Chronological Table of
Cultural Regions of Colombia
|Tumaco Pacific Coastal
– 500 a. C.
|San Agustin Huila Region
– 1000 a.C.
|Calima Cauca Valley
– 1600 a.C.
|Nariño Highland Nariño
|Sinu Lower San Jorge and
||400 – 1600 a.C.
|Muisca Eastern Cordillera,
||300 – 1540 a.C.
|Tamalameque Lower Magdalena
|Tairona Sierra Nevada de
||700 – 1600 a.C.
The world map of 1529 did nothing to dispel the
fantasies of gold hungry Europeans, for in 1513 14 Ferdinand II had
changed the name of this new land from Tierra Firme (the mainland) to
Castilla del Oro (Golden Castille). (It was not until much later that it
was called after Columbus.)
El Dorado was the myth, but what lay beyond that myth was an unknown
land of complex geographical features ranging from lush rain forests to
snow capped mountains, from arid deserts to grass rich savannas and fog
shrouded valleys. From the Caribbean to the Pacific, the invaders met
diverse tribes of Indians speaking many different languages. Some tribes
fought them ferociously, others joined with them in their battles, and
some led them to gold. What the Spaniards were not given, they took.
They scoured the land obsessively for gold. A few wrote chronicles,
filled with facts about the land and its native inhabitants. Historians
and, for the past century, archaeologists have woven together some of
the threads of these lost civilizations. We are now beginning to
understand the different tribal art styles, and the archaeology of the
gold working regions.
The Indians were buried with as much wealth as possible, and so they
strove with the utmost diligence throughout their lives to acquire and
amass all the gold they could, which they took from their own land and
were buried with it, believing that the more metal they carried away
with them the more esteemed they would be in the places and regions to
which they imagined their souls would go. Pedro de Cieza de Leon, 1554
In the sixteenth century, the Spaniards explored the lagoons and
savannas of the Sinu region of northwest Colombia, one of the richest
and most populous areas of the northern coast. When Pedro de
Heredia,visited its principal town in 1534, he found very large communal
or multifamily houses, each of which was surrounded by smaller buildings
for servants and stores. In a corner of the main square was a temple big
enough to hold more than a thousand people, and containing twenty four
wooden idols covered with sheet gold. These images were arranged in
pairs, each pair supporting a hammock filled with golden offerings.
Around the temple were the burial mounds of chiefs, each mound topped by
a tree whose branches were hung with golden bells.
One of the most interesting recent discoveries is a circular burial
mound typical of Sin 6 chiefs, at El Japon, on the east bank of the Rio
San Jorge. It covered two skeletons, each resting on a sloping stone
slab. In the space below these slabs, offerings were deposited: a piece
of cloth, a creature carved from shell, a double spouted container made
of stone, a mirror of black volcanic glass, several pots, flat and
cylindrical terracotta stamps, and many gold pieces breastplates,
bracelets, a crown, beads, nose ornaments, bells, and ear ornaments of