The San Agustín culture is an archaeological culture found in Colombia. The site has been occupied since the 33rd century BCE. Several hundred monolithic sculptures have been found, dating from the 1st century CE to the 9th century CE. There is an ongoing scientific study into the culture's origins and nature. For its period, the San Agustín culture displays considerable development in agriculture, ceramics, goldsmithing, and sculptural art.
The differences between objects, clothing, and sculptures have led archaeologists to hypothesize that the necropolis of San Agustín was a location where several South American groups from distant regions brought their high-status dead to be buried.
Statues and tombs appear as ceremonial centers, isolated from each other. Historical tradition has bestowed these places with names such as Mesitas, Lavapatas, Ullumbe, Alto de los Ídolos, Alto de las Piedras, Quinchana, El Tablón, La Chaquira, La Parada, Quebradillas. Some are lined with large slabs with monolithic sarcophagi inside and are covered with artificial mounds that reach up to 30 m (100 ft) in diameter and 5 m (16 ft) in height. Others contain statues over 4 m (13 ft) in height and several tons in weight. The most outstanding lithic work is called "Fuente de Lavapatas", in the rocky bed of the ravine of the same name, where there is an elaborate ceremonial fountain with three pools and numerous serpentine and batracomorphic figures in low relief, surrounded by tiny channels through which water flows. It has been suggested that the site was dedicated to the worship of aquatic deities and to the practice of healing ceremonies.
More than three hundred statues have been found, most of them in an area delimited by the basins of the Magdalena, Bordones, Mazamorras and Sombrerillos rivers and the peaks of the Colombian Massif. The blocks in which they were carved are volcanic tuffs and lava andesites, some of large dimensions, up to more than four meters high and several tons in weight. With the exception of the neighboring region of Tierradentro (Cauca) such monumental sculpture is found in no other area of Colombia.
The general structure of the archaeological complex of San Agustín evidences some characteristic features, such as the homogeneity of certain elements and their continuity through the different periods, which speaks in favor of a cultural kinship of the different groups that lived there and of a long tradition of them. This is also suggested by elements such as ceramics and lithics, as well as in certain motifs represented in the sculptures, whose ancestral forms began at least in the 7th century BCE and persist, next to later ones, until the 16th century CE.
In the sculptures appear several animals linked to natural or productive phenomena. The sun, moon, lightning, rain and other natural phenomena are personified and expressed in the carvings. The deities appear anthropo-zoomorphized and closely associated with mortuary rites. The sun and the moon preside over the religious pantheon.
The frequency of representation of the feline mouth in most of the sculptures is indicative of the cult of the jaguar, which seems to be one of the oldest and most widespread among the peoples that lived in the Andean area and that still persists in the aboriginal populations of the Amazon jungle. In other Andean archaeological cultures this element also characterizes many sculptural representations.
Many of the sculptures are referred to as caryatids, because they are representations of warriors and support the ceilings of the great tombs in Mesitas A and B. Similar monoliths are found in the northwest mound of Mesita B and in the eastern and western mounds of Mesita A. These statues represent warriors, in a naturalistic way, adorned with special tiaras and carrying weapons: rounded throwing stones and shields. In other statues the shield is replaced by a short club, the macuahuitl referred to in the chronicles of the 16th century.
The world view of this civilization had three levels, the cosmos, upper level, symbolized by the eagle, characterized by strong vision, the underground level, symbolized by the serpent, representing fertility of the earth, and the human range, symbolized by the monkey, representing human fertility and sexuality, and the jaguar, representing power and intelligence.
The mouths of the statues usually have large incisors. The number of teeth between the incisors signifies which animal is symbolized: 6 teeth symbolizes the jaguar, 4 teeth the monkey, and no teeth the snake.
Some of the statues show signs of the use of hallucinogens, the puffed cheeks, where they hold the wads of coca leaves, and the large round, protruding eyes under the influence of hallucinogens.
Female Shaman statues frequently have a rhombus line design on the headband of their head dress. According to my guide, there are more female statues than male ones.
The statues evolved over time. First they were wooden statues, then simple stone statues, then the more and more elaborate stone statues.
