San Agustín: the Double Me

The “Double me”. San Agustín, Colombia. 1983. We’d left our two year-old daughter in the care of her grandparents in Bogotá and set off with our friends to the lost valley of San Agustín in the Colombian Andes.

Around 3300 BC, this precolumbian culture, started to occupy the region of San Agustín (obviously a post conquest hispanic name) in today’s department (state) of Huila, a little over 300 miles or 500 kms from Bogotá. The statues represent fearful gods and a strange entity today’s archeologists have called the “Double Me” (doble yo). In some of the structures as above the pillars are carved into deities and support a flat stone similar to a Celtic Dolmen…

See the previous “dolmen” to the left, and the bird-like creature in the foreground, holding a snake in its beak. The Classic period lasted from 1 to 900 AD, as in many pre-columbian civilizations.

The San Agustín style is quite unique in Pre-Columbian America. Totally different from the better-known Mayas, Aztecs or Incas. Large eyes as you can see in the statue on the left. Triangular faces as the sculpture to the right, half sunk in the grass.

A full view of the same head. Triangular face. And fangs. Or possibly filed teeth. Some cultures in South America and Africa filed the front teeth for aesthetic reasons. (Not too sure this picture is mine… I might have bought it. The others are. Mine.)

One of the many tombs. An empty sarcophagus with the lid carved out as a crocodile or caiman.

There are many separate sites to visit in San Agustín, some in the forest. This is the northern branch of the Andes, the Andes being the largest mountain chain in the world, spanning 7000 kms (4350 miles) along the Western coast of South America. Andes start in Chile, go through Peru and Bolivia and end in Colombia separating in three mountain ranges. West, Central and East. San Agustín is in the central range.

Another typical deity, half hidden in the jungle. Archeologists have designed neat straw roofs, similar to the traditional huts of the region to protect some statues from the frequent rains.

A view of the Colombian Andes. Bear in mind those are old analog photos. Three taken in a row for a panoramic effect. Place is veeeery green.

The Double Me or Double I. In Spanish: ‘Doble Yo’. A fancy invented name. The sites were abandoned around the 14th and 15th century AD. Before the Spanish came. No one knows why everybody packed up and left. Same thing happened to the large Mayan cities in Yucatan. They dropped everything and left for no known reason. The Mayas had a very elaborate writing. The San Agustin people did not. So there are no written records. I will not give here one of the possible interpretations of the statue with two faces. Pure speculation.

We came from Bogotá by bus. Not your luxury Pullman bus. On the contrary, the typical colourful Colombian bus of that time with barf bags in the seat pocket in front of you. Crazy drivers going up and down the mountains at full speed and possibly no brakes… So when we arrived in town (see the old colonial house to the left) we hired a guide and horses for some out-of-the-way sites. Left, our dear friend Eucaris and yours truly on the right. Distinctly recognizable. The red plastic on my knees is a poncho to protect my legs from the constant drizzle. We all ended up drenched anyway.

Some of the places we rode along were quite steep. The horses knew their way. In that case, let the horse pick its path. Beautiful views.

Another deity or priest perhaps? Note the nose ring. Most cultures in Colombia used very elaborate and very large gold nose rings. The Spaniards didn’t find all of it as in Peru where they melted all the gold. The Colombian jewelry was very elaborate and can still be seen at the Gold museum in Bogotá. The ‘character’ above is probably playing a Pan flute or syrinx. That instrument is still used in all Andean music from Peru to Chile. Think Quilapayún for instance.

Another “Dolmen” tomb. The word “dolmen” comes from Breton. My mother always told me “dol-men” meant “flat, horizontal stone” while “men-hir” meant “vertical stone”. I read differently now, but you have at least learnt one Breton word: “men” = “stone”. 😉

Eucaris with her fresh new German husband Jupp. Jupp is quite tall. 6’4″. He was concerned his – little – horse would bend under his weight. Sturdy little horse did not. As often in those days we had the sites entirely for ourselves. Beautiful place. Gorgeous really.

The Double Me again. There are many such statues scattered all over the place. When I first heard the name I thought the archeologist who’d come up with that name had to be a repressed Freudian. I should know. I took Freud for two years in college.

