Image: Muscutt at wall
Keith Muscutt
Researcher Keith Muscutt surveys a wall at the Chachapoya archaeological site known as Huaca la Penitenciaria, or Penitentiary Ruin. Muscutt believes the site may provide clues to the history of the "cloud warriors" who fought against the Inca centuries ago.
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updated 1/17/2007 10:50:46 PM ET 2007-01-18T03:50:46

An unusual archaeological site discovered in Peru’s mountains may hold clues to the history of the Chachapoya people, known as “cloud warriors,” who fought the Inca Empire before the Spanish conquest.

Keith Muscutt, a British-born Chachapoya researcher with the University of California at Santa Cruz, said Wednesday that structures found at the site were “strikingly anomalous” because of their size, shape and remote location in the dense forest full of spider monkeys and toucans.

The unfortified, possibly ceremonial structures are located in an area previously considered on the periphery of the Chachapoya domain in the upper Amazon region.

“What it is showing is that we don’t really know what their territory was,” he told Reuters. The place where the ruins were discovered had been considered a buffer zone between the highland Chachapoya and the tribal cultures of the Amazon basin.

“It is certainly not a fortress, so either the Chachapoya’s territory extended further east, or they relied more on cooperation than conflict with their neighbors,” he said.

Conquered by Incas
The Chachapoya civilization, which flourished between 800 and 1475, is known for its mountaintop citadels, such as Kuelpa and Vira Vira, and its well-preserved mummies found in tombs at the Lake of the Condors.

Image: Stone sculpture
Keith Muscutt
A Chachapoya stone sculpture is modeled after a human head.
Conquered by the Incas just before the Spanish conquest, they allied with the Spaniards after 1532, but fell victim to diseases brought from Europe and vanished.

This ruin, dubbed Huaca la Penitenciaria (Penitentiary Ruin), consists of a large ceremonial platform, a plaza and a number of rectangular and circular buildings.

The heavily overgrown site was discovered by the Anazco family of Peruvian explorers at a plateau in the mountains between the Rio Verde and Rio Huabayacu in the Department of San Martin, about 560 miles (900 kilometers) north of Lima.

Find to be evaluated
In August, Muscutt, 60, took part in an Anazco-led expedition that made a preliminary survey of the site.

“My goal at this point is to notify the appropriate Peruvian authorities,” Muscutt said. He is also talking to archaeologists to evaluate the find.

Although additional research is needed to confirm that it is a Chachapoya structure, Muscutt said it had an ornamental frieze and dry masonry very typical of the Chachapoyas.

“Also, all the walls have a slight bulge to them like the side of a barrel, which I think is a fault in their engineering that they adopted and made a feature — an aesthetic choice resulted from engineering accident,” Muscutt said.

He said the site had been abandoned for at least 400 years. “It is a very interesting archaeological time capsule,” he said.

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