Root agriculture societies occupied the most fertile lands. Economy complemented by fishing, hunting, and gathering mollusks. No evidence of gold working.


Introduction of the intensive cultivation of maize, population growth, incipient gold working activity. Initially, the strip of coast was populated. The permanent colonization of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta was begun around 500 A.D.


Articles similar to those of the Quimbaya Classic tradition were cast using the lost wax process; especially anthropomorphic figures and bird shaped pectorals.

TAIRONA CLASSIC 700 A.D. – 1600 A.D.

Colonization of the Sierra, networks of roadways, villages that specialized in ceramics, gold working, and textiles. Trade between the coast and the Sierra. Bonda and Pociguecia emerge as important political centers.


Bondigua evolves as a gold working center. Serial production of tumbaga ornaments using the lost wax process and with the help of molds. Tairona pieces circulate to nearby regions and even to more distant territories.

To the northeast of the lower Magdalena Valley, the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta emerges to dwarf the surrounding topography. This region, as well as the neighboring coast, remained relatively marginal to- historic transformations until after the advent of maize agriculture. Once the intensive cultivation of maize was incorporated into their society, the ecological potential of the region was exploited to its fullest and the Sierra became the backdrop for important social developments.

From approximately 1000 B.C. until just before our era, the coast surrounding the town of Cienaga and especially the banks of the Toribio and Cordoba Rivers were occupied by societies that produced an incised pottery known as Malambo. According to the scant information available, the economy of these societies was based on the cultivation of root crops complemented by fishing, gathering mollusks, and hunting. We have no evidence of goldwork for this period.

The Neguanje period extended from the beginning of the Common Era until the 5th or 6th century A.D. This period marked the disappearance of Malambo incised, pottery and the appearance of the utilization of ceramic techniques found in two types of receptacles: some decorated with red paint, others with white applications and another type whose decoration was carried out using fine incisions which formed sigmoid and curvilinear motifs. More important yet, we are talking about a period during which intensive maize cultivation and gold working practices emerged. In a pattern clearly established in other areas, the introduction or intensive maize agriculture seems to be almost catalytic in incrementing population and implementing social stratification. Neguanje corresponds, certainly, to the period during which the slopes of the Sierra started to be colonized by some of the population overflow from the coast.

Starting in the 6th century A.D., developments, both in the Sierra as well as on the neighboring coast, are credited to the period denominated Tairona, a term which in reality refers to a population from one of the sectors of the northern slopes of the Sierra. As to ceramic styles, the Tairona period marks the disappearance of painted decoration and incised curvilinear designs, characteristic of Nequanje. However, some pottery shapes continue to be fundamentally the same. Tairona marks the beginning of the total and intensive occupation of the Sierra by agricultural societies. Villages of stone structures, clustered together, are established and connected by the construction of systems of roads, drainage and irrigation works, as well as the highest development of the serial production of both ceramic and metallic objects.

The Tairona lived in centralized villages, many of which were probably located in the temperate floor (900 – 1800 m) These were large villages with public areas, access roads, tiers, aqueducts and sewers with paved stone walls and floors, usually conformed of several dozen smaller units or “rings” for dwellings. Furthermore, the population maintained housing and cultivation terraces on high plateaus and at the foot of the Sierra, territories to which they moved so as to vary their diet, incorporating the great variety of crops and resources available. As a result of the enormous variations available from the coast – usually warm and dry but extremely fertile in some areas – and the Sierra – in general more humid, and colder in the higher climes – the populations which maintained their villages in one or another of the regions were involved in Made relationships. Fish, salt, cotton, and maize from the lowlands arrived into the hands of the Indians on the high cold lands in exchange for blankets, goldwork, and agricultural products common to those regions.

The Tairona political organization was complex. Each town was divided into “barrios”, possibly areas destined for groups of relatives. Caciques or chiefs were respected as civil leaders and Nahomas were honored as religious leaders. The functions of both the civil as well as the religious leaders could be performed only after the individuals had endured rigorous training, which lasted years and demanded exhausting days of fasting and study. When the Spaniards arrived, some villages, particularly Bonda and Pocigueica, possessed a power and prestige that was recognized over vast sections of the Sierra and the coast. Many communities continued, however, to retain their independence well into the 1500’s.

The goldwork of the Sierra and neighboring regions reached its greatest splendor in the measure that those same communities adopted more and more complex economic orders. Nequanje goldwork was already characterized by the creation of anthropomorphic figures, bird shaped pectorals or “aguilas” (eagles) and a further series of figures very much like those of Quimbaya Classic. Tairona goldwork continued to place great emphasis on casting. They increased the custom of forced oxidation to highlight the gold, and above all, they started the production of enormous quantities of pieces that represent an extraordinarily rich variety of figures in man-bird or man bat shapes, as well as diverse representations of fauna. Some of these pieces were cast using mold which allowed them to produce numerous copies from a single original. In fact, the Tairona gold pieces deposited in the Museum number in the thousands.

Tairona gold workers were supplied with gold mined from the Don Diego, Buritaca, and Guachica Rivers. In Bondigua, a place near the town of Bonda, as well as in some parts of the Buritaca River basin, specialized gold working centers developed. Thousands of necklace beads, circular shaped pectorals, “eagles”, half moon shaped earrings, globular rattles, bracelets, and diadems supplied the local population as well as communities from the Guajira, the Magdalena River basin, the Perijhills, and Lake Maracaibo basin.