Long before the Inca lived an enigmatic culture in the forests of Peru: the Chachapoya. Archaeologists know little about them so far. Now two German adventurers found a settlement of the indigenous people.
On the day Tom Schinker and Martin Druschel came across the long-abandoned village of Chachapoya, most of the other expedition members were sick in their camp beds in the jungle camp. One even had pneumonia, another broken ribs after a fall. Schinker and Druschel organize adventure trips under the slogan „Wandermut“ and this is how they earn their money. Sometimes they go to the Sahara, sometimes to Greenland, this time they had their trip in the rainforest of Peru. „This is not a relaxing holiday,“ emphasize the two 27- and 28-year-olds.
For two and a half weeks in August, they traveled with twenty expedition participants in northern Peru. In the area around the Lake of condors, nearly 600 kilometers northeast of the capital Lima. The region is remote, the next largest city is tens of kilometers away.
In the jungle the group could often only see two meters away, then dense vegetation blocked the view. The area on the edge of the Amazon is under special protection, no one is allowed into it without permission. There are no roads here, not even dirt tracks. With machetes, the adventurers had to make their way free, they managed only a few kilometers per day. „Without our experienced guides, we would be lost,“ says Schinker.
On the day of the discovery, Druschel and Schinker were alone with two guides to a summit to make drone shots when they realized that the jungle around them suddenly became lighter. „That’s when we discovered eye-catching round structures overgrown with plants,“ recalls Druschel.
They came across remnants of the Chachapoya culture, which is known for its roundhouses. The remains of the walls were barely visible under the dense vegetation. If the adventurers had made their way through the jungle only a few yards away, they would have overlooked the site. „Probably we were the first people there for centuries,“ the two tell. „That was a great feeling.“
The Chachapoya lived between the 9th and 16th centuries in the northeastern Andes of present-day Peru, on the edge of the Amazon basin. The name means as much as Mist Warrior or Cloud Man. How big their empire was is unclear. Much of the area is now deep in the jungle, archaeological investigations are therefore extremely difficult.
Older than the Inca city of Machu Picchu
Among the most famous sites of Chachapoya culture is the fortress Kuélap. It lies about 50 kilometers northwest of the Condor Lake and existed between 500 and 1570 AD. This makes it much older than the famous Inca city of Machu Picchu. The wall remains were rediscovered in 1841 and show the resilience of the cloud people. Those who wanted to go there had to climb a good 3000 meters up the North Peruvian Andes, overcome a stately wall and squeeze through a narrow corridor through which only one person could fit.
The discovery of the Germans is modest by comparison. The remains of the walls once belonged to 36 roundhouses measuring only a few meters in diameter. „We photographed the walls, but otherwise left everything so as not to damage them anymore,“ says Schinker. Later, the two reported their discovery to the relevant authorities. „For Peruvian conditions, the find is not very spectacular,“ the adventurers admit. And the area is so remote that probably no one will get lost there anytime soon.
„Such small villages are typical of the Chachapoya culture,“ says Karoline Noack, Professor of Old American Studies at the University of Bonn. Archeologists are still wondering if the Chachapoya even understood themselves as one people. They are more likely to assume that individual groups repeatedly enter into different alliances, depending on their political interests. The society of the Mist Warriors was therefore very complex.
They had not even given themselves the name Chachapoya, but the Inca. They had conquered the kingdom of Chachapoya around the year 1475. After fierce fighting, the Inca lured influential Nebula warriors with valuable gifts and installed them as governors. Other Chachapoya continued to rebel against the Incas and allied themselves with Spanish conquerors, who reached the eastern slopes of the Andes towards the Amazon at about the same time.
The conquistadors marveled at the Mist Warriors, who looked so different from the Incas. Many of the Chachapoya were tall, with a light complexion and blond to red hair. Some researchers even put forward the thesis that the Mist Warriors could be the descendants of Spanish Celts who reached South America long before the conquistadors.
Mist Warriors were not European immigrants
Noack, however, does not believe in this theory. She considers it more likely that the Chachapoya originated in the Amazon. „Genetic studies have shown that members of the Chachapoya culture are closely related to Europeans,“ says Noack. „But the origins of these connections are to be found in the sixteenth century and the Spanish conquest.“ The Mist Warriors, therefore, begat children with the Spanish conquerors, long after the Celts.
The constant wars against the Incas and the Spaniards, the collaborations on both sides and introduced diseases weakened the society of about 100,000 Chachapoya. However, they are not completely extinct. At the edge of the Amazon Basin, people still call themselves Chachapoya.
Impressive monuments like the fortress Kuélap remind of the past of the Cloud people. Deep in the jungle, still more undiscovered finds are expected. Especially the Lidar technique could bring new insights. Airplanes emit laser beams that scan the ground. The individual measuring points can then be converted into a surface profile. However, it would be extremely expensive to skim the entire Peruvian jungle.
The Cologne adventurers Schinker and Druschel also want to return to the realm of the Mist Warriors. But they still lack participants for the next trip.
Source: Spiegel Online.