretty amazing the trouble they went through to ensure their rulers made it into the after life whole and with their possessions.
Unfortunately, much of the sarcophagi have either been destroyed by earthquakes that frequently hit this region of Peru and most of those that have remained have been violated by grave robbers and treasure hunters over the years. Karija is one site that is mostly untouched though you can see that there used to be another ledge housing sarcophagi that broke away from the mountainside long ago.
Considering these remains were placed on the cliff side in the 11th or 12th century they’re held up remarkably well. You can still clearly make out the condors decorating the sarcophagi in dark red paint and with a good zoom you can peak in the side and see the methods used to make these grand chambers. Sitting atop and around the sarcophagi are skulls and bones, most of these are not from the Chachapoyas people however. The skulls in particular were the remains of enemies they defeated and left there to show the power of their rulers and serve as a warning to stay away.
In addition to the prominent sarcophagi, there are also smaller burials for the Shaman of the Chachapoyas as well as the crest engraved into the mountainside. Check out the pictures and let me know what you think!