When I visited the tombs in Tierradentro, I was able to get closer to the ancient pre-Columbian societies that inhabited this region of Colombia.

Catalina Tofil



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Tierradentro Archaeological Park: An Open Window to an Indian Past

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Tierradentro Archaeological Park

Tierradentro Archaeological Park

The Tierradentro Archaeological Park, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, is located in the northeastern region of the Department of Cauca, not far from the border with the Department of Huila, amid mountains and primary vegetation, and covering an extension of 2,085 square kilometers.

The Tierradentro region is world famous for its abundant archaeological vestiges that include underground graves and stone statues similiar to the ones in San Agustin.

The Tierradentro Name

The Spaniards called the region Tierradentro for the mountain knots and deep canyons of its topograhy that generated the sensation of being closed in by mountains with little possibilitity of escaping, the sensation of being tierra adentro; that is ‘inside the earth’.

Funerary Rituals of the Tierradentro Culture

This culture is different from others in the region mainly 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.

Main Sites in the Tierradentro Archaeological Park:

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 artificually 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 femenine statues over two meters tall.

Hypogea with Pictorial Designs

The hypogea were carved out of volcanic rock, which forms the region's subsurface soil.

Hypogea are underground pre-Hispanic tombs that amaze because of their architectural design and decorations. They are nine meters deep and are composed of a descent tunnel with ingenious snail stairs that serve as the entry to the funerary chamber. The tombs were carved from the volcanic rock that forms the bedrock of the region.

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, gray, purple, and yellow.

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