Tierradentro: National Archeological Park (Colombia)

Tierradentro: National Archeological Park (Colombia)

Thu, 01/03/2019 - 11:58
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The National Archaeological Park of Tierradentro is located in southwestern Colombia within the Cordillera Central of the Colombian Andes. The World Heritage Site contains all known monumental shafts and chamber tombs of Tierradentro culture, their most prominent and elaborate tombs.

Tierradentro: National Archaeological Park

The National Archaeological Park of Tierradentro is located in southwestern Colombia within the Cordillera Central of the Colombian Andes, in the municipality of Inzá, department of Cauca. It was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995.

Tierradentro is one of the ancient pre-Columbian cultures of Colombia. It flourished around 200 BC and continued into the 17th century.

Four areas, dispersed over a few square kilometers, make up the archaeological park: Alto de San Andrés, Alto de Segovia, Alto del Duende, El Tablón and, as a site of importance but outside the park boundary, the Alto del Aguacate.

The Tierradentro site contains all known monumental shafts and chamber tombs of Tierradentro culture, their most prominent and elaborate tombs.

Tierradentro holds the largest concentration of pre-Columbian monumental shaft tombs with side chambers, known as hypogea, carved in the volcanic tuff below hilltops and mountain ridges.

The structures, some measuring up to 12 m (40 ft) wide and 7 m (23 ft) deep, were made from 600 to 900 AD and served as collective secondary burial for elite groups.

The degree of complexity achieved by the architecture of these tombs, with chambers that resemble the interior of large houses, is evident in the admirable carving in the tuff of the stairs that give access to a lobby and the room, as well as in the skillful placement of core and perimeter columns that required meticulous planning.

The tombs are often decorated with polychrome murals with elaborate geometric, zoomorphic and anthropomorphic designs in red and black paint on a white background. The chambers of the more impressive underground structures were also decorated with intricate anthropomorphic carvings.

Tierradentro is very well known for its pre-Columbian hypogea, which were found in several excavations and are divided into many archeological places.

Smaller hypogea vary from 2.5 m - 7 m (8 - 12 ft) in depth, with oval floors 2.5 - 3 m (8 - 10 ft) wide, while the chambers of the most significant examples could be 10 - 12 m (33 - 40 ft) wide. Most impressive are those with two or three free-standing central columns and several decorated pilasters along the walls with niches between them.

The typical hypogeum has an entry oriented towards the west, a spiral staircase and a central chamber, usually 5 - 8 m (16 - 26 ft) below the surface, with several lesser compartments around, each containing a corpse.

The walls are painted with geometric, anthropomorphic and zoomorphic patterns in red, black and white. Some statues and remains of pottery and fabrics can be seen scarcely due to grave robbery before the hypogea were constituted as protected areas.

The magnitude of the underground works and how human remains were disposed of inside the hypogea indicate the existence of a hierarchical social and political structure based on chiefs with priestly functions.

The stone statues of the Tierradentro region are of great importance. They are carved from stone of volcanic origin and represent standing human figures with their upper limbs placed on their chests.

Masculine figures have banded head-dresses, long cloths and various adornments, whereas female figures wear turbans, sleeveless blouses and skirts. In addition, there are feline and amphibious representations manifested in sculptures.

Underground tombs with side chambers have been found throughout the Americas, from Mexico to northwestern Argentina, but their largest concentration is in Colombia. However, it is not only the number and concentration of these tombs at Tierradentro that is unique but also their structural and internal features.