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San Agustín Archaeological Park

San Agustín Archaeological Park

The largest group of religious monuments and megalithic sculptures in South America stands in a wild, spectacular landscape. Gods and mythical animals are skilfully represented in styles ranging from abstract to realist. These works of art display the creativity and imagination of a northern Andean culture that flourished from the 1st to the 8th century.

Parc archéologique de San Agustín

Dans un paysage sauvage impressionnant se dresse le plus grand ensemble de monuments religieux et de sculptures mégalithiques d'Amérique du Sud. Divinités et animaux mythiques sont représentés avec une parfaite maîtrise dans des styles allant de l'abstraction au réalisme. Ces œuvres d'art témoignent de la créativité et de l'imagination d'une culture du nord des Andes qui connut son apogée du Ie r au VIIIe siècle.

منتزه سان أوغسطان الأثري

تجثم أمام منظر طبيعي متوحّش في سحره المجموعة الأكبر من التحف الدينيّة والمنحوتات المغليتيّة لأمريكا الجنوبيّة. ويجسد هذا المنظر أبلغ تجسيد للآلهة والحيوانات الأسطوريّة في أساليب تتراوح بين الغموض والواقع. وتشهد هذه التحف الفنيّة على خيال ثقافة شمال الآنديز وإبداعها وهي التي بلغت ذروتها بين القرنين الأوّل والثامن.

source: UNESCO/ERI

圣奥古斯丁考古公园

在南美洲一片原始壮观的风景区内矗立着最大的宗教建筑和巨石雕塑群。精湛地雕刻了众神和传说中的动物,从抽象主义到现实主义,风格各异。这些艺术杰作显示了1至8世纪盛极一时的北安第斯文化的创造力和想象力。

source: UNESCO/ERI

Археологический парк Сан-Агустин

Крупнейшая в Южной Америке группа религиозных памятников и мегалитических скульптур находится посреди пустынного живописного ландшафта. Боги и мифические животные мастерски представлены в различных стилях – от абстракции до реализма. Эти произведения искусства свидетельствуют о высоком творческом потенциале культуры, процветавшей в районе Северных Анд в I-VIII вв.

source: UNESCO/ERI

Parque arqueológico de San Agustín

En este parque se yergue, en medio de un paisaje natural impresionante, el mayor conjunto de monumentos religiosos y esculturas megalíticas de Sudamérica. Las representaciones de deidades y bestias mitológicas están ejecutadas con gran maestría en diferentes estilos, que van desde la abstracción al realismo. Estas obras de arte muestran la fuerza creadora e imaginativa de una cultura de la región andina septentrional que floreció entre los siglos I y VIII.

source: UNESCO/ERI

サン・アグスティン遺跡公園

source: NFUAJ

Archeologisch park San Agustín

Het Archeologisch park San Agustín ligt op 2 kilometer van de gelijknamige stad. Het archeologisch gebied strekt zich uit over 2.000 vierkante kilometer en ligt op een hoogte van 1.800 meter. In dit wilde en spectaculaire landschap is de grootste groep religieuze monumenten en megalithische beeldhouwwerken in Zuid-Amerika te vinden. De sculpturen stellen goden en mythische dieren voor en ze zijn vakkundig afgebeeld in stijlen die variëren van abstract tot realistisch. De kunstwerken tonen de creativiteit en verbeelding van een noordelijke Andes cultuur, die bloeide van de 1e tot de 8e eeuw na Christus.

Source: unesco.nl

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Archaeological park of San Augustin © Sacred Sites / Martin Gray
Outstanding Universal Value

Brief synthesis

The San Agustín Archaeological Park is located in the Colombian Massif of the Colombian southwestern Andes, on terrains of the municipalities of San Agustín and Isnos, in the department of Huila. Three separate properties, totalling 116 ha, comprise the Archaeological Park: San Agustín (conformed by the Mesita A, Mesita B, Mesita C, La Estación, Alto de Lavapatas and Fuente de Lavapatas sites), Alto de los Ídolos and Alto de Las Piedras. The park is at the core of San Agustín archaeological zone featuring the largest complex of pre-Columbian megalithic funerary monuments and statuary, burial mounds, terraces, funerary structures, stone statuary and the Fuente de Lavapatas site, a religious monument carved in the stone bed of a stream.

