Cumbemayo is the present name of the archaeological complex located between mounts Cumbe, Consejo, Yanacaga and Majoma, in the Cajamarca region. The complex, discovered by Ernesto de la Puente in 1937 and restored by Julio C. Tello the same year, is considered to be one of the most important hydraulic works of pre-Columbian America in the Andean region, its main purpose being to transfer water from the Pacific flow basin to the Atlantic one.
Cumbemayo, in the quechua local language "Narrow River"; is a construction dating from the first millennium BC and consisting of three monumental groups: an aqueduct, a sanctuary, and several shelters with stone engravings in them, as well as a "Rock Forest", with whimsical and original shapes.
The area features a dry season from May to October, with many warm sunny days, and a rainy season from November through April.
Cumbemayo Rock Forest:
This is an impressive rock formation resembling a "rock forest", enabling tourists to use their imagination and discover weird shapes. We arrive here along an improved dirt road going up Mt El Cumbe. The beautiful "rock forest" is only part of the picturesque landscape.
Cumbemayo is a strange area of the Cumbe Cordillera, possessing ghostly rock formations and a pleasant mysticism. It is an open volcanic rock channel 9 km in length. Cumbemayo includes a canal and several stone formations and is located 20 km southwest of Cajamarca and at 3,000 meters above sea level.
Its purpose was to collect water from the streams flowing down from Majoma, Yanacaga, Consejo, Frailones and Cumbe hills, located on the continental divide, to take the water to the town of Cajamarca, where it was stored in a great reservoir to be spread among various high-altitude agricultural plots.
All this is an extremely neat and well-designed piece of work. Interestingly, in some areas of Cumbemayo, the channel has been carved out of solid rock in geometrical fashion, while in others it crosses the gorges by means of raised aqueducts.
The dimensions of the sections of aqueduct in the rock vary from 35 to 50 cm wide by 30 to 65 cm deep. The most wonderful thing about it is that in almost all its extension it has its original perfect finish, with the surprising feature of bends and right angles meant to slow the flow of the water while preventing erosion of the soil. The walls also show a number of attractive stone carvings and engravings whose meaning is not known.
Cumbemayo was able to channel water to make fertile farmland. This has been the main basis for the ancient Peruvian civilization. Without it Peru would be a sterile and uninhabitable desert; just as Egypt might be without the Nile channels. Cumbemayo is the mysterious evidence of people who were able to regulate the use of water right from the start.
One should mention that beside the aqueduct there is a little temple with well-designed rock carvings similar to those of Chavin, but without the deep and well-defined lines that characterize them.
One may also notice that the second stage of the aqueduct is 2,600 m long, and extends from the end of the channel carved into the rock up to the opening in the continental divide at around 3,500 meters above sea level.
Finally, the third section is 5,660 m long, descending the San Vicente Gorge up to Agua Tapada, where it links with a channel carved perfectly out of the rock that crosses from Cumbe to Cajamarca, reaching a reservoir that measures 25 x 35 m; this is located at the foot of Mt Santa Apolonia, at around 500 m altitude.
Approximately southwest of the old San Ramon School. Currently part of the channel has deteriorated due to age and human action.
This is a rock with the appearance of a gigantic head, that has been carved to form a grotto, whose circular base measures 2.5 m diameter, and can be accessed down a 5-step semi-circular stairway carved into the living rock base. The walls of this area are engraved with confusing and suggestive motifs; they are bas-relief figures, crosses, squares, octagonal symbols, step-symbols, spirals, curves and infinite combinations of these; the walls are also engraved with quadrangular niches.
The Caves or Shelters:
The walls of the caves or shelters present engraved motifs that in their lines and complexity remind one of the aqueduct engravings; their style does not share the strong lines of classical Chavin work; according to Julio Cesar Tello, they are clusters of rather undefined figures and lines, although a few vague feline and anthropomorphic motifs may be identified.
As items complementing these three groups we find a singular and striking sacrificial "round table" made of volcanic rock and shaped like a truncated cone, 3 m in diameter by 1.12 m high, as well as several stairways in the rock, sometimes with asymmetrical steps that seem to indicate ceremonial altar placing or sacrificial sites.
According to the last research done in the second half of the 90's by archaeologist Alfredo Narvaez, accompanied by three other researchers, evidence was found of a type of reservoir, as well as stone tools.
Seemingly this reservoir served to collect the water coming down from the hills. According to the opinion of the archaeologists, this could have been the main Cumbemayo Sanctuary.
To avoid deterioration, this discovery was reburied for protection until there is a financing source enabling research to continue in this area.