Sarcophagi of Karajia

The sarcophagi of Karajia belong to the archaeological complex “Chípuric” of the Chachapoya culture and were built between 1100 and 1300 AD.

The up to 2.5m high figures, called “Puchunmachos” by the local population (“old men” in Quechua or Spanish) represent a unique form of burial. They are arranged in small groups of four to eight sarcophagi, leaning next to each other with their back to the wall in rock niches. The interior of the sarcophagi, made up of two parts (head and trunk) made of clay and bamboo, contained the mummies of warriors, while the skulls of their enemies crowned the heads of the sarcophagi as trophies. Along the waistline, the whitewashed figures are decorated with geometric ornaments of red ochre and charcoal, characteristic of the Chachapoyas.

While it was initially assumed that the placement of the sarcophagi in the rock niches was chosen in order for the buried warriors to act as guards, today it is assumed that the graves were to be protected from looters in this way. This plan failed, however, because when the Peruvian archaeologist Federico Kauffmann discovered the sarcophagi in 1984, many of them had already been plundered and damaged.

Many visitors feel iconographically reminded of the Moais of the Easter Islands when looking at the sarcophagi in human form, but there is no cultural connection. The statues are located on a 20 metre high cliff, which cannot be reached without mountaineering equipment. To see the sarcophagi of Karajia “from close up”, you need a good telephoto lens or binoculars.

Day tours from Chachapoyas are offered to visit the site.