The Magdalena is the principal river of Colombia, and a diverse and long archaeological sequence has been recognized in its valley. The early evidence of human occupation begins with hunters and gatherers. Projectile points and choppers were found in the region of Carare in the middle Magdalena Valley (8500–8000 bce). More archaeological information is found for ceramic times in the lower Magdalena Valley and includes the sites of Bucarelia and El Bongal (4000–3000 bce). Both belong to the Puerto Hormiga tradition. Other pottery complexes such as Monsú, Guájaro, and Malambo (2600–1000 bce) are also present and yield evidence of populations that subsisted on riverine resources as well as on collection of food plants. Sites such as Malambo have been considered by some authors to be part of the Barrancoid pottery tradition. This tradition has been reported to occur from the Magdalena Valley to the lower Orinoco and Amazon rivers, and appears to be related to the peopling of the Lesser Antilles. In relation to the development of agriculture and settled life in the valley, nothing is known. In more recent times (300 bce–700 ce), complex adaptations to the flooded region of the Mompos Depression occurred. The Mompos Depression has more than 250,000 acres of modified landscape in the form of raised fields that work as agricultural drainage systems for the area during the rainy season. Settlements were dispersed along the artificial channels. High-ranking individuals were buried in earth mounds with pottery and goldwork. Goldwork manufacture illustrating faunal iconography was present.
Another archaeological expression of the Magdalena Valley is what has been called the burial urn horizon. This horizon is characterized by the urns depicting a regional diversity of style that were always used for secondary burials (bones reburied in a pottery container made specifically for them). Examples include the anthropomorphic urns of Tamalameque, Puerto Serviez, Puerto Nare, Honda, Girardot, and El Espinal. The burial urn horizon seems to be a late development (900–1600). Some authors link this horizon to a migration of Carib speakers to the area. The horizon also is considered to be related to ethnic groups that the Spanish encountered, such as the Pantágoras, Pijao, Panche, and Carare. Information related to these settlements is scarce (Mayaca site). However, settlements seem to have included a common long house similar to the Maloca known in the Amazon River region. No hard evidence has been found concerning the subsistence base, but it very likely centered on maize, manioc, and fishing. The archaeological information for the upper Magdalena Valley is more complete and centered on the town of San Agustín, which gave its name to the culture.
On the middle Magdalena Valley, see Carlos Eduardo López, Investigaciones arqueológicas en el Magdalena Medio (1991). For the lower Magdalena Valley, see Gerardo Reichel-dolmatoff, Arqueología de Colombia (1986).
Castro Blanco, Elías. Geografía humana: Desarrollo social y político en la provincia de Mariquita y el valle del Magdalena en el nuevo reino de Granada: La tenencia de la tierra (encomiendas, mitas y resguardos) 1556–1856. Bogotá, D.C., Colombia: Centro de Investigaciones, 2003.
Llanos Vargas, Héctor. Presencia de la cultura de San Agustín en la depresión cálida del valle del río Magdalena: Garzon-Huila. Santafé de Bogotá, D.C.: Fundación de Investigaciones Nacionales, 1993.
Rodríguez Cuenca, José Vicente and Cifuentes Toro, Arturo. Los panches: valientes guerreros del valle alto del río Magdalena. Bogotá: Secretaría de Cultura, 2003.
Salgado López, Héctor. Antiguos pobladores en el valle del Magdalena Tolimense, Espinal-Colombia. Ibagué, Colombia: Universidad del Tolima, 2006.