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 Location: Morales, Cauca, Colombia.  Grid Reference: 2.583° N. 76.033° W.

 

      Tierradentro: (Underground Hypogea).

The area is well known for its numerous Pre-Columbian Hypogea which were found in several excavations.

The typical hypogeum has an entry oriented towards the west, a spiral staircase and a main chamber, usually 5-8m below the surface, with several lesser chambers around, each one 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, but are scarce due to grave robbery before the hypogea were constituted as protected areas.

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   Tierradentro ('Inside the Earth'):

The area was once home to a pre-Columbian culture which, for want of a better term is called the San Agustin culture as similar pottery and art have been found at both sites (1). Well over 50 tombs that have been discovered in the area, all underground and originally filled in with earth. most of which are accessible now; the government has excavated them and poured cement around the original stairwells that lead down into the tombs to protect them from erosion or other damage. Some have interior walls completely painted in motifs of red (life), black (death), and white (hope of making it to the next life). each one has a domed ceiling supported by at least two columns.

The pre-Columbian culture that created this funeral complex inhabited the area during the first millennium AD. The details in the sculptures, pictures and patterns are similar to the San Agustín culture.

The Spaniards called the region Tierradentro, suggested to be either because of the mountainous topography of the area, which generates the sensation of being closed in, or perhaps following the same theme, because of the numerous funerary Hypogea cut from the rock, filled with funerary remains and soil, so that the inhabitants were literally buried 'Dentro da Tierra' both within the Hypogea and the mountains surrounding them.

Declared a Unesco Site of Importance in 1995.

 

The main sites in the Tierradentro Archaeological Park:

There are five main areas in the park with concentrations of hypogea and stone statues.

Alto de Segovia  - This is the largest area in the park, with an extension of approximately 13,000 square meters. The 30 largest and deepest tombs are located in the Alto de Segovia; some of them have beautiful high relief work.

Alto del Aguacate - Seventy tombs built side by side in an artificially flattened hill are situated in this part of the park. A combination of sculpture and painting in which circular cavities were filled with paint was used to decorate the tombs.

Alto de San Andrés - Six large hypogea were discovered here, all of them with murals with geometrical designs in red and black on a white background.

Alto del Duende - This site has four hypogea with mural paintings.

El Tablón - Eleven statues in standing human forms may be admired here. They have been classified in two groups: small, plain statues that imitate naked humans, with very few adornments, and masculine and feminine statues over two meters tall.

 

The Hypogea.

The vast number and size of the Hypogea in this area makes it unique in pre-Columbian architecture. The underground spaces (Hypogea because of the funerary aspect) were cut into the volcanic rock that form the bedrock of the region. Not only are they unique for their architecture, but also for the design and decoration inside them. Some of them are carved up to nine metres deep and are generally composed of a descent tunnel with ingenious snail stairs that serve as the entry to the funerary chambers.

The tombs were all dug into the rock at varying depths, and some of them are 25 feet down. The original steep, tall, stone steps provide access. nobody has been able to determine how the people who made the tombs did it: how they moved so much earth, how they carved the stone steps, how they painted the tombs in the subterranean darkness.

 

This tomb was exposed when it was stripped bare by 'treasure hunters'

 

The insides of the Tierradentro hypogea are characterized by well-developed pictorial work on the surfaces of the chamber murals, ceilings, and columns. The motifs form complex geometric and figurative designs in several colors: red, black, orange, grey, purple, and yellow.

 

Funerary Rituals of the Tierradentro Culture.

This culture is different from others in the region by having two stages in its funerary rituals instead of one.

The primary or individual burial which took place in shallow shaft graves with a small lateral chamber. The deceased was buried with ceramic items, bead necklaces, grinding stones, and stone grinding pestles, and was separated from the shaft by slabs that covered the entrance to the chamber. This first burial did not last long. The remains were soon taken out and carried someplace else.

The secondary or collective burial consisted of placing the remains of rulers and priests in a ceramic urn with no cover and then in a deeper grave called hypogeum.

 

 Chronology:

Carbon dating of funerary remains from the Hypogea show that the site was used from 600 to 900 AD. (1)

 

(Other Underground Sites)

(Other Pre-Columbian Sites)
 

References:

1). http://www.icanh.gov.co/secciones/parques/tierradentro.htm

 

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