European Dolmens in Colombia - The Mysterious Ruins of San Augustin
The San Augustin region is located in the upper Magdalena River valley and is framed by the Central and Eastern Cordilleras, raising to 2000m (6560ft) high (1). There are several sites to explore in the San Augustin area covering some 250 square miles, but the most important one is Parque Archaeological, a 78-hectare site with around 130 statues on display. In the on-site museum, I was immediately struck by the likeness of the statues to some from Guatemala and the Olmec world, and even the ones in Chavin de Huantar, in Central Peru.
They were perfectly carved with exquisite skill and I soon discovered that the artistic signature was retained throughout the site and across several millennia. Whether they were carvings of 30-foot-tall Atlanteans, or tiny designs on intricate jewelry, this workmanship was of the highest order. The museum even had one particular statue that closely resembles an Easter Island Moai, suggesting there may have been trans-Pacific contact with the megalith builders there. Harold T. Wilkins in Secret Cities of Old South America said about the statues of San Augustin;
"There is more than a suggestion of the strange monuments found in Easter Island and other Polynesian and Micronesian Islands such as Ponape, Malden, Pitcairn and the Marquesas. Indeed, the ruins appear to antedate even the Andes!"
Some of the statues had incredible headdresses and many in fact looked Tiwanakan. The stone sarcophagi also has protruding 'buttons' like many of the sites in Peru and Bolivia, and looked similar to the Olmec ones on the Gulf Coast of Mexico. After photographing every artefact I could, I looked at three statues outside the museum, and the female cleaner pointed out the back of one of them, which clearly showed a huge Valentine 'heart'. I had no idea this was a symbol in use by the ancients.
Within a few minutes of walking up the path to the complex I was greeted by a monolith with two large serpents weaving around on it. This, I believe is the 'entrance stone' to the site and I wondered if this was a clue to the builders of the site as there are similar serpent carvings in Peru, Turkey (Gobekli Tepe), Egypt and within several other ancient cultures.
The most surprising aspect of the site was the European-looking dolmens or passage graves. They are exactly like the ones all over Europe and are built at a much deeper level than the other 'carved' stones on the site, and constructed with a different type of stone. It was as though the stone carving culture had stumbled upon this much older megalithic site and revered it to such a high degree, that they stayed there and built their temples next to it, even copying their style. There are also water channels and an amazing series of temples structures, but what became obvious as I explored the site was that the rough-hewn stones that made up the dolmens looked much older and were located at between 10 and 15 feet below the level of the classic San Augustin stonework.
Prehistoric Dolmen/Passage Grace
These look much older than the later carved monuments, and it is questionable if the original excavators placed the statues at the entrance to the older dolmens as if to hold them up. Originally they could have been 'classic' dolmens built by an earlier culture and these later reconstructions were unfortunately used all over the site. "But what was really the primary position of these statues?" asked archaeologist and author Roger Joussaume, who quite rightly concludes in Dolmens for the Dead; "It is not certain that they all stand today in their original positions" (ibid). The mix and match of the different constructions has left a confusing picture of the past here and even Serge Cassen, who was the first person to excavate the site said "one can conclude absolutely nothing, despite the interpretations of Colombian scholars, about the collective or non-collective nature of the large monuments" (ibid). Whoever built them, an alleged British Museum expedition between 1899 - 1902, lost many of the more elaborate statues and original photos of the entire complex; "A boat was overturned in rapids on the Rio Patia, near Tumaco, and only one of the original statues, transported along the route of the Rio Magdalena, reached the British Museum" (2)
The other parts of the site are all equally weird; fanged statues with frowning eyes, bizarre looking animorph figures and strange little men, some with elongated skulls, like the ones I had seen in Bogota Gold Museum (and the ones in Peru, Bolivia, Mexico etc).
Elongated Heads of Colombia
The lower-level dolmens or passage graves are evident throughout the site and are mostly flooded with water. I eventually made it up to the highest area of the complex; that involved a strenuous walk up some steps I was not keen to climb. When I got to the top, a glorious view of the surrounding hills and valleys welcomed me. For the last two hours I had been struggling with the fact that the lower-level dolmens looked contemporary with those in Europe, but the official explanation dated them to 100 - 700AD. However, I was delighted when the metal sign at the entrance to Alto de Lavapatas area clearly stated that this part of the complex had carbon dating going back to 3300 BC, contemporary with the megalithic explosion in Europe, the first Pharaoh, and the beginning of the Mayan Calendar.
