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Quimbaya, the name given to various ethnic groups inhabiting the Middle Cauca River valley of Colombia (departments of Quindío, Risaralda, Caldas, and Antioquia) in the sixteenth century, as well as to an immense complex of archaeological artifacts, dating from approximately 1000 to 1500 ce, that were found in the same region. Quimbaya ceramics of the Caldas complex (1000–1400) are characterized by red resist ware, and the Middle Cauca complex (1050–1500) includes stirrup vessels and anthropomorphic figurines. Gold artifacts associated with cremation burials of elite individuals are documented from the area.

The ethnic communities associated with the archaeological complex maintained a high population density supported by maize agriculture. These groups, which exhibited features of the chiefdom level of sociopolitical integration, were characterized by accentuated social hierarchy, hereditary political leaders, and an economic system based on the redistribution of subsistence products. The ethnohistorical record emphasizes Quimbaya religious practices, including human sacrifice and the flaying of slain enemies, as a means of acquiring their power.

The Quimbaya of the Conquest period are known for their fierce resistance to Spanish domination, which culminated in a series of mid-sixteenth-century rebellions against the encomienda system. Resistance to Spanish rule continued with attacks on towns on the mining frontier well into the seventeenth century.

See alsoArchaeology; Encomienda; Precontact History: Andean Region.


Juan Friede, Los Quimbayas bajo la dominación española (1963).

Luis Duque Gómez, Los Quimbayas: Reseña etno-histórica y arqueológica (1970).

Armand Labbé, Colombia Before Columbus (1986).

Alonso Valencia, Resistencia indígena a la colonización española (1991).

Additional Bibliography

Arango Cano, Jesús. La gran cultura quimbaya. Armenia: Editorial QuinGráficas, 1994.

Gamboa Hinestrosa, Pablo. El tesoro de los Quimbayas: Historia, identidad y patrimonio. Bogotá: Planeta, 2002.

McEwan, Colin. Precolumbian Gold: Technology, Style and Iconography. Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 2000.

                                    Joanne Rappaport