View over Mesita A. (726k) Grave sites in the ground. These were for lower class people. (1299k) Shaman tomb. (1137k) Stone statues guarding a grave. (1010k) Side view of the statues. (914k) Center statue, a Shaman with feather crown, necklace and bracelets, the insignia of a Shaman. He is holding tools. He has a waist rope holding his penis. (752k) Oblique view of the center statue. (693k) Head of the center statue. (798k) Arms and hands of the center statue, holding tools. (743k) Body of the center statue. (762k) Mouth of the center statue with six teeth between the incisors, signifying the jaguar. (909k) Closer view of the guardian statue on the left. The lower part is human, holding a staff, the upper part is combination of animal parts, a monkey head and a snake body and a caiman head. (796k) Oblique view of the guardian statue on the left. (760k) Human head on the guardian statue on the left. (804k) Monkey head and snake body on the guardian statue on the left. (721k) Closer view of the guardian statue on the right, similar to the one on the left. (776k) Oblique view of the guardian statue on the right. (823k) Human head on the guardian statue on the right. (809k) Burial chamber behind the guarding statues. (1137k) Shaman tomb from the back side. (1029k) Burial chamber of the tomb. (972k) Statues guarding the tomb. (951k) Statues guarding the tomb. (951k) Center statue. This one is female. (545k) Head of the center statue. She has four teeth between the incisors, signifying the monkey. (674k) Guardian statue on the left. (809k) Guardian statue on the right. (846k) Stone statue. (820k) Close-up of the head of the statue. The six teeth between the incisors signify the jaguar. (760k)
View over Mesita B. (1048k) There are graves everywhere. (1065k) Partially excavated burial chamber. (1195k) Dolmen style small tomb. (1.5M) More elaborate tomb. (1005k) Older simple stone statue. (939k) Older simple stone statue. (1141k) Large statue showing the birth of a baby. (778k) Upper part of the statue showing the Shaman with the newborn baby. (622k) Bottom part of the statue showing the mother. (921k) Statue of an eagle holding a snake, symbolizing the realm above and the realm below. (916k) Statue of a mask. It has the puffed out cheeks that indicate coca chewing. (870k) Large tomb with guardian statues. (1107k) Burial chamber and passage way of the tomb. (754k) Guardian statues of the tomb. (1049k) Center statue, holding a child. (728k) Close-up of the head. It has four teeth between the incisors, signifying the monkey. (784k) Close-up of the child. (859k) Face of the guardian statue on the right. (876k) Face of the guardian statue on the left. (1024k) View of a large tomb on Mesita B. (968k) Front of the tomb with the guardian statues. (1076k) Guardian statues of the tomb. (810k) Center statue. It has a necklace with a monkey skull. (658k) Head of the center statue. It has puffed up cheeks from coca chewing. (659k) Body of the center statue, showing the necklace with the monkey skull. (670k) Guardian statue on the right. The lower part is human, holding tools or weapons, the upper part is combination of animal parts. (738k) Bottom part of the guardian statue on the right. (734k) Top part of the guardian statue on the right. (589k) Guardian statue on the left, similar to the one on the right. (740k) Bottom part of the guardian statue on the left. (720k)
View of Mesita C. (1063k) Stone Shaman statue with monkey body. The four teeth between the incisors also signify the monkey. He has the large round eyes associated with use of hallucinogens. (874k) Stone statue of Shaman with feather head dress. He has a large nose decoration. I saw such nose decorations in the Gold Museum in Bogotá. (1022k) Head of the Shaman statue with large nose decoration. (894k) Double faced statue of a monkey. (837k) One face of the double faced monkey statue. (762k) One face of the double faced monkey statue. (826k) Unfinished statue. (835k)
Fuente De Lavapatas. (1335k) Fuente De Lavapatas. (1185k) Part of Fuente De Lavapatas. (1100k) Part of Fuente De Lavapatas. (1050k) Closer view of the carved rock in Fuente De Lavapatas. (1078k) Closer view of the carved rock in Fuente De Lavapatas. (1252k) Close-up view of the carved rock in Fuente De Lavapatas. (1234k) Closer view of the carved rock in Fuente De Lavapatas. (1143k) The Frog statue. It combines animal (the head) and human parts (the arms). It is looking at Fuente De Lavapatas. (918k) Frog statue. The right eye was damaged by workers at the site. (633k)
Statue of a Shaman. (1118k) Oblique view of the Shaman statue. He is carrying a caiman on his back. (964k) Side view of the Shaman statue. (819k) Face of the Shaman statue. (692k) Lower part of the Shaman statue. (1103k) Another Shaman statue. (893k) Carved rock similar to the Frog at Fuente de Lavapatas, again with animal head and human arms. (1056k) Rock with scratched symbols. (1046k)
View over the Alto De Las Piedras site. (941k) Large stone statue of a Shaman, similar to the on on Alto De Lavapatas. (830k) Side view of the statue. (882k) Description of the statue. (535k) Tomb with statue at the entrance. (886k) Main chamber of the tomb. (882k) Remnants of paint and carved designs on the upright stones. (790k) Carved designs on the upright stones. (782k) Statue of a Shaman at the entrance, with the necklace and bracelets, the insignia of a Shaman. (671k) Close-up of the head of the Shaman statue at the entrance. She is female, showing the pattern on the head band. (671k) Tomb with statue at the entrance. (764k) Main chamber of the tomb. (678k) Remnants of paint on the upright stones. (669k) Statue at the entrance. (745k) Statue at the entrance. (764k) Statue. (882k) Tomb with statue at the entrance. (870k) Closer view of the tomb. (832k) Statue at the entrance. She is female according to the pattern on the head band. (744k) Side view of the tomb. (960k) Burial chamber of the tomb. (781k) Stone statue of female Shaman with the necklace and bracelets. It seems to show a pregnant female. (799k) Head of the pregnant Shaman with remnants of paint. (862k) Carved designs on a rock. (916k) Tomb. (872k)
The mounds at Alto De Los Ídolos are from the Regional Classic Period (1 CE to 900 CE). The site has been occupied since the Formative Period (1000 BCE to 1 CE) until the Recent Period (900 CE to 1350 CE). The very earliest signs of occupation were fire sites from 3300 BCE.