The ceremonial sites are at the centre of settlement concentrations and contain large burial mounds connected to one another by terraces, paths, and earthen causeways. The earthen mounds, some measuring 30 m in diameter, constructed during the Regional Classic period (1-900 AD) covered large stone tombs of elite individuals of the well documented chiefdom societies that developed in the region since around 1000 BC--one of the earliest complex societies in the Americas. The tombs contain an elaborate funerary architecture of stone corridors, columns, sarcophagi and large impressive statues depicting gods or supernatural beings, an expression of the link between deceased ancestors and the supernatural power that marks the institutionalization of power in the region. In the municipality of San Agustin the main archaeological monuments are Las Mesitas, where the ancestors constructed artificial mounds, terraces, funerary structures and stone statuary; the Fuente de Lavapatas, a religious monument carved in the stone bed of a stream; and the Bosque de Las Estatuas, where there are examples of stone statues from the whole region. The Alto de Los Idolos is on the right bank of the Magdalena River and the smaller Alto de las Piedras lies further north: both are in the municipality of San José de Isnos. Like the main San Agustín area, they are rich in monuments of all kinds. Much of the area is a rich archaeological landscape, with evidence of ancient tracks, field boundaries, drainage ditches and artificial platforms, as well as funerary monuments. This was a sacred land, a place of pilgrimage and ancestors worship. These hieratic guards, some more than 4 m high weighing several tonnes, are carved in blocks of tuff and volcanic rock. They protected the funeral rooms, the monolithic sarcophagi and the burial sites.

The monuments are located at the political and demographic centers of chiefdom societies that consolidated their power through complex ceremonial activities and the production of knowledge. San Agustín chiefdoms and the outstanding statuary of their tombs represent an exceptional trajectory of political centralization amidst a rugged environment and without the concentration of economic wealth, and as such are of great scientific and aesthetic importance. 

Criterion (iii): The wealth and concentration of elaborate monumental burials and associated megalithic statuary from the sites in San Agustín Archaeological Park bears vivid witness to the artistic creativity and imagination of a prehispanic culture that flowered in the hostile tropical environment of the Northern Andes. It symbolizes the ability of pre-Hispanic societies of northern South America to create and express in stone and earth his unique form of social organization and worldview.

Integrity

The San Agustín Archaeological Park includes four separate sites, with boundaries defined so as to include the main concentrations of burial mounds with megalithic statues of the Regional Classic (1-900 AD) period. A third of the 600 known San Agustín statues and half of 40 known monumental burial mounds that are dispersed throughout the Alto Magdalena region are located inside the boundaries of the archaeological park. These 20 burial mounds include the largest and also the most elaborate examples. At the “Mesitas” site, 80 ha of the park includes 8 mounds, more than a hundred statues and the entire core of the largest demographic and ceremonial centers, containing not only the oldest and largest tombs--Mesita A and Mesita C--sites, but also the residential remains of the elite families that ruled over their society, constructed the monuments and used them as burials for their main leaders. Thus, the park includes not only a series of separate monuments but also the vestiges of the central communities that constructed and lived beside them. In spite of the impacts of natural phenomena on the material remains, conservation actions have preserved their material integrity. Challenges remain in maintaining the integrity of such a vast area in light of pressures for extended agricultural use and growth of local communities.

Authenticity

The San Agustín archaeological sites were abandoned around 1350 AD and rediscovered during the 18th and 19th centuries, which led the looting and disturbance of most of the  monumental tombs while looking for grave goods which proved to be very scant. Erosion, earthquakes and human intervention displaced stone slabs and the contents of many tombs, but this did not destroy the original funerary architecture. The main values of the San Agustin monuments, expressed in the megalithic stone elements, funerary layout and stone carvings and painting, have been preserved, as well as the original construction techniques and associated archaeological deposits.  Direct intervention is limited to research and conservation requirements. Even though the sites suffered long ago from looting, the early creation of the park in 1931 provided a stable adequate protection for the monuments and surrounding ceremonial centre.