Double Me, side view. One could also interpret the right profile as a human profile with aquiline nose. Is that an iguana perched on a priest’s head and back? Quite a mystery.

A tiny blue butterfly on a huge green leaf. Wonders of the rain forest.

Our ride took us all over the place between fields and steep mountains:

See the traditional Colombian house on top of the mountain above the waterfall? Local farmer growing corn and plantain.

Another tomb guarded by fierce warriors.

We said goodbye to San Agustín and boarded the crazy bus back to Bogotá. When we arrived much, much later in Bogotá, we learnt that the guerilla had taken the town next to San Agustin an hour after we’d passed through… Close call.

Captain and crew thank you for joining us on this trip to the lost city of San Agustín. Stay safe.

121 thoughts on “San Agustín: the Double Me

  1. What an adventure … and close call! I was wondering why that site was not visited so much, but maybe the fighting might be one of the reasons? It is an enormously interesting and beautiful site and sight.

    • There were problems with the guerrilla then. Bur, the main issue is the distance and the roads. The Andes are extremely steep, so the roads follow the mountain closely. No room to build wide roads. And the mountain falls on the road regularly, which is a bitch to rebuild. Anyway, it was an unusual trip. You know Robert Frost’s “The road not taken”?

  2. Encore un endroit que tu me donnes envie de visiter… La liste s’allonge, mais le début semble de plus en plus lointain …
    Merci pour ce partage
    Bonne journée Brieuc

    • Avec grand plaisir. Les routes doivent être meilleures maintenant, et la Guérilla a négocié un accord de paix avec Santos, le président précédent. Donc on peut maintenant voyager en sécurité. La Colombie est très belle. Une richesse et une variété incroyable.
      Bonne nuit. Biz Mélie.

  3. Wow…that was excellent and beautiful. The water fall/drop was terrifying, but other than that…lol. The statues were fascinating and your words so informative. Really enjoyed seeing everything. Thank you.

    • Parts of the ride were scary. On a tiny narrow mountain ridge with deep slopes on each side. Think from where I took the water fall picture…
      That’s what I meant by letting the horse pick its path…
      Pleasure Gigi. Delighted you liked it.

  4. Thanks for sharing your photos of the San Augustín site! I had not heard about it before. When we get a chance to go to Colombia I’d like to see it. Too bad there is so little known about the culture that lived there, beyond the statues. Thanks for the tour.

    • The culture is not well known outside of Colombia. (And I did study a bit of pre-columbian anthropology in Mexico)
      Colombia is well worth a visit. Very rich and diverse country.

      • Summer course in Yucatan? 100% Maya. I think it was a 300 or 400 class. Undergrad. BUT. The entire anthropology and Lat Am studies department was there. We’d typically have a class in the morning and do a field trip in the afternoon then a full day field trip the next day. Our “guides” were all PhD’s. Unique.
        Then much later, I took about a year night class at the Museum of Anthropology in Mexico city. Mostly Aztec, Tehotihuacan. Yaxchtitlan.

      • It was a fantastic experience. Actually inspired me a book. The first novel I wrote, after many short stories. In Spanish. I have now switched, almost entirely to English.
        The pyramids? The Templo Mayor… One day.

      • Actually, you’re right. A mixture of many things. There is archeology. There is adventure. There is fantasy… The file must be heavy. Many pix. If you’re interested I can send you a copy.

      • No. Haven’t published anything. I sent dozens of letters to literary agents a few years back. Arrogant people. So I stopped looking. Let me find an electronic copy. It’s in Spanish. If you don’t hear from me, do remind me. Buenas noches.

      • Ah, yes I’m remembering our previous conversation comparing the looking for agents experience. I have sent my ms to a copyeditor friend and will send it out again to agents after I make her recommended corrections. I’ll give it a year, then I may publish it myself. In Spanish sounds good. I don’t read very fast, but I’ve kept my comprehension alive by researching articles in Spanish. Gracias, R

      • Best of luck with the agents. Maybe some day they will understand.
        I’ve located a copy of Iguana. Need to check if it’s the right version. Then compact it.

  5. These photos are great. I have never seen this style in person and it is wildly different than what you see in Mexico and Central America. I love that the figures are guarding tombs. And the dolmens are so European too. Thanks for taking me on the tour Captain.

