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San Agustin, Colombia: Mystery of Ancestral Statues and Tombs


San Agustin Park, Colombia
Statues in the archaeological park San Agustin, Colombia. Credit: Diana Herrera/CC BY-SA 1.0

In the southern Andes Mountains of Colombia, the town of San Agustin boasts a remarkable archaeological park, which stands as a testament to the country’s rich cultural heritage. Established on November 20, 1935, during the first government of Alfonso Lopez Pumarejo, this archaeological treasure trove gained UNESCO World Heritage status in 1995. Spanning an extensive area, it is renowned as the world’s largest necropolis.

The San Agustin Archaeological Park is strategically situated in the upper basin of the Magdalena River, within the municipality of San Agustin, Huila department. Perched at an altitude of 1,730 meters above sea level, this region marks the point where the eastern foothills of the Colombian Massif branch off, giving rise to the three Andean mountain ranges that traverse the country from south to north.

Archaeological research and findings in the San Agustin region have identified several distinct periods:

  1. Archaic Stage: Approximately from 3000 BC to 1000 BC, representing a pre-ceramic culture.
  2. Upper Formative Period: From 1000 BC to 300 AD, marked by the introduction of pottery and agriculture.
  3. Upper Period: Spanning from 200 AD to 300 AD
  4. Regional Classic Period: This phase, from 300 AD to 800 AD, is characterized by the construction of funerary mounds, the creation of statuary, and the use of wooden sarcophagi.
  5. Recent Period: From 800 AD until the Spanish conquest, a period witnessing the creation of the last realistic-looking statues and the cultivation of peanuts. It signifies the decline and disappearance of the culture responsible for the statues.

Exploring the Archaeological Park

The San Agustin Archaeological Park is divided into four main areas: San Agustin, Alto de los Idolos, Alto de las Piedras, and the Bosque de las Estatuas. These locations collectively offer a glimpse into the mysteries of San Agustin’s ancient past.

  1. San Agustín: Situated 4 kilometers from the town of Isnos, this area features notable statues, including the impressive 7-meter “Double Me” statue.
  2. Alto de los Idolos: Located near Isnos, this site houses the tallest statue in the municipality, standing at 7 meters.
  3. Alto de las Piedras: Situated 7 kilometers from Isnos, this location is home to statues like “La Chaquira” and offers panoramic views of the Magdalena River.

The park also includes the Archaeological Museum of San Agustin, where numerous statues, clay vessels, utensils, inscriptions, and historical documents from past excavations are on display.

Lavapatas Fountain: Discovered in 1937, this site features a system of stone-carved canals adorned with human, amphibian, and reptilian figures, dating from the 1st to the 9th centuries AD.

Bosque de las Estatuas (Forest of Statues): A network of ecological trails, this area showcases 35 funerary statues found in the vicinity while allowing visitors to immerse themselves in the regional flora.

San Agustin Park, Colombia
Detail of statue VII in the Archaeological Park of San Agustín. Credit: Aztlek, Luis Alejandro Bernal Romero/CC BY-SA 3.0

Preserving the Legacy

San Agustin serves as a testament to Colombia’s enduring heritage. Although much remains unknown about the culture that created these statues and tombs, the archaeological park invites visitors to appreciate the timeless allure of Colombia’s past and the indelible mark left by its ancient civilizations.

A journey to San Agustín is a voyage through time, offering glimpses into the lives, beliefs, and rituals of a civilization that thrived centuries ago, leaving behind enigmatic statues and tombs as silent witnesses to their existence.

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