San Agustín: Archaeology Side-trip

Tagged:  •  
San Agustin Image
San Agustin Image (View on flickr)

Randy and I have made a priority of visiting many pre-Columbian archeology sites during our bike trip from the north pole to the south pole. After a month of riding the beautiful country of Colombia we decided to go off-route and take a bus 6 hours from Popayán to San Agustín, a magical place full of thousands of pre-Columbian sculptures and burial sites. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995, San Agustín is a place of natural beauty and important universal culture. Some artifacts have been carbon dated as early as 3300 B.C., and aparently it was one continuous culture from that period to the date it mysteriously disappeared in the 8th century A.D.

Who built these and why are both total mysteries. Some theorize it was all a city for the dead - since humans live a short time on this earth but a long time in the after life, the burials require their own city. This spiritual place is a burial place to honor those in the after life. The hundreds of burial sites found throughout the 50,000 hectare area are full of treasures, potteries and huge sculptures guarding the tombs of the dead. Standing erect are mystical megalithic sculptures representing gods, and mystical animals. Almost all the sculptures have mammoth heads two or three times large than the body, either short legs or none and also human and animal features intermixed. The majority have jaguar or eagle features carved into the huge free standing carefully sculptured rocks. Some are realistic and others are rather abstract. Divinities with threatening faces, gnashing Jaguar-like teeth, warriors armed with clubs, and round eyes of mythical heroes are prominent feature on the majority.

San Agustin burial image
San Agustin burial image (View on flickr)

What I found most interesting were the carvings with smiling faces, women and babies which I have not seen this in any other pre-Columbian archeology site we have visited. Also of interest were the existences of the female reproductive organs carved into the feminine sculptures. Our guide suggested that the people of this area did exploratory operations or sacrificial operations that gave them the knowledge of the internal reproductive female organs.

This site differed from other sites as it was developed as a worship site to the afterlife and not a worship site for leaders, conquers and warriors. All the sites I saw in Central America and Mexico displayed male gods and male deity figures adorning the amazing ruins of long time ago. Only a handful of times did I see a female represented in any way. Here at San Agustin the great artists of long ago combined animal features with human features of the young, the old, female and male, shaman and the mystical.

A group of 5 of us spent an incredible day riding horses out to the rural area where there were multiple sculpture gardens. Our great English speaking guide, Marino, spent a lot of time teaching us the fine details of the sculptures as well as the nuances of speaking correct Spanish. In return Randy helped him learn the quirks of our language. We all had a spectacular day.

The owner of the tourist information center in San Agustin, Fabio Harbey (highly recommended), arranged everything. I mean everything. Like where we ate, the transportation to the park, the guides through the park, the transportation back to Popayan. He arranged the 6 horses and the English speaking guide to show us the sculptures in the further mountainous rural areas around San Agustin. We even stayed in the house of one of his family members which included a spectacular flower garden and some rather mischievous parrots. The orchids smell so rich it almost knocked me out. We had the whole house, a private villa in town, to ourselves for $15 a night. At first I felt a little like I was getting roped into to much but after I relaxed about it I felt Fabio did provide complete and value packed tourist services. You can find him at the World Heritage tourist office in the center of town. Tell him we sent you and perhaps you might get the special hobobiker discount.

What´s next? Tomorrow will be heading back to Popayan via bus, and then head out toward the Ecuadoran border. A ride I am intimidated by the shear climbs up to the higher passes of the Colombia Andes. The Giants!!!!. Wish us luck.

Randy and Nancy on horseback at San Agustin
Randy and Nancy on horseback at San Agustin (View on flickr)

San Agustin Image
San Agustin Image (View on flickr)

Rock carving, San Agustin
Rock carving, San Agustin (View on flickr)

Our Guide at San Agustin, Marino
Our Guide at San Agustin, Marino (View on flickr)