One of the least understood ancient cultures in South America, the Chachapoya lived in a vast territory stretching between the Huallaga and Marañon rivers within the headwaters of the Peruvian Amazon.

Literally translated as ‘the people of the clouds’, the Chachapoya arose between AD 900 and AD 1450 in this region dominated by the humid cloud forests of the eastern Andean slopes. With their distinctive circular architecture and zig-zag artistic motifs, this strongly egalitarian society of over 500,000 people capitalized on their ability to control the trade routes between the cultures of the Amazon and Andes.

Share this page

Quipu (Khipu)
  • 1

    Quipu (Khipu), Inca, AD 1430-1530 

    A collective memory

    The only form of writing known in pre-Columbian South America, Quipu are still one of the great mysteries of archaeology as they have never been deciphered. These Quipu have been found at late Chachapoya sites and reflect the essential role of trade in this society. The different colours, twining, knot styles and lengths of string all hold information that can be read by a Quipu reader.

  • 2

    Feather headdress from the Amazon basin, Cayapo, 20th Century 


    The Chachapoya controlled the trade of produce from the Amazon up into the cultures of the high Andes. Exotic feathers like these coming from the tropical rainforest were held in extremely high esteem for their beautiful colours and cultural links with the lowlands.

  • 3

    Slingshot, Peru, 20th Century 

    Violence and conflict?

    There is little evidence of violence and conflict within Chachapoya society before the arrival and invasion of the Inca in the fifteenth century. At the remarkable Chachapoya site of Kuelap over 2000 slingshot stones were found at the top of one of the towers.

  • 4

    Mummy bundle, Acari, unknown date 

    Linking the living and the dead

    How the Chachapoya prepared their dead provides one of the best indications of the egalitarian nature of their society. The same reverent conditions were provided for each person and the way they were mummified, preserved and often visited suggests that the link between the living and the dead was always maintained.

  • 5

    Bronze star shaped mace, Inca, AD 1430-1550 

    Resistance and conquest

    The Inca fought a series of brutal battles against the resistant Chachapoya and they were never fully conquered. As the Inca employed their superior military capacity to dominate the Chachapoya they also chose to forcibly remove sections of the population to the Titicaca basin in order to subjugate them more successfully.

Explore the other featured cultures


Copper knife

The Kingdom of Chimor arose in the desert sands of coastal Peru.

More about the Chimu 

Muisca and Tairona

Coca bag

These goldsmiths of Colombia produced spectacular treasures.

More about the Muisca and Tairona 


Boat made from reeds

After almost 2000 years, Tiwanaku is still a focal point in modern Bolivia.

More about Tiwanaku