The larger tombs usually have an entrance with stone figures, a covered passage way ending in the main chamber, usually with a stone sarcophagus.
View over the Alto De Los Ídolos site. (817k) View over the Alto De Los Ídolos site. In the center is the largest of the statues. (752k) Area at the Alto De Los Ídolos site with several smaller tombs. (935k) Small tomb. (841k) Small tomb with statue of a caiman. The caiman doesn't live in this area, only in the Amazon area, several hundred kilometers away. (989k) Closer view of the caiman statue. (837k) Another caiman statue, this one more eroded. (860k) Smaller tomb with statue and stone sarcophagus. (958k) Stone sarcophagus. (715k) Female stone statue. She is holding fish. She has the big protruding round eyes of a Shaman under the influence of hallucinogen. (821k) Smaller tomb with statue. (848k) Full view of the statue. She is a female Shaman, showing the necklace and bracelets, the insignia of the Shaman. (772k) Head of the statue. The pattern on the head band is indicative of a female statue. (837k) Large tomb. (835k) Passage of the tomb (right) and main chamber with stone sarcophagus (left). (872k) Stone sarcophagus with stone carved lid. (824k) This tomb has remnants of color painting. (890k) Entrance statue. This is a female, the mouth symbolizes a snake (no teeth between the incisors). (805k) Body of the statue. (879k) Head of the statue. (767k) One of the larger tombs. (933k) View over the large tomb. (944k) View over the large tomb with the entrance on the left, the passage in the center, and the beginning of the main chamber on the right. (971k) View of the large capstones over the main chamber of the tomb. (941k) Stone sarcophagus in the main chamber. (785k) This tomb has two entrances, so it was actually two tombs for two important people. (829k) Statue in one of the entrances. It is the figure of a hunter, with fish on his back, holding a monkey with a phallic tail. The monkey was a sacred animal, symbolizing sexuality. The statue has a waist rope, holding his penis. It shows the large round eyes of being under the influence of hallucinogens. (767k) Statue in the second entrance, a seated figure. It also shows the large round eyes of being under the influence of hallucinogens. (804k) Medium sized tomb with stone sarcophagus. (791k) Statue in the tomb entrance. The statue is quite eroded, it is made of fairly soft volcanic rock. The statue had pierced ears with large plugs in the piercing. (690k) Close-up of the right ear. (723k) Close-up of the left ear. (673k) Large stone sarcophagus. (865k) Stone statue. This one retains some of the painted colors. It shows the Shaman insignia, the necklace and bracelets. (738k) Closer view of the head with color remnants. (768k) Closer view of the body with color remnants. (779k) The largest of the statues, 5.2 m (17.1 ft) high, 1.8 m (5.9 ft) wide, 1.5 m (4.9 ft) deep. It portrays a female Shaman, with the Shaman insignia, the necklace and bracelets. (842k) Close view of the head of the statue. (881k) Close view of the necklace and bracelets, the Shaman insignia. (927k)
East facing side of La Chaquira. (1132k) East facing side of the main carved boulder at La Chaquira. (1142k) Closer view of the face on the east facing side. (1313k) North facing side of the main carved boulder at La Chaquira. You can see faint traces of carvings. (1118k) South facing side of the main carved boulder at La Chaquira. (1225k) Another carved boulder at La Chaquira. (1152k)
Museo Arqueológico de San Agustín
Statues in the museum. (655k) Statue in the museum. (660k) Statue in the museum. (634k) Statue in the museum. (704k) Statue in the museum. (699k) Statue in the museum. (789k) Statue in the museum. (767k)