There were probably at least two periods, but archaeological evidence is scarce. During the earlier period, economy was based on the cultivation of maize. Ceramics are similar to those of Calima-Yotoco and San Agustin. During the later period, the region was occupied by Pijao Indians.


During the earlier period, elaboration of pure gold objects: rings, pendants, and depilating tweezers. In later eras, emphasis was placed on the use of tumbaga. Production of heart-shaped pectorals.

The term ‘Tolima’ has been used somewhat arbitrarily to refer to a series of cultural manifestations from the southern part of the Central Cordillera and the Magdalena River valley, including sites such as Chaparral, Campohermoso, and Saldana, in the present day Department of Tolima. As in the case of Cauca, the Tolima archaeological record is not complete. Some evidence, however, points to two periods of occupation, corresponding, in general terms, to the trends already described for other parts of southern Colombia.

The ceramic pieces excavated at Chaparral include decorated vessels with incisions, and their shapes recall the early developments of San Agustin and Calima. The goldwork found beside these ceramic pieces include ring shaped nose ornaments, anthropo-zoomorphic pendants ending in half moon shapes, necklace beads, geometric abstractions of the human figure, and pendants in the shape of birds and depilating tweezers. These pieces are reminiscent of developments from the Yotoco phase of Calima. In fact, some objects corresponding to the area called Tolima have been discovered in tombs beside Yotoco artifacts. By the same token, Tolima pieces with bird shaped representations and pendants ending in half moon shapes have been discovered in tomb excavations in San Agustin.

This body of evidence points to occupation before 900 A.D. Unfortunately, there is little that can be added to this hypothesis. At Chaparral excavation sites, the discovery of “manos” and “metates”, both stone grinding instruments, would indicate that in the Tolima area the earliest manifestations of goldwork are also associated with groups of maize agriculturists’. There is no evidence, however, concerning demographic density or settlement patterns.

As usual, our information expands appreciably when discussing later occupations. In the 1500’s, the area was occupied by Pijao Indians. These societies followed a settlement organization consisting of buts scattered over the sides of the mountains. Maize, beans, arracacha, manioc, sweet potato, and other root crops common to the colder climates are described as being among the most important products of their economy. Spanish reports suggest that hunting activities were quite important while fishing was less popular.

In general terms, two classes of Pijao groups are mentioned: those of the mountains and those of the lowlands. These latter included communities such as Coyaima and Natagaima which sustained bloody wars with the Andean Pijaos. However, both the mountain dwellers and the other Pijaos were governed by similar codes of cultural beliefs. Extended families banded together to form groups led by warrior chieftains. In times of peace, each group was independent. In case of war, diverse groups tended to form alliances under the leadership of the chief of one of the communities involved.

The ceramics and goldwork produced by later Tolima groups differ greatly from those created in earlier periods. The pottery is extremely varied. Tolima goldwork would stand out on the basis of the heart-shaped pectorals alone. These were made by smelting the metals to create the copper and gold alloy which was then cast using the lost wax process. Diverse stone carvings found in this geographic zone depict these goldwork shapes, which came to be copied in more northern areas, particularly in the Muisca region.