San Agustín

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San Agustín

San Agustín, archaeological region located at the headwaters of the Magdalena River in southern Colombia. Containing evidence of statuary and artificial mounds, San Agustín and neighboring areas have been the focus of intensive archaeological research. Human occupation of the area probably dates back to before 1000 bce, but evidence is still scarce. In the Valle de la Plata, to the south of where the construction of the most impressive statues and mounds took place, archaeological research has allowed the reconstruction of three periods of pre-Columbian development. Since ceramic materials found in La Plata and in San Agustín are similar, and chronological periodization is comparable, results from La Plata help to reconstruct patterns of social evolution in the Upper Magdalena in general.

By the Early Period (1000 bce–1 ce) the population was concentrated in areas of fertile soil where conditions favored agriculture with simple technologies. The population density was low. Little is known in terms of social organization and trade activities. During the Middle Period (1–850 ce) there was strong population growth; the total number of people in the area doubled. Two concentrations of population correspond to areas where monumental sculpture and barrows were found, suggesting increasing political centralization. This period also marks the peak of sculpture in San Agustín. Pollen analysis indicates that maize, potato, sweet potato, quinoa, and beans were cultivated at this time. There is also evidence of gold trade, and probably of gold adornments production, but at a small scale when compared with other southern Colombian societies such as Calima.

The Late Period (850–1530 ce) represents a continuation of population growth. At one of the large sites that emerged during the previous period, funerary monuments were found. The monuments investigated are less impressive than those of the Middle Period, inasmuch as the tombs are now deep narrow shafts. Pottery and goldwork of this time are simpler than that of previous periods. At the time of the Spanish Conquest, populations of the region are described as small chiefdoms with little political centralization compared with other societies in northern South America, such as the Muisca. As of yet, it is not clear if processes of social change implied the decadence of regional elites before the Conquest. It is just as possible that chiefly status in the region was displayed by means other than the construction of splendid monuments.

See alsoArchaeology .


Luis Duque and Julio César Cubillos, Arqueología de San Agustín: Alto de Lavapatas (1988). Also see Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff, San Agustín: A Culture of Colombia (1972). For research conducted in the Valle de la Plata see Robert Drennan, "Regional Dynamics of Chiefdoms in the Valle de la Plata," in Journal of Field Archaeology (1991).

Additional Bibliography

Duque Gómez, Luis. San Agustín, Colombia: Patrimonio de la humanidad. Bogotá: Editorial Arco, 2000.

Duque Gómez, Luis, and Julio César Cubillos. Arqueología de San Agustín: Exploraciones arqueológicas realizadas en el Alto de las Piedras (1975–1976.) Bogotá: Fundación de Investigaciones Arqueológicas Nacionales, Banco de la República, 1993.

Pinto Nolla, María, and Héctor Llanos Vargas. Las industrias líticas de San Agustín. Bogotá: Fundación de Investigaciones Arqueológicas Nacionales, Banco de la República, 1997.

                              Carl Henrik Langebaek R.

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San Agustín

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