Friday, February 7, 2020

Ancient Marcahuamachuco Near Cajamarca

A recently discovered ancient pre-Inca site in northern Peru that is promoted today as a site to rival Machu Picchu whose original occupants are unknown. The stone complex, built upon a highland with sweeping views of its surroundings, is located near the city of Huamachuco in the region of La Libertad (called the "The Jewel of La Libertad"), 112 miles southeast of Cajamarca and 113 miles from the coastal city of Trujillo, in the northern Andes.
Marcahuamachucom, a stone fort built on a plateau high in the northern Andes

Archaeologists claim it was a most important political, economic and military center, built sometime in the early AD period. Containing galleries, a rectangular plaza and dwellings, the groups of sometime monumental stone building, massive rounded walls that rise 32 to 50 feet in height, is spread over 590 acres on a plateau more than 12,000 feet above sea level.
    One of the earliest sketch maps on Marcahuamachuco comes from the 18th-century document prepared by Baltazar Jaime Martinez Compañón y Buanda, Bishop of Trujillo in Peru, for King Charles III in 1790, and later was Archbishop of Bogatá in Granada (Columbia). He was most remarkable for his efforts to educate Truillo’s Indians and for his research into archaeological ruins and native cultures. Charles Wiener in 1880 published the first topographical description of Marcahuamachuco and named its principal compounds (Charles Wiener, Pérou et Bolivie, Librarie Hachette et Cie, Paris, 1880). Ernst Middendorf visited Marcahuamachuco in 1887, describing its principal compounds and comparing the site to the ancient Kuelap fortress overlooking the Uctubamba Valley in northern Peru (Ernst W. Middendorf, Peru: Lima, Nabu Press, Berlin, Germany, March 2012).
    The first formal archaeological research in Marcahuamachuco was conducted during three months in 1900 by Max Uhle and Julio C. Tello, under the auspice of the University of California Berkeley, who photographed the site and corrected the previous maps prepared by Wiener (Max Uhle, "Carta a la Señora Phoebe A. Hearst," Universidad de California, 1900).
One of the circular walls around one of the buildings at Marcahuamachuco

This research was followed in 1941-42 by Theodroe D. McCown, an Anthropologist and Associate Dean of the College of Letters and Science, at UC Berkeley, who collected specimens stored at the University´s Museum of Anthropology, during two years of field work he excavated between the monumental galleries. His publication described the site in more detail, and he drew more precise and elaborate maps of the archaeological site, and presented a chronological sequence to explain the cultural development of Marcahuamachuco (McCown, “The Pre-Incaic Site of Huamachuco,” University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology, 1945).
    In addition, in 1944 archaeologist Hans Horkheimer published photographs from Marcahuamachuco, which showed stone heads similar to those of Chavin, an archaeological site dated to 900 BC, along the coast. John Thatcher, a student of McCown, continued with research in the site during 1968-69 and 1973-74. He worked to establish its cultural phases and chronologies on the basis of ceramic styles (Horkheimer, The Prehispanic Peru: Attempting a Manual, Vol.I,” Editorial Cupltura AntAjetica S.A., Barcelona, Spain, 1950).
    All of this shows that the site of Marcahuamachuco has been thoroughly visited and written about, yet it and its occupants remain a complete mystery to both archaeologists and anthropologists. However, parts of the site remain buried under centuries of accumulated earth, masking its true dimensions, according to Cristian Vizconde, Peru’s governmental chief Archaeologist, the complex was an ancient fort of stone, built on a plateau to defend against invasion. Its splendor was revealed in October 2010 when brush was cleared away as part of a major preservation effort.
The fortress ruins of Marchuamachuco southeast of Cajamarca

The ruins, called Castle Marcahuamachuco (Muros del Castillo) by the early Spanish, which was built long before the Inca, and long before the Huari (Wari) the Moche and Tiwanaku cultures, its influence extended through much of northern Peru and contemporary southern Ecuador. This importance was probably related to the size of the complex and the trade with its neighbors. Built defensively on top of an isolated highland mesa, the site had several major compounds, some of which remain a mystery to archaeologists. As mentioned earlier, the site was surrounded by curved stone walls as high as fifty feet, served as defensive walls around the perimeter of the site and separate buildings. The remains of inner buildings and rooms and plazas suggest administrative and ceremonial functions.
    Marcahuamachuco attracted people from the northern Andes, the areas that today that comprise Peru and Ecuador. In 1991, John and Theresa Lange Topic, investigators of the site, suggest that the complex had a population of 6,000, based on arable land and available water.
Left Top: Walls of Marcauamachuco; Right Top: Walls of Huánuco Pampa; Left Bottom: Circular construction of Marcauamachuco; Right Bottom: Circular walls of Kuelap

