A Muisca observatory or calendar, El Infiernito, Colombia

El Infiernito: Sacred Site of the Muisca Civilization of Colombia

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The Muisca Raft, Gold Museum, Bogotá, Colombia

The Muisca Raft, Gold Museum, Bogotá, Colombia ( Wikimedia Commons )

In fact, historical Spanish chroniclers in the 16th century, such as Juan Rodriguez Freyle, and local oral tradition tell us that the renowned legend of El Dorado—the city made entirely of gold—is connected with the Muisca culture. El Dorado has never been discovered thus many scholars assume it to be mythical and have disputed its existence.

Watch a video on the connection between the Muisca culture and the search for El Dorado here:

Rituals of the Muisca at El Infiernito

Stratigraphic explorations at the site also revealed that the first layer of stratum exposed plant ashes, animal remains, red ochre, incense, maize oblations, charred rocks, and lithic fragments throughout the field. It corresponds to the civilization’s ritualistic ideas. Muisca ceremonies were symbolic and a deep-rooted aspect within the culture and usually consisted of singing, incense burning, music from numerous instruments such as the drums and Ocarinas (spherical ceramic flutes). It was also commonplace for families to make offerings, for prosperity of the land and well-being.

 In such events, sun god  Xué, moon goddess “Chia”, a local chief honored as a deity following his death “Bochica,” the mother of the Muiscas “Bachué,”  the chief of merchants as well as  of metalworkers Chiebchacum,  and many others  were particularly significant according to Kubler (1984).  

Statue representing Bachué, the mother of the Muisca. By Bogotan sculptor María Teresa Zerda. Colombia ( Wikimedia Commons )

Festivals took place annually throughout the polytheistic society. The Muisca were known to worship rivers, lakes, and pillars - therefore it is conceivable that some remarkable practices occurred within this awe-striking site.

In addition, some remains of individuals were unearthed in El Infiernito and the findings further imply the importance of religion for the Muiscas. Though grave theft occurred shortly after El Infiernito’s discovery and human remains were scattered, archaeological investigations led by Celis concluded that rectangular area bounded by two sets of stones del Campo Sagrado exposed five burials belonging to both adults and children. Scattered fragments of skulls and long bones (tibia, femur, and humerus) had belonged to the adults and showed red ochre on their surfaces.

By the time of Spanish arrival, the Muisca had grown into a complex society similar to neighboring ones The Aztecs and The Maya in Mexico, and the Incas in Peru. The pre-Colombian society was ruled by “chieftains,” consulted spiritual figures, and adhered to a hierarchical system, with an elite class. As many other pre-Colombian societies often sacrificed or buried elite members following their demise in sacred religious locations, some noblemen and women may too be deeply interred at El Infiernito and yet to be discovered.

Featured Image: A Muisca observatory or calendar, El Infiernito, Colombia. ( Wikimedia Commons )

By Gisele Santos

References:

Llonch E, Beyond El Dorado. British Museum Press. 2013.

Kubler, G.  The Art and Architecture of Ancient America. Third Edition  Yale University Press, 1984.

Morales J. Arqueoastronomía en el territorio Muisca. El Astrolabio. Revista de Investigación y Ciencia. Bogotá. 2005.

Mitchell, J. The Art of Precolumbian Gold: The Jan Mitchell Collection. Bulfinch Press.1988.

Banrepcultural. 1914.  Archaeological Research in Villa de Leiva . [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.banrepcultural.org/blaavirtual/publicacionesbanrep/bolmuseo/1981/bol10/moene1.htm. [Accessed 19 September 15].

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