”But archaeologists are trained to keep their noses to the ground, preferably below ground. Their grasp of the nitty-gritty doesn’t allow them to see the wood for the trees. So they rarely find the genuine Lost Cities out in the bush and actually they hardly even go looking for them. It wouldn’t be scientific. The real thing is invariably searched for and found by people who act like, and sometimes even look like Harrison Ford.” ( Nicholas Asheshov )
The archaeological site of Gran Pajatén is a prehispanic settlement perched on a high terraced ridge top overlooking the Montecristo River Canyon . The Montecristolies within the Abiseo River drainage,which empties into the Huallabamba of the Central Huallaga. At 2,850 m, Gran Pajatén lies deep within the tropical Andean cloud forest where temperature averages between 6 and 12 degrees Celsius, and annual precipitation ranges from 2,000 to 4,000 mm. Rain and thick mists are almost daily occurrences, even during the dry season between May and October. Dense forest covers masonry constructions at Gran Pajatén and other archaeological sites within the surrounding valley.
This region is mostly uninhabited today, as the rugged terrain, high humidity and unstable soils of the upper forests have been unattractive to Andean farmers. Government agencies responsible for evaluating natural resources describe the upper forests as virtually useless from an economic standpoint . Consequently, the standard assumption by scholars and lay persons is to assume that the region has always been uninhabited, perhaps utilized only sporadically by temporary or transient populations.
Thus, both scholars and lay authors and science have attempted to reconcile the paradox, the enigma, of a cosmopolitan, urban, apparently Chachapoya civilization seemingly isolated within Peru’s most remote and forbidding eastern Andean cloud forests, unable to raise crops yet able to sustain a significant population. The fortified urban complex at Kuelap contains over four hundred circular stone constructions sitting atop a six hundred meter stretch of prominent ridge top that is builders flattened and entirely ”encased” with massive masonry wall up to twenty meters high.
Gran Pajatén has been”Origin of the Chachapoyas — Ever since early chroniclers reported the Chachapoyas to be a tall, fair-skinned race, there has been much popular speculation about their origins. Additionally, some claim that mummified remains of Chachapoyans resemble a Caucasoid-like physical type. A recent media report claimed that: “The Chachapoyas were a tall, fair-haired, light-skinned race that some researchers believe may have come from Europe.” This contradicts standard theories of migration to the New World. If not an autapomorphy, (or an artifact of preservation conditions; see also the debate about the Tarim mummies), the Chachapoyas were a unique population. Accounts such as that of Cieza de León only indicate that they did have lighter skin than other Native Americans of the region, and as with other anomalous populations (such as the Guanche people of the Canary Islands), their origins and appearance are subject to speculation and exaggeration.’
Hence, it was built on a mountaintop, in the midst of the clouds; but no one knows when, or by whom, or why. High up in the Andes of eastern Peru, at the edge of the Amazon basin, stands a three foot tall stone pillar. It has caught the rays of the morning sun for uncounted centuries. It may well be a sundial, but no one knows. It is one of many stones uncovered by archaeologists at the site of a magnificent ancient city built at an altitude of 9,400 feet in a country more hospitable to jaguars than to people. Who put it there, and why, and when remains a mystery.
To fit this city, called Pajaten, into out meager knowledge of ancient American civilizations is not that obvious. We know that the Indians came into North America, across what is now the Bering Straight, some twenty thousand years ago; and by 9000 B.C. they had made their way throughout both continents. Their greatest civilizations arose in what we would consider realtively u
eptive places such as in the valley of Mexico, the jungles of Central America , and in the Andes. From what we know of these cultures, it would be logical to assume that Pajaten was in some way connected with the Incas. The only problem is that Pajatan is unlike any Inca city known to archaeologists.
”Gran Pajatén has been known to science only since the American explorer Gene Savoy (1965) publicized its discovery by local villagers from Pataz. Most extraordinary about the site was the unexpected sophistication of its architecture given its remote
location within one of Earth’s most hostile environments. The complex of at least 26 stone buildings, initially found by Savoy, most of which are circular, crowned a crescent shaped ridgetop hewn into ascending terraces, skirted by staircases, and entirely paved with slate…”
Subsequent expeditions have cleared more than an additional fifteen buildings from the site. Their basic structure is circular, and they fit into the mountainside like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. They are interconnected by an ingenious system of staircases and terraces, which were once paved with tile and underlaid with a drainage system. A number of striking stone reliefs have been found, and a quantity of pottery, including some fragments of ceremonial vessels, which suggest the Pajatan may have been a religious center, a kind of sacred city for the priests of whatever God was worshipped there. Pajatan undoubtedly existed during Inca times, 1300 A.D. to the Spanish conquest in 1533, though no one can say exactly when it was built.
