San Agustín Archaeological Park (World Heritage)

San Agustín Archaeological Park (World Heritage)

South America

In the park there are remnants of a megalithic culture with stone sculptures and sacred buildings. It is the most important archaeological site in Colombia dating from 500 BC. BC and AD 1300

San Agustín Archaeological Park: Facts

Official title: San Agustín Archaeological Park
Cultural monument: At the transition from the Eastern and Central Cordillera relics of a megalithic culture with more than 350 animal and human sculptures made from andesite blocks, as well as extensive »cities of the dead«, spread over 3 separate excavation areas, of which San Agustín with 0, 78 km² is the largest; In the Parque Archeológico there is a “forest of statues” of 35 sculptures and also various burial mounds such as Meseta A, Meseta B and Meseta C.
Continent: America
Country: Colombia
Location: near San Agustín, in the headwaters of the Río Magdalena, northeast of Pasto, southwest of Bogotá
Appointment: 1995
Meaning: the largest group of sacred monuments and megalithic sculptures in South America

San Agustín Archaeological Park: History

around 500 BC Chr. oldest finds of the San Agustín culture
from the 8th century gradual disappearance of the San Agustín culture
1757 first reports about the archaeological site
1914 Research by the German ethnologist and later head of the Berlin Museum of Ethnology, Konrad Theodor Preuss (1869-1938)
1936/37 Discovery of the foot washing spring (Fuente de Lavapatas)

The place of the jaguar man

According to constructmaterials, the diverse climatic and vegetation levels of the headwaters of the Río Magdalena were evidently very conducive to settlement in pre-Columbian times. The center of life and cult of a high-ranking civilization arose there, which has left monumental tombs and hundreds of stone sculptures for posterity. Even if little is known about the origin of this so-called San Agustín culture, the expressive sculptural figures that have been preserved are impressive.

Favored by its geographical location, San Agustín – located in the middle of the majestic Andes on a flattening to the Amazon lowlands – was an important trading center for a long time, which maintained connections deep into the Amazon region, to the heights of today’s Popayán and on to the Pacific coast.

At the time of the Spanish conquest of South America, the heyday of these cultures was long gone, no Spanish source ever mentioned San Agustín. Possibly the place was completely covered by earth in the 16th century. The first description of the archaeological site is known from the middle of the 18th century, thanks to the priest Juan de Santa Gertrudis.

More than a century and a half had to pass before German and British ethnologists discovered San Agustín as a research task at the beginning of the 20th century. The expedition initiated by the British Museum in London was particularly successful and secured numerous finds that were then transported to England.

To date, more than 350 statues have been found in the area around San Agustín, possibly depicting household and family gods. Simple graves, ceramics, obsidian and bone jewelry come from the beginnings of the San Agustín culture, and expressive sculptures from the heyday between the fifth and eighth centuries AD, the head of which usually makes up a third of the size of the overall figure. Long canine teeth give these figures a terrifying, if not warlike, appearance. The intellectual and political dignitaries found their resting place in huge “megalithic tombs”, which outwardly resemble those of northern Germany a little.

It is still inexplicable why this culture disappeared. It was presumably warlike tribes of the Amazon lowlands who drove out the original residents. Only the archaeological park and the Alto de los Ídolos with the tombs and the source of the foot washing bear testimony to this. Particularly noteworthy is the grave site known as “Meseta B”, the western hill of which is enclosed by a heart-shaped ring of stone settings. In the center of the complex is a mausoleum with three figures, of which the middle figure is holding a chain with a human head between his hands. The earlobes of this figure are pierced with broad stakes, like those worn by the last Jívaros in neighboring Ecuador. A “chief” is flanked by two guards who have raised their weapons.

Through a bamboo forest you get to the Fuente de Lavapatas, a ceremonial square that resembles a natural bathtub with small channels, spiral patterns and the depiction of snakes and snails. On the top of the hill Alto de Lavapatas arises what is probably the most significant symbol of the local culture, the Doble Yo, “the double-faced self”: The plastic fusion of man and jaguar is considered the classic representation of the shaman in Indian mythology.

San Agustín Archaeological Park (World Heritage)