    • With great pleasure my Niece. 😉 It is quite unique. Unfortunately, we know close to nothing about them. Now Colombia has at least a dozen very rich cultures: Tairona, Chibcha, San Agustin, Sinu, etc. There is a “lost city” over the coast in Santa Marta. The myth of the “Eldorado” originated in Colombia. (The Chibchas I think)

      • I don’t remember much from school about that but then again it’s been a while so I may have forgotten. Took some archaeology and art history type courses in college about meso America. Probably one of my favorite classes. But it was a lot in a short time to remember. 😉

      • Wow. That is great. I kept all or most my text books from both the MBA and the Maya anthropology course. You do have a strong interest in the region. Going to Yucatan must have been a dream come true, right?

    • True. Though at that time, early 80’s the gvt didn’t have the money to produce copies. Thing is the culture disappeared long before the Spanish arrived. They were probably hidden in the jungle, or buried in the ground. The Inquisition never saw them so could not destroy them. Bishop Diego de Landa burnt almost all Mayan manuscripts in Mérida, Yucatán, as “works of the devil”. Only a handful of Mayan manuscripts survived.
      I think the stone they used probably helped preservation.

      • Learnt about that on a casual short trip with one or the other PhD’s… I swear, that was the greatest part of it. The classes were good, but tagging along with the experts. They’d point out a statue, a carving, and explain. Priceless.
        Not sure there was a museum in Mérida yet. Didn’t go.

      • Mérida? Around 1992, I think. We did a big road trip form Mexico city to Mérida, Progreso, Palenque and back. Our last “road trip” here was to Chiapas around 2010, if I recall.

      • There seems to be many. Including a modern structure. Definitely not there in ’78. I think I may have gone to the casa Montejo. Not sure. I recall class and field trips…

    • Glad you liked it. It is a little known culture. And indeed Western art history tends to focus on precisely “western” art. If you think about it, very little Asian or African art.
      I was lucky to take a summer course during Grad school in Yucatan on Maya anthropology with the entire Latin American studies department of the U. (I may already have mentioned that).
      My only complaint was that my advisor refused to take the credits into account for my MBA. 🤣 (Well. I tried)

      • My thought as I got deeper into your post was that I had a gap in my education. What gives? Did you attempt any kind of a credible argument to have the anthropology course accepted into your MBA?

      • Haha. I went to see my adviser after I talked to the head of Lat Am department. I told my adviser about the course Dr Mosley and Baklanoff were doing in Yucatan. “Yeah, I know. The entire department goes there very summer. So?”
        “Is there any way I could accumulate the credits for my MBA?”
        He smiled. “Nope. Not in a million years. We’ve already accommodated your curriculum way beyond reason. But you’re quite welcome to attend as a free auditor.” Re-smile.
        I said: “Thank you Dr… At least I tried.”
        We had an excellent relationship.

      • ‘Ahem’, I can hear your faculty tone… My advisor was a fabulous man. Very patient but he had his limits. Which is fine. The accommodations he referred to, were limiting as much as possible Accounting and Law classes for which I’d already sat for centuries in my business school in France. I was a -reasonably – good student. 👨‍🎓 😉. I just felt: no harm in asking. If it works, great. Otherwise, I’ll take the course… And having said that my Law teacher in Alabama was a top notch teacher. She taught me/us, some very good stuff.
        (Don’t frown…😉)

      • 😀 French Accounting and Law classes for an MBA is a reasonable accomodation as accomodations go. Supply chain management for humanities? I don’t think so. 😉

      • I really can’t complain. Enjoyed US Grad school tremendously. Loved writing papers. We don’t do that in France. The research aspect of it was all new to me. Add student politics to the mix, I really learnt a lot. And I spent a lot of time in the library, browsing. That’s how I found Frost and the road not taken…

      • I understand perfectly. The treasures one found. I also remember I’d established my “office” on a lone small desk in the staircase between two columns with a view to the Quad. Almost private.

      • Florida now? Quite warmer than New Hampshire. There is a blogger who lives in Florida. Her house gives on a lake with an alligator in it! Comes out once in a while…

      • Lots of concrete, right? Don’t know the place much. Panama city, which is really more Alabama. Orlando where we went to with the girls when they were little. And Miami where I had a business meeting once. Miami is a South American city where cars stop at the red light… 😉

      • Tampa is a bit of a redneck country, right? All the above can be dealt with. Except for broken dreams. That is very sad. I take it you have found other dreams?

