Gran Pajaten is an archaeological site located in the Andean cloud forests of Peru, on the border of the La Libertad region and the San Martin region, between the Maranon and Huallaga rivers. The archaeological site lies in the Rio Abiseo National Park, which was established in 1983. The park was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Natural Site in 1990, and Cultural Site in 1992. In order to protect the fragile ruins and endangered environment, the archaeological site and the national park are currently not open to visitors without permits from Peru's Ministry of Agriculture and National Institute of Culture.
Gran Pajaten sits on a hilltop, and consists of a series of at least 26 circular stone structures atop numerous terraces and stairways. The ruins occupy an area of about 20,000 m. The principal buildings are decorated with slate mosaics displaying human, bird and geometric motifs. Analysis of ceramic samples and radiocarbon dates show that the area was occupied as early as 200 BCE, but the visible building ruins on the present site were constructed during Inca times [*]. Based primarily on architectural evidence, the settlement is attributed to the Chachapoyas culture.
Explorer Gene Savoy is erroneously credited with having found the ruins in 1965. The site was actually discovered in 1940 by local inhabitant Eduardo Pena Meza while he was investigating the area for the development of infrastructure. After the site was stumbled upon again by inhabitants of the town of Pataz in 1964, Savoy assumed credit by publicizing the discovery in the world press as his own. By 1966, the Peruvian government had set up a helicopter pad and cleared much of the protective vegetation that surrounded the site. Many years later, these actions raised criticism due to the delicate nature of the archaeological site. Without the protection of dense vegetation, the stone ruins began to rapidly deteriorate [*].
In 1985, a team led by the anthropology department at University of Colorado began a major research project at Gran Pajaten. The expedition was widely publicized, and this second large-scale investigation led to further discussions of opening the site up to tourism. A Peruvian televised expedition in 1990 once again cleared the protective vegetation from the site, and further damaged the ruins. Currently, there are plans for construction of several roads and tourist infrastructure in the region. Neither have been implemented due to the fragile nature of the ruins, and the high cost of conserving the site while minimizing tourist impacts on its archaeological integrity and environmental context.
Loving it to Death, Gran Pajaten as a case study of the difficulties of preserving natural and cultural resources
UNESCO: Rio Abiseo National Park
Overview of Chachapoya archaeology (PDF)
Ethnography and archaeology of Chachapoya (PDF)
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