3300 year-old dolmen looking remarkably European!
Later dolmen at higher level, with strange carved statues holding it up
The ethnic history of the region has been interpreted based on two different chronologies. One of them, established by Luis Duque Gomez and Julio Cesar Cubillos, postulates the theory of continuous development separated into an Archaic period from 3300 to 1000 B.C, a Regional Classical period from 300 A.D. and a Recent period from 800 A.D. until the arrival of the Spaniards. At both San Augustin, and nearby (3km) Alto de los Idolos, the terrain was modified, by flattening hills and constructing earthwork causeways between the different mounds and platforms, which were abundant in archaeological artefacts (3).
Fuente de Lavapatas Waterfall
An English researcher called Inti who lives near San Augustin showed me a photo of a site called Petroli that has a carving of the classic prehistoric ‘spiral’ pattern that can also be found at Tiwanaku, Britain, Malta and around the world. Is this the symbol of the ‘serpent people’ I wondered?
The next day Inti took me and some fellow researchers out in his incredibly hardy four-wheel drive truck. The roads don't get paved in this part of the world, even if the local government receive subsidies to do so.
This type of corruption affects every walk of life in Colombia. We visited two other sites the next day including El Tablon and El Pelota, that included more carved monoliths, but it was La Chaquira that inspired me the most. Trekking through the hills to reach a cliff-top overlooking the Magdalena River and valley, we eventually reached several carved stones that looked like representations of ancient divinities looking out into the wilderness and probably the night sky. It also has unusual relief carvings of animals in 3D. Our last stop was El Purutal, where several of the stone statues still have red and yellow paint on them. Again, this site has two different levels of construction with the 'classic' dolmen or passage grave at a lower level and the more sophisticated carved stonework on the higher levels.
La Chaquira carvings
There are suggestions from people who live in the area that the early inhabitants of San Augustin were of the Shamanic persuasion. The traditional psychedelic brew of that area is Ayahuasca and when exploring the strange stone designs around this area, you could imagine they must have been ingesting something that altered their consciousness. It is known that the Olmec of Central America were fond of psilocybin mushrooms, and 5-meo DMT extracted from Bufo Marinus toads. The inhabitants of Chavin de Huantar in Central Peru, were know to have regularly used San Pedro in their ceremonies, so one must wonder why these megalithic temples seems to have this 'psychedelic connection'. Perhaps the ancient 'gods', Viracocha in South America, and Quetzalcoatl in Central America introduced these as they travelled, sharing their wisdom, technology and shamanic knowledge. Bochica is the Colombian version of these two deities, who shared the same knowledge, and was a bearded traveller who was hugely influential, again related to ‘serpents’. Those who ingest Ayahuasca often have visions of serpents. Were these three deities the same person, travelling through the America’s, building megalithic sites, and leaving a legendary legacy that has continued into modern times?
Evidence of the Olmecs of Mexico also turns up in extended areas of South and Central America and there does seem to be an ancient connection between these two areas, and all areas in between. At Bogota museum there is Olmec-looking head-gear made of gold; San Augustin has intricate stonework resembling the Olmec style, and references to the 'serpent' and shamanic influences cannot be explained away easily.
Gold has also been found at San Augustin and the surrounding area, along with other unusual artefacts, but unfortunately bones get decayed quickly by the humid climate, so the archaeologists are at a loss to determine who actually lived here. Giant skeletons have been found in other parts of Colombia such as Tolima and Nueva Granada, suggesting they may have been the builders of these incredible monuments. Harold T. Wilkins believed survivors from Lemuria (Mu) came to San Augustin when a great cataclysm occurred tens of thousands of years ago. This is just as good as any other explanation given so far by archaeologists, historians or academics. The enigma of who built these sites and why they were built is still a mystery to be uncovered. I intend to go back to Colombia to explore the more remote sites around San Augustin and may have that chance when we return to Peru and Bolivia in November 2014 with our group of hardened megalithomaniacs.
Hugh & Big Stone Face at San Augustin
By Hugh Newman
1. Dolmens for the Dead, Roger Joussaume. Guild Publishing 1987. p.291
2. Secret Cities of Old South America, Harold T. Wilkens 1952. AUP Reprint p.18
3. Dolmens for the Dead, Roger Joussaume. Guild Publishing 1987. p.290
4. Colombia. Lonely Planet 2003. p228