Calima: Occupation of the region in 5000 B.C.

1500 B.C. – 100 A.D.

Ceramics with incised decoration, zoomorphic vessels. Small scale
cultivation of maize.

Calima Goldworking

Some hammered sheets of gold suggest elementary gold working practices.

100 B.C. – 1300A.D.

Cultivation of beans, arracacha, squash and maize. Intensive agriculture. Construction of terraces, roads, and housing. Ceramics with painted negative decoration. Pipes for storing lime. Probable emergence of religious and political specialist.


The Calima area is located in the Western Cordillera and in the central basin of the Cauca River. It is a territory which, under certain conditions of agricultural management results optimal for the production of staples and the development of maize agriculture. Today we know that human settlement in the region dates back to the fifth millennium B.C., when groups of hunters/gatherers lived in the high basin of the Dagua River. Around 1500 B.C. and until the first century of the Common Era, the region was occupied by societies that lived in centralized by incised decoration, the presence of zoomorphic and anthropomorphic receptacles, as well as receptacles know as “canasteros” or barket carriers and “patones”, or big foot figures.

These share certain characteristics with earlier ceramics discovered in Ecuador, some phases of the Tumaco and Jama-Coaque cultures and certain pieces discovered at sites in the lower Cauca River calley, such as Catanguero. These groups, known as llama, probably were already aware of maize agricultural society. From the beginning of the ove era until 1100 A.D., the inhabitants of the Calima region certainly cultivated beans, arracacha – a tuber similar to sweet potato – gourds and corn. This phase known as Yotoco, is characterized by the construction of mountainside terraces, roads and house platforms, as well as enormous fields of crops with systems of parallel canals which permitted intensive agricultural development while reducing the risks of crops with systems of parallel canals which permitted intensive agricultural development while reducing the risks of erosion. Yotoco ceramics have some similarities with llama pieces, although Yotoco emphasized negative painted rather than incised decoration. The Yotoco phase is characterized furthermore by the presence of pipes for smoking tobacco and “poporos” or receptacles for housing lime, a substance used when chewing coca leaves. These indications, added to the evidence of intensive agricultural endeavors, suggest that Yotoco constituted a period of social change during which civil and religious specialists probably evolved.

The Sonso phase began in the 12th century. This phase marked the beginning of the serial production of a type of pottery vastly different from the ceramic record of earlier periods, burials in tombs 15 or more meters deep, trade activities that supplied the region with seashells and the construction of artificial platforms on the sides of the mountains. The Sonso phase of the 1500’s perhaps refers to the group of Indians which the Spaniards called “Gorrones”.

According to documents from the end of the 1500’s the Indians from the areas surrounding Cali divided themselves into three regions. Those who occupied the lands near the Cauca River emphasized maize and cotton cultivation as well as fishing. Those in the nearby mountains raised potatoes and beans and produced ceramic pots. To the west, on the Pacific coast, the inhabitants were extremely proficient in weaving reed baskets.

Calima goldwork reached its highest splendor in the Yotoco phase, which is if the production of spectacular objects is the point of reference. Some llama ceramic vessels have been discovered together with hammered sheets of pure gold. However, these are isolated finds and of little significance. The Yotoco phase, to the contrary, can be described as a period of noteworthy production of hammered and cast pieces. Firstly there is an outstanding group of pieces denominated “alfileres” – elongated pins cast from different metals which are thought to have been used for extracting lime from poporos. Likewise, mention should be made of the production of masks, pectorals and receptacles of varying types created by assembling sheets of hammered or embossed gold.

During the Sonso phase, goldwork like ceramics, demonstrated dramatic changes when compared to Yotoco examples. It would appear, that the largest quantity pf pieces from the centuries immediately preceding the Spanish conquest correspond to nose rings shaped like twisted nails, small semicircular nose rings and a few heart shaped pectorals. These were cats in tumbaga using the lost wax process. Summarizing, the Sonso phase marks the beginning of the use of hard alloys to the detriment of purer gold pieces and the predominance of casting as opposed to hammering. We shall see this progression in other southern Colombia regions for later periods of occupation.