      • Yes, redneck country. The whole place exuded broken dreams to me primarily because people in Vermont where I grew up viewed Florida as the Promised Land. My broken dream was disillusionment with higher education administration. And here I am today, doing the same thing.

      • I see. The mirage of sun and warmth. Believe me, I’ve “been there” and it can be a major disappointment…
        Do’nt know enough about you but it would seem to me you mended your dream about higher education. I’m sure there are problems, as anywhere else, but it’s people like you who count. I’m sure you make a difference to many.

      • Going back to gaps… We all do. I should have tried to squeeze some English Lit into my curriculum. Wonder what my adviser would have said…🤣🤣🤣

      • He’d probably have thought “Damn French!”, and said: “look, make up your mind, what do you want? An MBA or a liberal arts education?”😉
        I must say the entire Faculty in all fields were great people. I respect all of them. (Except one of course, there is always one jerk) 🤣

      • You’re right. There is always one jerk. (More than one if you have the misfortune of a attending a faculty meeting.) In academia, it’s best not to enter the rooms where the sausage is made. 😉

      • I can imagine the petty struggles. As in any organization. But then I was in the Army, so I’m cured. I know all about chains of command. And since I was a corporal I was the last in the food chain to get the soldiers to execute the order of an obscure remote General. 🤣

  6. Close call, guerillas or crazy guerilla bus, you daredevil. I guess the risk of being caught up in fighting was par for the course in several South American nations at that time? Wonderful trip today, I always feel I’ve been on a meaningful trip with your blogs.

    • Well, we knew there was a guerilla risk in that area. And the risk was that neither our German friend nor I really looked local. So it might have been an issue. Oh, well.
      Meaningful? Thank you ever so much. One feels such a lack of meaning everywhere lately, I’m not sure I convey meaning. But I feel honoured by your comment.
      Take care Mate. 😉

  7. Quite an interesting tour. I enjoy ancient history and culture. One can just imagine the people who could carve such elaborate figures to convey meaning now lost to time.

    • Glad you do. History and ancient cultures. As you know, we humans just project lots of stuff. On objects, on myths, on stories to “invent” the world. And the question arises: what was their vision of the world? Many demons probably. And/or positive deities? The Double Me is a total enigma. Mystery is part of the “meaning” isn’t it?

      • Indeed, my friend our projection over time has led to many mysteries to solve and we like nothing better than a good old ancient mystery. When I looked at the double me, it conjures up the belief in the solar plexus or in Asian culture the Gi or Chi where the center of our body was where our power and soul resided. Recent science points to the Vagas nerve system as the real brain in keeping our bodies in homeostasis and telling our brains what processes to activate. So it would seem that we have a Commander and Chief of Staff that work seamlessly to keep us operating at our best. Since all of the Americas were populated by migrations from Asian countries in early history, one might wonder if this is a clue. But then, this is just my personal conspiracy theory and has no basis in fact. Still, such ancient icons thrill the imagination. And your tour thrilled me for sure.

      • Quite possibly. I’ve seen stone mortars in Singapore identical to the ones used in Mexico.
        I also think the feathered serpent (Quetzalcoatl) is an imported Asian Dragon.
        have a great week-end.

  8. These are fascinating, thank you. I know – knew – nothing at all of ancient Colombian deities. The habit of filing teeth made me wince. I am afraid the effect on the warrior was to make him look ingratiating rather than fierce.

    • Glad you liked it Libre. it is quite a unique and little-known cutlure.
      yes, filing teeth was quite common in central Africa, in the forest. I can’t imagine the pain. Ingratiating? Please explain. 😀

  9. That’s quite a trip you took back then! And yeah, those sites used to be free to roam for everybody; now they’re either forbidden or surrounded by fences/chains/whatever at a distance that kills all the joy of being there.

    I believe I saw those statues and dolmens – or at least some very similar – in one of the few alien-related series that I’ve watched fairly recently. The Central- and South American sites have been featured quite often. I remember a carving that appeared to represent a turtle, only that the head was clearly human wearing some kind of space helmet. Somehow similar in shape with the crocodile tomb lid you featured above.

