The Museum’s design reflects local architectural traditions, with regional building techniques and materials used in its construction.
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The Museum’s design reflects local architectural traditions, with regional building techniques and materials used in its construction. Gardens filled with rich and varied native flora surround the museum, while an orchid garden displays more than 100 native orchid species. In addition to the three museum halls dedicated to the archaeological finds from the Laguna de los Cóndores, an ethnographic hall presents the varied lifestyles of the region’s modern inhabitants, and a fifth hall is designed to host cultural and scientific activities. The Museo Leymebamba Association, made up of residents of Leymebamba and representatives of Centro Mallqui, reflects the active interest and involvement of the people of Leymebamba in Museum projects and activities designed to benefit the community.
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.
In a remote corner of northeastern Peru —embraced by the Marañón river to the west and the north and the Huallaga river to the east— the ancient Chachapoya once held sway over a vast territory, today scattered with the distinctive remains of their trademark cliff tombs and hamlets of circular structures. Feared warriors and famed shamans, the Chachapoya flourished from around AD 800 until their violent conquest by the Incas in the 1470s. Today, looters and vandals are engaging archaeologists in a desperate race to save the remains of this great, but little known civilization. Despite over a century of exploration and more recent archaeological and archival research, our understanding of the region’s prehistory remains fragmentary.
The evidence suggests that at times the ancient Chachapoya interacted with cultures living to the east, west and north of the Marañón, while at other times they flourished in relative isolation. Although the Chachapoya played a part in the greater Andean cultural sphere, their art and architecture convey a bold and independent spirit that sets them apart from their neighbors. “Classic” Chachapoya civilization —with its hallmark circular constructions and masonry friezes— appears to have coalesced around AD 800 and continued into Inca times, ca. 1470-1532.