Tierradentro is an archaeological site of 19,000 m² in the Cauca department in Colombia where hypogea and monumental sculptures of human figures have been found. The most important archaeological sites of the park are Alto de Segovia, Alto del Duende, Loma de San Andrés, Alto del Aguacate and El Tablón. It was credited to the World Heritage List by UNESCO in 1995. The area is now inhabited by the Paez.
The Spaniards gave the area the name “Tierra Adentro” (The land inside), because the high mountains of the Cordillera Central were difficult to access. The high peaks gave them the impression that they were enclosed by the mountains.
The monk Juan de Santa Gertrudis visited the area in 1756. He was the first to write about the graves in his book Maravillas de La Naturaleza.
Archaeologists have discovered hundreds of hypogea and by carbon dating one knows that the graves date from the period between 500 and 900 n. Chr.
Hypogeum of the Tierradentro culture
The hypogeas were excavated under ridges and they consist of a shaft with a straight, a zigzag or a spiral staircase leading to the entrance of the burial chamber. They were carved into the tuff that was present there, a not so hard volcanic rock. The room is generally composed of niches and pilasters. In the largest tombs the ceiling of the room is supported by two or three pillars. The walls, pillars and ceilings of the burial chambers are often decorated with drawings of geometric, anthropomorphic and zoomorphic forms, using red and black dyes on a white clay layer. The smaller rooms are 2.5 to 7 meters deep with an oval floor of 2.5 to 3 meters in diameter. The larger ones can have a diameter of 10 to 12 meters.
In 1936, under the leadership of the German geologist Georg Bürg, the first studies of the area were carried out and the open graves of the Alto de Segovia were covered with bamboo and reed to prevent the penetration of rainwater. This protection would be replaced by metal constructions in 1945, the year of establishment of the national park.
In the 1970s, the anthropologists Mauricio Puerta and Alvaro Chaves cleaned and repaired some of the graves and closed the graves that were too damaged. Statues were also cleaned.
Since then, various activities are underway: pumping water from the graves (humidity is a big problem, because it damages the paintings and weakens the construction), perpetuating the construction and wall paintings, improvements to the protective roofs, and so on.