Historical records of the pre-conquest period are scant, but a few Spanish did try to record the oral traditions of the conquered Incas. One of these chroniclers was Garcilasco de la Vega, who through his mother was a descendant of Inca royalty. He relates that a tribe called the Chachapoya, ”as famous for the beauty of its daughters as for the courage of its sons,” lived in this part of Peru, forty thousand of them. According to Garcilasco , the great Inca conqueror Tupac Yupanqui added seven of their cities to his empire in the late fifteenth century. it is possible that Pajaten was one of them.
Whoever built Pajatan accomplished an astonishing feat. As archaeologists continue to unearth such achievements of the ancient Americans, their discoveries call to mind the amazement of Albrecht Durer when he first saw Aztec art in 1520; ”In all the days of my life I have seen nothing which so filled my heart with joy… I marveled over the subtle genius of those men…Yes, I cannot tell enough of the things which I saw there before me.In all my life I have never seen anything that gladdened my heart so much as these things,” he wrote breathlessly. “Indeed, I cannot express all that I thought.”
Few artifacts have turned up at Pajatan, and those that have are not notably informative about the daily lives of their creators. One of the most interesting finds is the Inca ”tumi”, a copper knife that was apparently used as a surgeons tool. How it got to Pajatan is uncertain, perhaps there was trade with the Incas, or perhaps Inca conquerors brought it in. The jumbled stones were once wall panels. They are covered with designs that suggest hieroglyphs, though no one has any idea what they mean. A rubbing from a similar panel shows the pattern clearly. The close-up of a curving ledge reveals a series of befeathered stone heads, perhaps of ritual significance. A clay llama head, a bare two inches in height, indicates that the people of Pajatan were acquainted with this useful Andean beast. Several solemn stone faces suggest a portraitist at work.
By Inca standards the Chachapoyas were barbarians, but Pajatan, whether a creation of he Chachapoyas or of others, rivals anything the Incas built. And now that other cities have come to light in these Peruvian mountains, it appears that we will soon need to rewrite the history of the Americas to accomodate another splendid ”lost” civilization.
Most of Gran Pajatén’s problems epitomize a single dilemma facing cultural resource managers in national parks and preserves
around the world. How can we facilitate public access to fragile archaeological sites without fatally compromising their historical, artistic and cultural value. At Pajaten, the eco-system is fragile and previous attempts at popularizing the site involved deforestation which hastened the decay of many of the stone structures, leading one to theorize that Pajatens population had an intimate relationship with nature beyond our current comprehension.
”Aztec and Western Christian cultures were a logical match. Militancy and blood sacrifice, actual or symbolic, were common to both. Both produced art in which great beauty could be an expression, even an exaltation, of horrific cruelty. Of course, there were differences. The Aztecs seem to have understood the relativity of their existence. Their day in the sun would end; they would be replaced by other people; the only real question was when.
Western culture has never come to grip with this. But at least one artist did. In 1514, when the Aztecs were still at the peak of their power, Dürer was in Germany, sunk in depression. He had watched his mother die an agonizing death while she was in a state of spiritual terror, and the experience had shaken him deeply. The print titled “Melancholia” was his response. In it a comet streaks through the sky; a monument is thrown down; a winged figure sits on the ground in dejection. A once coherent world is in complete disarray.
Six years later, Dürer was in Brussels looking at art from “the new golden land” (Mexico), which, he ecstatically wrote, was “more beautiful to me than miracles.” He knew nothing about the meaning of that art or about the cultures that produced it. Nor could he possibly know that exactly one year later, the Aztecs would meet conclusive defeat at Cortés’s hands. But he never stopped thinking about them. For his great “Treatise on Fortification,” published in 1527, the year before he died, he drew on many sources. But one he contemplated with particular attention. It was a diagram drawn by Cortés of the once glorious city of Tenochtitlan.” ( Holland Cotter )