Spelunkers in Ukhupacha

ruins3During the months of May and June of summer 2013, Dr. J. Marla Toyne, assistant professor in Anthropology, led a crew of UCF graduate and undergraduate students in collaboration with the Ukhupacha Project. This project consisted of a group of spelunkers from the University of Jaume I, Castellon, Spain during an innovative exploration of archaeological sites in the eastern highlands of Chachapoyas, Peru.

Over a thousand years ago, these ancient people built stone tombs on narrow ledges and in caves across a massive rock wall, later named Petaca, overlooking their settlements. The only way to access these sites was by using vertical progression repelling techniques such as ropes and harnesses. The students were able to extensively photograph, map and collect bioarchaeological evidence of ancient burial practices. It appeared that each tomb contained skeletal and mummified remains of individuals of a range of ages including both sexes.

Large bands of red paint and pictographs decorated the walls around the 53 structures identified. These documentary studies have become essential.  Unfortunately, these mortuary monuments face major challenges for preservation including, not only modern looters looking for textiles, but also rock fall, increased humidity and animal activity. The “vertical archaeology” opens the possibility to learn more about how these ancient peoples constructed and used this landscape of the dead.

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