It might be of interest to note that of the three major sites in northern Peru: Marcauamachuco, Huánuco Pampa, and Kulap, are quite similar. Kuelap, which lies 288 miles north of Marcauamachuco, has the same type of circular construction, and 160 miles south and a little east of Marcauamachuco, just outside Huánuco, is the ancient site of Huánuco Pampa, a remarkably preserved city complex similar to that of wall construction in Marcauamachuco. All three have recently been named the major archaeological tourist destinations, on an equal level with Machu Picchu. It is interesting that while each bears some resemblance to the others, archaeologists consider these three separate cultures.
    The Huamachuco Archaeological Project, supported by a Canadian team, has been dedicated since 1981 to study the prehistory of the area. Its researchers have collected data and drawn conclusions about the site and its history. First, Marcahuamachuco is set atop the nexus or the connecting of three mountain valleys at an altitude of more than 10,000 feet. Second, the site is celebrated for its massive and unique circular double-walled archaeological castles or forts and being in the northern highlands has been a complex that was difficult to access. The domestic residences are multi-storied galleries which originally housed numerous individual families (Theresa Lange Topic, "The Meaning of Monuments at Marcahuamachuco," 55th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology,” New Orleans, April, 1991).
    The same can be said of Huánco Pampa, as it was situated on an important commercial trade route and sits on top of a plateau with ravines on all sides in order to allow easy defense of the city. Kuelap also had a similar defensive position on the top of a hill with a 360º view of any approach to the city that was situated behind at massive 50-high circular wall, and only three narrow and difficult entrances that could be eaily guarded and defended against any number.
    The massiveness and monumentality of the Marcahuamachuco complex reveals the importance of its ancient constructions and their important function, certainly one of defense against invading forces, and one at the crossroads of local and regional trade.
Walls of Marcahuamachuco

Much about Marcahuamachuco, which means “the people of the men with hawk-like headdresses,” remains undiscovered and unknown, as are the original inhabitants who arrived after the first century AD, and even though they and their descendants lived in the region through the 13th century, it is not known what happened to them or where they went, or even to what Andean civilization they belonged. However, their construction remains and it is impressive, including how the walls have endured centuries of rain, wind and abandonment.   
    The buildings of the complex are made of stones and astonishing for its great size, fine architectural finishes, unique patterns and monumentality, and above all because they contrast sharply with the scarce visibility of the architecture that is characteristic of the communities mostly found in the Andean area. But one monumental characteristic it shares with architectural sites throughout the Peruvian mountains and coast is that it was built to provide a strong defense against invaders.
    Sounds like it could have been built by Moroni.


  1. Check out Yayno (Yaynu) ruins as well. Some circular walls, some square. Another hilltop fortress.

  2. Have done. Thanks for your suggestion. It is an interesting place, but not much is known about it yet.

  3. Another interesting post. Thanks Del. And thanks Todd. I find the trenches around Yayno to be particularly interesting as I don’t recall if we have seen ruins with such clear trenches before. Alma 49 speaks of Moroni causing ditches to be built and those descriptions seem to march up well with the trenches at Yanyo (in terms of how fortifications were built-not trying to match Yanyo with any specific city in the Book of Mormon.

    Trench systems
    Yayno’s most distinctive defensive works consist of a system of trenches, which protected vulnerable mar- gins of the main sector. Elaborate stretches defended the northern and western approaches, in particular. From afar, these features are both visually distinctive and formidable, forming arc-like rings around the mountaintop; they can be discerned a good distance away (e.g. for example, standing from Pomabamba’s plaza, c. 8 km away) (Fig. 5).
    The system exploited the natural rock fractures and erosional channels of the hilltop. Many trenches have been widened and deepened to a ‘V’-profile, measuring up to 5 m across. The inner bank, probably raised by excavated dirt, may measure up to 5–6 m tall, while the outer may rise 2–3 m. The southwestern mar- gins also feature three successive trenches, at roughly
    25 m intervals. The longest girdles the western flank of the mountain for approximately 300 m. Added protec- tion was afforded by constructing walls atop sections of the inner bank, providing a type of parapet (Fig. 6).
    The trench system included two deep ditches which cut across ridgelines (northeast and northwest site margins). These ditches may have served to slow any upward advance, or push any attackers to the steeper lateral ends. Keeping attackers in or near the trenches may have also facilitated retaliating volleys, especially with projectiles from above. Defensive dry moats were not uncommon in the middle and upper valleys of the Andes’ Pacific flanks; they seal off a protected area by cutting off access via the ridgeline (e.g. Proulx 1985, 165–8; Topic & Topic 1987, 48; Wilson 1988, 165–7, 186; see also Parsons et al. 2000).

    Alma 49:13

    Moroni had fortified, or had built forts of security, for every city in all the land round about

    18 Now behold, the Lamanites could not get into their forts of security by any other way save by the entrance, because of the highness of the bank which had been thrown up, and the depth of the ditch which had been dug round about, save it were by the entrance.

    22 Now when they found that they could not obtain power over the Nephites by the pass, they began to dig down their banks of earth that they might obtain a pass to their armies, that they might have an equal chance to fight; but behold, in these attempts they were swept off by the stones and arrows which were thrown at them; and instead of filling up their ditches by pulling down the banks of earth, they were filled up in a measure with their dead and wounded bodies.