UNESCO San Agustín

The Indian culture San Agustín
San Agustín (culture)

The Indian culture San Agustín (1000 BC – 1500 AD) is one of the best known of pre-Columbian civilizations that developed in the area of present-day Colombia. The culture flourished in a relatively small area of 2000 km² in the department of Huila and the north of the department of Caquetá, and it disappeared before 1500 AD. Despite the many researches and publications, there is little known about the San Agustín Indians, because the culture had disappeared before the Spanish conquest. The name is taken from the town of San Agustín.

UNESCO San Agustín (culture) 1
The Indian culture San Agustín
In the rise and fall of the culture of San Agustín three periods are distinguished.

The first period, the Formative period runs from 1000 BC. until the beginning of our era. During this period, farmers settled in the area for the first time. Concentrations of agricultural communities were formed and hierarchical structures were created. The deceased were buried, but the bones were later removed from the grave and kept in urns, and then placed in shafts or tombs. From pollen and plant remains it appears that corn, sweet potato, the tayerknol, chilli, cassava and seeds of the amaranth were important food elements at that time.

The second period is the Regional Classical Period from the beginning of our era to 900 AD. This period is characterized by spiritual development and the religion-based hierarchy in society. The period is known by the manufacture of the characteristic sculptures and funerary monuments. Unlike other Indian cultures, except in the San Agustín culture, it was not customary to bury the dead with many ornaments or art objects. Power and esteem of the chiefs were expressed through the erection of tomb monuments and statues. In this period, 4000 to 8000 people lived in an area of ​​approximately 100 km².

The last period, the so-called Late Period, ran from 900 AD. until about 1500 AD. This period was characterized more by power based on agricultural economics, and less on the basis of religious hierarchy. Statues were probably no longer made during this period. Graves from this period also often contain objects that were used for domestic use, such as ceramics. During this period the population increased further, but people continued to live in approximately the same places in the area as in the previous periods. The culture lasted about 1500 AD. to exist. Why the people disappeared, or where it has moved, is unknown. The fact that the departure could have happened quite suddenly follows from the fact that a number of sculptures have been found that have not been completed.


Three elements are distinguished in architecture: the domestic architecture, the grave temples and the temples for the worship of gods.

In many precolumbian cultures life after death was considered more important than life on earth. Little attention was paid to the architecture in the daily life of the San Agustín, and little is known about the fact that houses were grouped into small communities. A typical house was three meters in diameter and built of poles. The walls were made of branches or reeds and covered with clay. The pointed roof was covered with straw.

The ceremonial architecture, the architecture for the worship of the gods and the killing was much more important for the San Agustín. As with other precolombian cultures, the surviving San Agustín architecture consists mainly of burial centers or cities of the dead. Natural stone was the most important building material for the burial chambers. It was available in sufficient quantities in this temperate volcanic area.

The tombs varied in size and finish, depending on the hierarchy and the status of the deceased. A tomb could be rectangular, round or oval with a depth varying from one to three meters. In the tombs of rectangular design, the floor was often made of flat stone, just like the walls and the roof. A striking aspect of the grave cult of the San Agustin culture consisted of closing the burial pit with carefully defined layers of colored earth, in the colors black, yellow and red.

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