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Cerro el Plomo high shrine

Date of Submission: 01/09/1998
Criteria: (ii)(iii)(vi)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Council of National Monuments
Coordinates: Long. 70°13' W ; Lat. 33°13' S
Ref.: 1194
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Description

On March 30, 1954, a Chilean newspaper announced an archeological discovery of worid-wide significance. It was about the frozen body of a child of 8 or 9 years of age, sacrificed by the Incas at the top of one of the highest mountains of the Andes Cordillera, in front of Santiago city. The existence of buildings' traces on the ascending path to the top of this hill was known since the end of last century. Mountainecrs, muleteers and ore prospectors found traces of Inca presence in Cerro El Plomo, which finally led, in 1954, to the discovery of this Shrine and of the body it sheltered. The finding was thrilling for the professionals of the time. The child's frozen body kept his fingerprints; his remains and rich trousseau were intact. The Cerro El Plomo High Shri ne is a result of the cult of mountai ns -a fondamental element of the Inca conception of the worid-, which is closely associated to the cuit of fertility. After the conquest of the Mapocho and Maipo rivers' valleys by the Cuzco people (XV century), the Cerro El Plomo was chosen for building the probably main sanctuary of the southernmost sacred complex of the Inca empire. The great height (5,430 meters) and size of the hill, its huge glaciers, its visibility from a long distance and from other sites suitable for building shrines, account for the selection of this particular spot. On the other hand, its location directly relates it with the winter solstice, and at its base the vital Mapocho river is born. It is likely that the hill had had a holy con notation for the inhabitants of the val ley before the I nca dom i nance . The ceremonial complex of the Cerro El Plomo seems to have been the main sanctuary of a system including several sacred sites of different rank. It was established in order to perform the most important ceremony of the Inca Empire state cult -or Tawantinsayu- in honor of their Sun god -Inti. As it is known, the Incas accepted and incorporated into their religious baggage the particular deities and beliefs of the people falling under the orbit of their dominance, but always placing their solar state cult above the others. The most solemn ritual of this cult was performed in the face of certain contingencies such as wers, the death or sicknesses of their rulers, or at special moments of the year such as the solstices. The ritual is the Capac cocha, which consisted in the sacrifice of young men a women. The stone buildings at the top of this impressive cordilleran massif, as well as other "high shrines" along the Andes (Aconcagua, Licancabur, etc.), were built for this purpose. In addition to other constructions at lower heights above sea level, apparently belonging to camps raised as intermediate points in the ascent to the summit, the shrine consists in a platform called "Adoratorio" (worshipping place), located 5,200 meters above sea level. About 200 meters higher, there are three rectangular rooms known as the "Enterratorio" (burying ground). The sacrificed child was found inside one of them. The child is dressed with fine vicui7ia and alpaca pieces of cloth, corresponding to a short black tunic -unhu- adorned with pieces of skin and wool fringe curis, and a gray shawl - yacolla- with red and blue-green stripes. The child wears embroidered leather moccasins -hisscu-and has copper bracelets in his hands. His long hair was arranged with more than 200 plaits and a black headband -llautu-, edged with many black wool threads for covering, at some time, the child's face, and allowing to see only a silver adornment, in the shape of two half-moons, over the forehead, and a feather headgear -mascaipacha. For the trip to the piace of sacrifice, his face was painted with red and yellow pigments. He was handed two small bags, one made of wool and the other of feathers -chuspa- to carry coca leaves; he also carried other leather pouches containing red wool threads, and bits of fingernails and human hair coming from rites celebrating the passage of one age to other, according to Andean customs. His trousseau also included two camelidae-like figurines, one in gold and silver, and the other carved from a shell brought from the tropic -mullu. The child was led to the sanctuary in a solemn procession lasting several days, in which the highest priests of the region and probably representatives from Cuzco must have surely participated. As they approached the shrine, several rituals must have taken place in preparation for the sacrifice. At a place very near to the top, the child was adorned and psychically prepared; he must have been intoxicated with alcoholic drinks and drugs. After some rites, prayers and chants, the final stretch was covered, placing the child inside an excavation made in the frozen floor of one of the pircas, which was then covered with flagstones. Near him, a feminine silver figurine was also buried, dressed with a long skirt tied to the waist with a sash, a shawl over the shouiders, a large feather headgear, and adornments and pouches after the fashion of the child. Once placed in the sepuichral chamber -connected both to the "lower world" and the “upper world"-, the child started a long sleep which lead him to his death, but also to his preservation for about 500 years, thanks to the low temperatures.