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Calima, archaeological region located in the western highlands and the middle Cauca Valley, Colombia. Human occupation dates from the eighth millennium bce to the sixteenth century. The first inhabitants were hunters and gatherers who made use of the abundant plants available in the region. Evidence of this early occupation has been found at several open sites, notably El Pital. Dates for these locations range from about 7500 to 2200 bce. Pollen diagrams suggest maize was present in the region about 5000 to 3000 bce, but it is not clear yet if it played an important role in the economy of these early settlers.

Later periods include Ilama (ca. 1000 to 0 bce), Yotoco (0 to 1200 ce) and Sonso (1200 to 1600 ce). The Ilama period marks the introduction of pottery richly decorated with incisions. There is evidence that Ilama people cultivated maize and developed metallurgy. Burials suggest there were some differences between the elite and the commoner in terms of access to exotic goods. Elite items generally copied designs from afar; gold objects sometimes imitated statuary from the Upper Magdalena region to the west.

Pottery was painted during the Yotoco period. Agriculture consisting of beans, maize, and gourds is associated with this development stage, as is the elaboration of some impressive large adornments of gold. Agricultural intensification is suggested by evidence of ridges and drainage systems in the valleys associated with the Yotoco period. Some Yotoco burials were extremely lavish, with gold objects and adornments elaborated in exotic raw materials such as seashells. Other burials, in contrast, contained only pottery vessels. This evidence suggests some degree of social inequality. Also, as Yotoco sites are more abundant than Ilama sites, it has been suggested that the Yotoco population was larger.

The Sonso period is described as one of dramatic change in social organization in the Calima region. Pottery was more simple, lacking the well-crafted designs of the Yotoco ceramics. Gold objects were not as impressive as those of the Yotoco period, generally consisting of small earrings. Agricultural practices also changed. Instead of in the valleys, the Sonso people cultivated on the slopes of the mountains.

Sonso is frequently described as a period of decadence. Nonetheless, evidence of social complexity continues to be found from this period, and some burials evidence an impressive number of pots. Also, the large number of Sonso sites reported suggests continuation of population growth. At the time of the Spanish Conquest, the native populations in the area were dominated by European colonizers and few traces of the pre-Columbian inheritance remained in the region.

See alsoArchaeology .


The basic source for archaeological studies in the Calima region is Pro Calima (1980–1988), published in English in Basel, Switzerland. See also Leonor Herrera, Marianne Cardale, and Warwick Bray, "El Hombre y su medio ambiente en Calima," in Revista Colombiana de Antropología (1983), and "Costa del Pacífico y vertiente oeste de la Cordillera Occidental," in Colombia Prehispánica-Regiones Arqueológicas (1989). For a general discussion on social complexity in the area, see Carl Henrik Langebaek, "Estilos y culturas en Colombia prehispánica," in Gran Enciclopedia de Colombia (1991). A recent overview of Colombian archaeology is Carl Henrik Langebaek, Noticias de Caciques muy Mayores: Orígen y desarrollo de sociedades complejas en el nororiente de Colombia y norte de Venezuela (1992).

Additional Bibliography

Cardale de Schrimpff, Marianne, ed. Calima and Malagana: Art and Archaeology in Southwestern Colombia. Bogotá: Pro Calima Foundation, 2005.

Labbé, Armand J., and Warwick Bray. Shamans, Gods, and Mythic Beasts: Colombian Gold and Ceramics in Antiquity. New York: American Federation of Arts; Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1998.

Langebaek, Carl Henrik, and Alejandro Dever. Arqueología en el Bajo Magdalena: Un estudio de los primeros agricultores del Caribe colombiano. Bogotá: Departamento de Antropología, Universidad de los Andes, 2000.

Rodríguez, Carlos Armando. El Valle del Cauca prehispánico: Procesos socioculturales antiguos en las regiones geohistóricas del Alto y Medio Cauca y la Costa Pacífica colombo-ecuatoriana. Santiago de Cali: Universidad del Valle, Departamento de Historia, Facultad de Humanidades; Washington, DC: Fundación Taraxacum, 2002.

Rodríguez Cuenca, José Vicente, Sonia Blanco, and Alexander Clavijo. Pueblos, rituales y condiciones de vida prehispánicas en el Valle del Cauca. Bogotá, D.C.: Universidad Nacional de Colombia, 2005.

                              Carl Henrik Langebaek R.

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