The Laguna de los Cóndores

Deep in the cloud forest blanketing the eastern slopes of the Huallaga watershed, a row of stone burial houses perches high above a lake. Tucked into a ledge on a limestone cliff 100 meters above the Laguna de los Cóndores, the structures stood untouched by humans for almost 500 years. Composed of six intact chullpas or tombs and the foundations of a seventh, the burial site is one of 18 funerary sites documented on the limestone cliffs looming above the Laguna de los Cóndores. Although the farm hands who had discovered the burial site in late 1996 churned through the tombs, slashing mummy bundles with machetes and destroying valuable contextual information, the more than 200 mummy bundles and a wide array of burial offerings indicate that the finds date to Chachapoya (ca. AD 800-1470), Chachapoya-Inca (ca. 1470-1532) and early Colonial (ca. 1532-1570) times.

The tombs’ builders took advantage of a natural ledge in the limestone cliff. The tombs are nestled against the cliff, which serves as their back wall. The builders modified the ledge by leveling the floor and carving smaller ledges into the cliff onto which they built low masonry walls set in mud mortar that supported the back roofs of the chullpas. Each tomb is about 3 meters high and divided into two levels by a platform of small logs. The structures are roughly quadrangular in shape and built of limestone blocks set in mud mortar. All the chullpas face the lake and the ancient settlement of Llaqtacocha.

From left to right: Chullpas at the Laguna de los Condores; the Laguna de los Condores looking west; Ground plan of the chullpas (Adriana von Hagen).