Protection and management requirements

San Agustín archaeological park was created by Law 103 in 1931 and declared a National Monument and National Archaeological Park in 1993 (Decree 774). The Colombian Constitution established that the properties of the archaeological patrimony (including National Archaeological Parks) are a national and inalienable property. State provisions on the protection of Colombian archaeological heritage are applied effectively in the San Agustín Park. Current regulations, including the General Law of Culture (No. 397 of 1997, modified by Law 1185 of 2009) prohibiting excavations or other archaeological interventions without a license issued by the ICANH are strictly enforced and strong measures are taken to prevent the looting and trafficking of cultural property. Research and preventive conservation measures called for in the legislation are continually carried out.

Through annual plans and by the application of a comprehensive management plan for the World Heritage Site, the Colombian Institute of Anthropology and History-ICANH ensures the effective preservation and conservation of archaeological heritage, minimizing threats to the funerary structures and statues. Among these threats are the strong winds and high levels of rainfall that cause erosion throughout the year, soil instability, and bedrock erosion caused by water flowing over carved designs on bedrock (at Fuente de Lavapatas site).

The open air public exhibition of 16 reconstructed funerary mound and hundreds of megalithic sculptures as well as related archaeological materials at the site´s museum serves to increase public awareness and support for cultural conservation efforts.

The specific environmental conditions at the San Agustín Park and the pressure of local communities are a continuous source of management and conservation challenges for the preservation of funerary structures and other archaeological remains. Thus, the implementation of the Management Plan for the World Heritage Site includes short, medium, and long term programs designed to increase their protection trough: Archaeological and conservation research, conservation, public outreach, local community issues, environmental management, and administrative infrastructure improvements. This program stresses the ICANH´s commitment towards the systematic control of bio-deterioration agents affecting archaeological structures, particularly at the Fuente de Lavapatas site. In addition, a major project for park facility improvement is under way, which will expand available space for research work, collection reserves, and museum spaces, as well as improve reception and visitor services areas. The plan has also included a zoning delimitation and definition of buffer areas, and contemplates opening spaces for community involvement in site protection.

To achieve these goals, the ICANH is continually making efforts to raise additional funds and resources for strengthening the interdisciplinary team of researchers and advisers, and to give continuity to the actions and interventions of each program, thus ensuring the integrity and sustainability of San Agustín Archaeological Park.

Long Description

The wealth of megalithic statuary from the archaeological site in San Agustín Archeological Park bears vivid witness to the artistic creativity and imagination of the pre-Hispanic culture that flowered in the hostile tropical environment of the northern Andes.

San Agustín, where the most important monuments are to be found, lies 2 km from the town of the same name. The archaeological site extends over a territory of 2,000 km2 , at an altitude of only 1,800 m, with snow covering the top. In the pre-agricultural period, from 3300 BC to 600 BC, San Agustín was occupied by a society with a rudimentary stone technology using basalt chips. Nothing is known of their political or social structure, but it is assumed that they were kinship-based.

The Alto de Los Idolos is on the right bank of the Magdalena River and the smaller Alto de las Piedras lies further north: both are in the municipality of San José de Isnos, like the main San Agustín area, they are rich in monuments of all kinds. Much of the area is a rich archaeological landscape, with evidence of ancient tracks, field boundaries, drainage ditches and artificial platforms, as well as funerary monuments. This was a sacred land, a place of pilgrimage and ancestors worship. These hieratic guards, some more than 4 m high weighing several tonnes, are carved in blocks of tuff and volcanic rock. They protected the funeral rooms, the monolithic sarcophagus and the burial sites.

The main archaeological monuments are Las Mesitas, containing artificial mounds, terraces, funerary structures and stone statuary; the Fuente de Lavapatas, a religious monument carved in the stone bed of a stream; and the Bosque de Las Estatuas, where there are examples of stone statues from the whole region.

A new society appeared in the region in the 7th century BC: the people cultivated maize on the flat land or gentle slopes and lived in dispersed houses near the main rivers, possibly in simple groups headed by chiefs. The extended burials were in vertical shaft tombs, with simple grave-goods. The period probably lasted until the 3rd or even the 2nd century BC.

