THE GRAN PAJATEN
AND ITS GREATNESS
The Gran Pajaten is an archaeological complex of the Chachapoyas Culture, located in the basin of the Abiseo river at 2,850 meters above sea level. Its geographical co-ordinates are: 77° 17' east longitude and 17° 45' south latitude. Politically it belongs to the district of Huicungo, in the province of Mariscal Caceres, department of San Martin. It is located in the high lushly vegetated jungle area of the department of San Martin, and placed on a narrow crescent-shaped terraced plateau, on a buttress emerging from the steep slopes of the hills that skirt one of the Basins of the Huallaga.
Its buildings and ornamental human-headed and condor-winged motifs seem to convey a warlike and earthbound message to us, making us think also of funeral ritual ceremonies. Its circular buildings were also perhaps observatories to extend the vision of eager eyes scanning the heavens, or they could have been sun-virgin "monasteries", storehouses or Inca tambos (residences of the monarch when he traveled through his dominions).
El Pajaten is very difficult to describe. It is a marvel of nature and of the hand of man. When one observes it one's spirit is refreshed, while simultaneously one is induced to deep meditation.
The builders of these circular stone edifices on an uneven plateau 2,850 meters above sea level in the midst of virgin forest showed perfect knowledge of the engineering and art of building in stone. All of this is the Gran Pajaten: a beautiful example of an archaeological site full of legend and a reality that few have had the luck to admire. Scientific research must answer these and many other questions that are triggered by the special location, great extension and singular appearance of this archaeological site. It was discovered by Carlos Tomas Torrealva Juarez, mayor of the district of Pataz, department of La Libertad, in September 1964, as he was directing a group of local inhabitants in a search for suitable land for agriculture.
These remains have been studied intensively as from 1985, when we were able to record the dates of early occupation of the site, as well as studying some aspects of confirmation of the same. As from 1986 research was deepened to establish the sequence of development, and radioactive carbon samples were obtained enabling us to date the sequence of the associated cultural remains; this review was done in 1985 on the basis of those carried out in 1975 by Lennon and Cornejo & Church. However, in view of the deterioration of samples, new ones had to be obtained. The excavations showed that the upper levels were somewhat deteriorated due to cleaning-up and rubble removal operations by the Civil-Military Expedition that planned on opening the site immediately to tourism without allowing the corresponding preliminary research.
During the last operations a stone causeway made with slabs of slate was found as well as a faced-stone wall measuring 58 x 18 x 12, and showing a slight inclination to the east. Also 28 fragments of bone, including a human vertebra and upper right maxillary bone were found.
This site, named by the American explorer Gene Savoy, has been included in modern myth and legend as a magic place, a lost jungle city, associated with the myth of "El Dorado", a golden city in the depths of the Amazon jungle that promised to bestow riches on its discoverer. Although it is true that it is located in an inaccessible place, surrounded by a fairly thick and impassable jungle, El Gran Pajaten is "merely" a city of the Chachapoya culture, one of the "enigmas" of our past not because of its mysterious nature, but rather due to the lack of archaeological studies. Its real richness is what it can contribute to our knowledge of the "Chachapoyas", the people who occupied this part of the jungle before the arrival of the Spaniards.
In 1968, archaeologist Duccio Bonavia described 18 circular buildings, whose dimensions varied between 4 and 14 meters in diameter. Built in stone on platforms that leveled the soil of the steep escarpment, this complex has stairways connecting the different levels and easing circulation through the different sectors of the settlement. One of the most important monuments is known as Building 1. This is 13 meters in diameter, and is divided into two sections by a cornice. The lower section is the platform on which the upper one was built. A stairway leads from a slate-paved plaza to the upper entrance. The entrance is flanked by flat panels with stone friezes showing five human figures with their knees turned outwards and their arms flexed. Each of these figures has a nail-shaped head surmounted by coifs of two different styles that alternate from one figure to the next. The upper part is decorated with a scaled greca edged with a zigzag linear pattern. This kind of design is typical of Chachapoyas architecture. Little is known of the origin of this culture, experts surmising that the remains are a prolongation of a culture that sought refuge and a way of preserving itself over time in the jungle.
If you wish to visit this archaeological marvel, we can mention that Trujillo (the capital of the La Libertad Region), lies about 400 km from Rio Abiseo National Park in an easterly direction, and is the city that provides the best logistics for accessing "Gran Pajaten"; hence, almost every expedition made to this site has left from Trujillo. Nevertheless, certain expeditions did not, such as that of Mirko Seljan in 1913 (this explorer committed suicide in the middle of his journey), or the later three attempted expeditions by Eduardo Peņa Meza, who was finally successful in his third attempt. He started off on this expedition with six men on May 18, 1937, reaching Condormarca in June. We will describe this access circuit in more detail further on (La Libertad- Cajamarca).