    If we were to take the representations literally, the doble yo could actually be a human [warrior?] carrying on his shoulders a short(er) creature, also human-like but possibly not of this world (such as a “god” as they believed them to be), that wears a cape or coat made of crocodile skin – hence the reptile head and paws? hanging toward the bottom.

    Last picture seems to feature a small belly handle. 😛 😆 I’m a little intrigued however whether the hanging “thing” on his right hip may be the knot and ends of the waist string or a couple of keys, possibly making him a symbol such as a gate keeper or something.

    If I were thirty years younger but with the mind and knowledge of today I’d go straight to a place like that one near the waterfall. F the so-called civilisation, F the plandemic, F the New World Order/GreatReset/etc! Freedom is the only thing that truly matters!

    • Yes, fences have been put everywhere. Going back to Tulum a year ago, the entire site was fenced. Too many tourists, climbing on the ruins to take selfies. don’t care if they destroy a wall, or a sculpture…
      That string is an underwear. To the left is knot. The string is tied around the foreskin of the penis in front. Some Amazon tribes still used that “garment” until very recently… 😉
      And yes, freedom… We will have to see what happens next.
      Au revoir.

      • Interesting “garment”, thank you for explaining it.

        Regarding access restrictions to archaeological sites I can understand the reasons, but unfortunately as in too many other cases things go the wrong way. I’ve repeated ad nauseam that the main problem is the lack of proper education and information for the people. Too often they may be told what (not) to do when in certain conjecture but they are not being explained why, which often makes it that the respective advices/orders/restrictions/etc do not reach their inner conscience which should be the real trigger of the desired/correct behavior.

        As for what’s next, I guess Klaus Schwab’s Fourth Industrial Revolution which has been set in motion with the launching of the virus and is being trumpeted as The Great Reset accompanied by those “marvelous” ads released by the WEF should ease everyone’s minds and fill their souls with hope for the best. Apparently it will be a wonderful world, a never before dreamt utopia full of milk and honey for everybody. “You will own nothing and you will be happy”, they used to say in their ads.
        Unfortunately, many people that had the courage and access to certain data have raised Ms. Revolution’s skirt and found out that… it stinks badly, very badly.
        As an example related to the subject at hand – archaeological sites, but could be about museums, live shows and so on – I can envision a relatively near future where there won’t be any more fences, barriers, walls or other physical means to deter people from penetrating into restricted areas. You’d think “wow, that’d be great!” Nope, not so much. Because the barriers will be raised by one’s own mind, remotely controlled through Elon Musk’s BMI (Brain-Machine Interface) which is being developed at Neuralink as we speak. Wanna take a little forward/side-step to get a better angle for shooting that statue? Your own mind will say “stop, you are not allowed to step there; get back” and you will obey because it was your own mind saying that, without ever realizing it was just an automated command sent to your brain’s interface by the sensors around the statue. Then you’ll think “oh well, I’d better go get a Coke” and walk over to the beverage dispenser but when you try to select the desired flavor again your own mind will say “no can do, your blood sugar level would raise above the limit established for your body; get a water instead”, so you’ll choose the water, take it and return to your group happy as a clam. Or…?

        But the main problem is that neither you nor I will most likely live to see that day, because there is one issue that needs to be taken care of: overpopulation. And they started to fix it. How? Through “vaccines”. Beginning with the elderly and especially those in foster care. How many elderly people have died after first dose in Norway, Denmark, Germany, France, Israel, not to mention the US? Much more than was officially reported I’d bet. Those young nurses that fell into anaphylaxy, those young medics that died (one was from Mexico if I recall correctly)…
        Now they “coincidentally” started a census (hope it’s the right word) to count all the socially assisted people – at least in my country. What this means is that those that only survive through government’s “mercy” might very well get a different kind of “vaccine” that will “fix” part of the overpopulation issue.
        I can only suspect that internally there is a similar list being put up about the chronically ill people that require costly treatments and are unable to work – properly or at all. Of course, none of them would die because of the vaccine but due to whatever other “comorbidities” and that will be absolutely “alright” – “s/he had diabetes/cancer/whatever and was gonna die anyway; it just happened to be after the innoculation” will they say. Curiously, for a whole year now nobody ever died of any other illness but the dreaded covid – all existing deadly diseases had been miraculously eradicated. Hmm…
        On top of that they now started to ask even for young children to be “vaccinated” although for a whole year they repeated that children can’t get sick and can’t pass the virus to adults. Why? Probably because the numbers still wouldn’t add up so now they consider it’s more “efficient” to get rid now of the children that may carry certain damaged/unwanted genes rather than waste time, money and resources to raise them as already “damaged” adults.
        Remember, mRNA it’s a (allegedly) new technique so “accidents” may happen. In reality the technique has been known for years and used in various biological experiments. Does anyone know for sure what’s in those “messengers’ envelopes”? Nope, it’s patented, it’s secret.