Around the 1st century AD there were profound cultural changes in the area: this was a time of a great flowering of monumental lithic art and the so-called Agustinian Culture. Links with other region of south-west grew, population density increased markedly, and earlier settlements were reoccupied. New house sites on the hilltops were also settled and occupied over long periods. There was considerable social consolidation and the concentration of substantial power in the hands of the chiefs made possible the production of gigantic works: hundreds of elaborate stone statues were carved, some in complex relief and large in size. The huge monumental platforms, terraces and mounds and the temple-like architecture reflect a complex system of religious and magical belief. Some 300 enormous sculptures (divinities with threatening faces, warriors armed with clubs, round eyes and jaguars' teeth of mythical heroes) stand in the region of San Agustín, in the heart of the Andes, El Huila Province.

This intermediate period came to an end in the 8th century AD, as shown by the abandonment of monumental construction and the carving of stone statues. New peoples, possibly from the Upper Caqueta river basin of the Amazon region, seem to have settled in the area around AD 1000, bringing with them new agricultural practices. This late period, which lasted until the Spanish conquest, is characterized by a considerably less complex craft tradition, suggesting a measure of cultural retrogression, despite the improved agriculture, which allowed an increased population to be supported.

Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC
Historical Description

ln the pre-agricultural period, from c 3300 to c 600 BC, san Agustin was occupied by a society with a rudimentary stone technology using unretouched basalt chips; their principal food was wild fruits, but hunting cannot be ruled out. Nothing is known of their political or social structures, but it is assumed that they were kinship-based:

A new society that was agricultural and pottery-using, appeared in the region in the 7th century BC, at the start of what is known as the Early Period. The people cultivated maize on flat land or gentle slopes: no terraces or drainage are associated with this period. They lived in dispersed no uses near the main rivers, possibly in simple groups headed by chiefs. There appears to have been a tradition of carving in wood, but not stone. The extended burials were in vertical shaft tombs, with simple grave-goods. This period probably lasted until the 3rd or even 2nd century BC. The culture is linked with that of the Colombian south-west, a link which lasted well into the Christian era.

Gold working is attested by radiocarbon dating from at least the 1st century BC, and increased substantially in the following period. Around the 1st centurv AD there were profound cultural changes in the san Agustin area. This was the period of the great flowering of monumental lithic art, the so-called Augustinian Culture. Links with other regions of the south-west increased, with the consequent evolution over the whole region of societies known as Regional Classic. Population density increased markedly, and earlier settlements were reoccupied. New house sites on hilltops were also settled and occupied over long periods. The economy was still based on maize cultivation, and population pressures led to the opening up of new agricultural lands.

There was considerable social consolidation, and the concentration of substantial power in the hands of the chiefs made possible the production of gigantic work5 by the use of large bodies of men to carry out massive earth movements. Hundreds of elaborate stone statues were carved, some in complex relief and large in size. The huge monumental platforms, terraces, and mounds and the temple-like architecture reflect a complex system of religious and magical belief.

This lntermediate Period came to an end in the 8th century AD, as shown by the abandonment of monumental construction and the carving of stone statues. A similar phenomenon of decline is perceptible in other parts of the Colombian south-west at the same time, when the cultural unity of the region disintegrated. New peoples, possibly from the Upper Caquetá river basin of the Amazon region, seem to have settled in the San Agustin area around AD 1000, bringing with them new agricultural practices, such as the cultivation of manioc, a new house type, and new pottery styles. This Late Period, which lasted until the Spanish conquest, is characterized by a considerably less complex craft tradition, suggesting a measure of cultural retrogression, despite the improved agriculture, which allowed an increased population to be supported. Both settlement and agriculture moved to the hillsides, with the introduction of terracing for both housing and cultivation and low-gradient drainage. The social structure seems to have been less complex and hierarchical than that in the preceding period: small communities were linked by kinship and temporary larger units were only created in times of war, to be disbanded afterwards.

The last settlers in the area, identified by the Spaniards as Andakis (of Amazonian origin) and Yalcones, survived into the 17th century, but many eventually returned to the rain forest. The social and agricultural structures of the region were unable to resist Spanish religious and commercial pressure, giving way to the colonial encomienda system. The colonial settlement of san Agustin began in 1608-12 with the foundation of a centre for religious in doctrination of the indigenous peoples. lt was eventually occupied by Spanish homesteaders and mixed-race peoples, becoming a crossing point for routes to Popayan and the jungles of Putumayo.

Source: Advisory Body Evaluation