San Agustin, one of the most intriguing ancient sites in Colombia, is home to more than 500 monoliths, statues, petroglyphs and sarcophagi. The area was settled around 3300 B.C., but it was not until the sixth century A.D. to the 14th century A.D. that the descendants of these first settlers created the ceremonial rock carvings and burial sites found at San Agustin. Unfortunately, attacks on the region by outsiders forced the citizens of this city to leave their land sometime between 1300 A.D. and 1400 A.D.
The pre-Incan culture that resided in San Agustin is surrounded by mystery. No one knows their actual name. There is no information regarding their social or political structure. Scientists found a type of script at the site, but have been unable to translate it. Most of what is known about this society comes from the interpretation of the carved statues and other ruins.
Most of the stone carvings at San Agustin were created between 100 A.D. and 1200 A.D. They were carved from volcanic rock and they vary in height from 20 centimeters to seven meters. They include representations of human figures, smiling and sneering monsters as well as animals such as snakes, birds and jaguars. Most of the statues are related to funeral ceremonies, the supernatural world and the power of the dead.
One of the most popular statues is The Double Self, a stone carving of a dual being with the two heads morphing together to form one frontal cat-like head. It symbolizes the magic of a shaman. The carving of the Eagle Grasping the Snake With Its Claws represents creation as well as political hierarchy and power. La Fuente de Lavapatas is a sacred fountain used in ritual baths and religious ceremonies. It is the most elaborate of the carvings. The water for the fountain flows through a maze of pools and canals carved in the bedrock of the stream. The carvings include snakes, toads, turtles and iguanas along with human shapes and faces.
In addition to viewing the impressive statues and other carvings, visitors are also welcome to examine some of the excavated and reconstructed burial chambers at San Agustin. Earthquakes, erosion and human interference have displaced some of the tombs’ contents, but scientists preserved the megalithic stone elements and funerary layouts using the original building techniques.
Archaeologists know very little about the stone carvers of San Agustin. However, by studying what they left behind, they believe that these people were expert mathematicians and artisans with great creativity and imagination. More mysteries will be solved as additional excavations take place.