        So to sum it up: they’ll get rid of the non-productive (elderly, socially assisted, handicapped), the sick that would further contaminate the gene pool (chronically ill, children with defective genes) and let’s not forget the “uncomfortable” (activists, dissidents, traitors, terrorists, political opponents etc) – all through a very simple plan of problem + solution.
        The world will then be much less congested, the planet will “breathe” better, nature will revive and of course the top dogs will have so much more properties taken from the dead, while – remember! – you will own nothing and you will be happy. Of course, by then you won’t even own your own body anymore, and most of your actions won’t actually be yours. So.. freedom? Well, that word may even get deleted from the dictionary. But why bother when the BMI could simply deny access to its definition; you’ll say just like the Robot from ‘Lost in space’: it does not compute! Maybe not with that metallic voice though…

  10. Ces civilisations sont aussi fascinantes et mystérieuses. Elles sont beaucoup moins étudiées à l’école que l’Égypte, les Romains ou les Grecs. Peut-être parce que, justement, on ne sait que très peu de choses d’elles. Mais il est possible que, logiquement, ces civilisations soient plus au programme en Amérique du Sud qu’en Europe.

    • C’est une bonne question. Le “Mallet-Isaac” de mon enfance se concentrait sur la Méditerranée. les sources de notre civilisation. Au Mexique, les Aztèques et les Mayas sont très importants. Comme source d’orgueil national. J’imagine qu’au Pérou ce sont les Incas.

  11. I remember the thrill of Bogotá…the tombs and monuments you’ve shown here are filled with expressions and stories…I’m sure you were happy to get back from San Agustín…wonder what it’s like now? Be safe and joyful Brian. sending smiles hedy ☺️💫

  12. Great post and great memories. How wonderful you have so many photos from the trip. I never had a decent camera and so many shots were terrible and had to be discarded. I have so few photos left over from the 1980s it’s just sad. The carved gods here are just wonderful. I do wonder what the double me image really is. That last photo is the best and helps the viewer see more of what’s going on. It is reminiscent of an iguana, as you said. It definitely looks like it’s being carried by a man-shaped god, and I think that’s probably closer to the meaning of the true image, don’t you think? Not that it’s two versions of a single god. There is something important about the carrying – either the iguana god is powerful and can be, or must be, carried. Or the man god must always be carrying. Look how his elbows are, that’s what it looks like when you’re carrying.

    • It does look very much that way. Unfortunately archeologists, despite their merit of salvaging ruins and ancient civilizations, sometimes get a bit “creative”.
      Stay safe.

  13. Looks like a wonderful trip. I’ve never been to South America and don’t really see myself doing so. Truly appreciate, however, Flying air equinoxio.

    I can relate to the plastic over the blue jeans. No quick dry fabrics in those days. Reminds me of hiking in the rain with a long plastic poncho that came down below my knees. Yet when the trek was over, the water had wicked up to my belt buckle.

    The dolmen similarity is striking. I hope archeologists/anthropologists can someday come up with suitable theories to answer some of the mysteries you mentioned.

    Been a pleasure.

    • Merci Caol, always welcome to fly with us any time. 😉 There are so many places to see in the world… Lat Am is huge. But, personally, I’d like to focus on Asia as soon as we can travel again.
      The explanation is probably “separate” development. Sometimes humans come with the same solution independently. The zero in the West was invented by the Indians who passed it on to the Arabs who passed it on to Europe.
      In Mexico the Mayas invented the zero on their own. Their numerating system was “base 5” to a certain extent.
      Pleasure’s all mine.
      A bientôt.

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