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.