Exploring the Chachapoya world with Ukhupacha

The Ukhupacha association is active in several South American countries, helping scientists to explore places that are difficult to access, where technical rope access techniques are essential. In May 2013, a University of Central Florida multidisciplinary scientific team undertook the exploration of Chachapoyas tombs and mausoleums in Peru, guided by Ukhupacha members, with the financial support of the Petzl Foundation.


© Ukhupacha / University of Central Florida


Opening new routes for science

Founded in conjunction with the Universidad Jaume I de Castellón and the Instituto Nacional de Cultura de Perú, the Ukhupacha association "opens new routes"for science in South America, helping scientists to explore places that are difficult to access, where technical rope access techniques are essential.

Scientific exploration © Ukhupacha This group of adventurers and cavers, led by Technical Director Salvador Guinot, facilitates scientific exploration by helping archaeologists, biologists, geologists, anthropologists, and volcanologists access some of Earth's toughest-to-reach sites: cliffs, caves, high peaks, and the forest canopy. Among their many projects has been one at Macchu Picchu, Peru, where research teams are at present rehabilitating the Qhapaq Ñan, an ancient Inca travel route.

In2011, the association, supported by the Peruvian Ministry of Culture, explored the remote archaeological sites of the Arequipa region. Many Inca artifacts embedded in the cliffswere discovered.

After working on sections of the extraordinary Macchu Picchu site, research teams are now rehabilitating section on the ancient Inca route, the Qhapac Ran, which is soon to be added to the list of Unesco World Heritage sites. The Inca trail is actually more than 3,000 kilometers long.

In addition to helping scientists gain access using caving, canyoneering, and climbing techniques, Ukhupacha's goal is also to keep scientists safe and self-sufficient in spots where rope-access is essential.

In 2013, Ukhupacha published Técnicas de Progresion Vertical, authored by Andres Marti Puig and funded by the Petzl Foundation.

Cover: Técnicas de Progresion Vertical This 150-page, fully-illustrated manual, along with the accompanying Ukhupacha training course curriculum, covers everything scientists need to know to be autonomous in the field. This manual and the course curriculum feature diagrams and systems information donated by Petzl.

Xavier Sansos, technical director for Petzl's distributor in Spain, graciously donated his time to provide technical consultation and proofed the book. In addition to collaborative exploration with Ukhupacha team members, this book and training method give scientists a valuable tool for exploring the world's remote, wild, and previously inaccessible places.

Salvador Guinot, Technical director of the Ukhupacha project, says:

Salvador Guinot © Ukhupacha "Promoting safety has become a major challenge. The Ukhupacha project provides advice on rope techniques for scientists working in difficult access areas. Reassured by better cliff safety, archaeologists make surprising discoveries helping to reveal the fabulous technical know-how of ancient civilizations."

Exploring the Chachapoya world

The Chachapoyas (known as the "Warriors of the Clouds") were an Andean people living in the high cloud forests of the Amazonas region of Peru circa 1000-1600 AD. Using narrow natural ledges on cliffs, they constructed a mortuary landscape that can be explored using rope-access techniques.

© University of Central Florida

The Chachapoyas are the first known people to have occupied Peru's forested mountains at an altitude of 3,000 meters. They placed their dead in individually built sarcophagi, constructed collective cliff tombs, and placed their deceased in inaccessible but highly visible spots. Little else is known about their funerary practices.

In May 2013, a University of Central Florida multidisciplinary scientific team, led by Dr. J Marla Toyne, undertook the exploration of La Petaca in Leymebamba, Peru. The site contains many tombs, mausoleums, and rock paintings.

Toyne's team was guided by Asociación Ukhupacha members, who developed vertical archaeology techniques to safely access the site as well as to reach the upper-level mausoleums.

© University of Central Florida © University of Central Florida

The scientists required stable workstations to take photos, create drawings and collect samples, with the goal of reconstructing patterns of access and construction, and of collecting excavated materials in order to understand the history and the importance of these remains to the Chachapoyas.

The vast La Petaca contains unique constructions which cannot be studied at a distance. Along 6 ledges, over 120 structures were identified with significant variations in building techniques, using impressive quantities of stone, mortar, and tree trunks.

With specialized training and technical support from Ukhupacha, Toyne and her fellow researchers were able to develop a new method of vertical archaeology to further explore how this ancient people transformed this place into an amazing mortuary landscape.

© Ukhupacha © Ukhupacha

Photos : collection Ukhupacha and University of Central Florida

Updated in september 2014



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