San Agustin

SAN AGUSTIN 3300 B.C. – 1600 A.D.

Various interpretations regarding its chronology agree that there was an early period which emphasized ‘monumentality’: statues, roads, and mounds. During this period spectacular gold pieces were produced Economy was based on maize. Later occupations placed less emphasis on monumental structures. Serial production of less complicated articles

The San Agustin region is located in the upper Magdalena River valley and is framed by the Central and Eastern Cordilleras. As the site of the most striking progression of monumental statuary, this part of Colombia has long attracted the attention of social scientists. The ethnic history of the region has been interpreted based on two different chronologies. One of them, established by Luis Duque Gomez and Julio Cesar Cubillos, postulates the theory of continuous development separated into an Archaic period. from3300 to 1000 B.C., a Formative period divided in two phases: (Inferior, from 1000 to 300 B.C_ and superior. from 200 B.C. to 200 A.D.), a Regional Classical period from 300 A.D. and a Recent period from 800 A.D. until the arrival of the Spaniards.

The other chronological theory was developed by Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff. According to this archaeologist there might have been three principal phases, marked by abrupt changes indicating the arrival of different peoples. These stages are defined as: Horqueta, the beginnings are undecipherable but it ends in 50 A.D.; Isnos, from 50 to 400 A.D., and Sornbrerillos from 1400 to 1650 A.D. The two opinions coincide on some significant points. Firstly, that the development of monumental architecture, one of the most characteristic remains of the region. corresponds to eras prior to the Spanish incursion. Duque and Cubillos place the statuary’s maximum level of development within the Regional Classical period. from 300 to 800A.D., while Reichel-Dolmat off has determined the highest development to have occurred between 50 to 400 A.D.. during the Isnos phase. Secondly, they concur that the builders of the mounds and statuary belong to population phases associated with an era during which the local economy was heavily dependent upon the cultivation of maize.

An initial period of maize cultivation would have placed enormous emphasis on ‘monumentality’, then later, in the last few centuries prior to the conquest, emphasis would have shifted to the serial production of more commonplace objects.

Gold working development follows along these same lines. In various parts of the region, hammered gold tubular and round necklace beads, diadems, wires, nose ornaments, gold rings with stone beads, H shaped diadems and gold covered seashells have been discovered throughout the region in association mound burials. These objects, which correspond to the statuary development, reflect ties with Calima, southern Imabaya and Tolima goldwork developments. On the other hand, the discovery of smelted drops of gold and fragments of golden sun rays in addition to the presence of alluvial gold in the regions’ rivers – particularly Manzanares and Sombrerillos – point to the local production of those metallic objects.

The last phase of San Agustin gold working is poorly documented. However, the few existing references suggest the elaboration of turnbaga nose rings. In other words, once again the large, spectacular hammered gold pieces disappear, being replaced by the production of large quantities of smaller objects. using the lost wax process.