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PRE-COLUMBIAN OBJECTS
Lithics - Statues


 

San Agustin Statues (Colombia)

Origin I Characteristics I Urgency of the Situation I Legislation I Bibliography

Click on the photo to see caption and an enlarged version

Click on the photo to see caption and an enlarged version

Statue 10, Mesita A,
stone, 2.6 x 1.2 m
Statue 26, Mesita B,
stone, 1.8 m x 73 cm
  © ICANH © ICANH

--Origin  
 

Colombia.

--Characteristics  
 

In the San Agustin culture, the Classic Period starts at the beginning of our era and extends through 900 AD. It is characterized by the extraordinary development of monumental stone sculptures linked to an intense funeral cult. San Agustin statues are issued from monumental tombs covered with earth mounds, mostly found in the San Agustin, Isnos, Argentina, Salado Blanco and La Plata municipalities (department of Huila) and in Moscopan, Aguabonita and Inza (department of Cauca).
San Agustin statues are known as "Chinas" in the Colombian Massif.
They are big blocks of sculpted in the round volcanic rock. For the most part, the sculptures are oval or roughly rectangular. They measure 30 cm-1.5 m high, 15-80 cm wide and 7-60 cm deep.
The most common motif is a human figure with big arms bend over the chest and a face that couples human and feline features: big eyes, wide nose, closed mouth or smiling mouth that shows teeth and feline fangs. Animal representations such as jaguars, monkeys, frogs or eagles are much less frequent.
One last feature allowing to identify them is their narrow uncarved base intended to be fastened to the floor.

 

--Urgency of the Situation  
 

The existence of San Agustin statues has been known since the middle of the 18th century but for the most part they were discovered in archaeological projects that started in the thirties. To this date, 536 statues have been catalogued.
They reflect the importance of funeral rituals for the political organization of pre-historic chiefdoms in northern South America.
The statues are found throughout a vast area, which accounts for the theft of more than 17 statues in the past 15 years. A few of these figures may still remain unknown to archaeologists as they were probably taken away from their original sites and countries. Highly endangered sites include small funeral centers in remote geographical areas or far from roads and cities. Looters usually cut the statues in pieces that can be easily transported.
In 1990, the archaeological site of San Agustin (Huila) was looted and sculpture No. 214 was stolen. It was found in 1996 in an auction house in Denmark but it has not been returned as there is no proof that the statue entered the country illegally.
This incident shows the urgent need for harsher measures in order to detect in time the illicit traffic of archaeological pieces.

 

--Legislation Protecting these Objects  
 

See Colombia

--Bibliography  
 
  • Drenan, Robert D. [et al.] Las Sociedades prehispánicas del Alto Magdalena. Bogotá, ICANH, 2000.
  • Sotomayor, María Lucia & Uribe, María Victoria. La Estatuaria del Macizo Colombiano. Bogotá, Instituto Colombiano de Antropología, Colcultura, 1987.
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October 2003