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Indigenous people of Colombia



Chronological Table of

Cultural Regions of Colombia

Tumaco Pacific Coastal region 300 b.C – 500 a. C.
San Agustin Huila Region 600 a.C. – 1000 a.C.
Calima Cauca Valley   1500 b.C. – 1600 a.C.
Nariño Highland Nariño Region 700 – 1500 a.C.
Sinu Lower San Jorge and Sinú rivers  400 – 1600 a.C.
Muisca Eastern Cordillera, central region 300 – 1540 a.C.
Tamalameque Lower Magdalena river 1100 – 1500 a.c.
Tairona Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta 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 false filigree.