Claudia Patricia Escobar Rúa
The perception of the sacred has been the powerful engine of human evolution, however, the positivist paradigm in which science still develops today, makes us believe that evolution is given in a straight line of infinite progress, which takes for granted that those who preceded us millions of years ago were mere infantile sketches of what humanity is today.
Recognizing how sacred symbolic thought has existed since time immemorial, not only allows us to broaden our
vision of life and evolution, but also gives us the certainty of the foundations for the construction of our future.
Finding the evidence of the experience of the sacred throughout time and in different latitudes will help us to break down the old paradigms and continue to give way to the new man. This article is an example of this.
Chiribiquete mountain range
Chiribiquete is undoubtedly the most important discovery of recent years in Colombia and perhaps in South America, as it is a biological, geographical and archaeological site that is fundamental to understanding the first settlers of the American continent.
It was discovered in 1986 by the Colombian archaeologist and anthropologist Carlos Castaño-Uribe, director of National Parks of Colombia, who managed to spot a particular mountain range from a small plane after a storm diverted it from its original destination. From that moment on, a monumental effort has been made to study, understand and protect it, to such an extent that it is in 2018, when it was declared Mixed Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO, that its existence came to public light.
Chiribiquete is a rocky plateau located in southern Colombia in the Amazon region and is part of the most important mountain systems in the area. It
covers an area of 4,300,000 km2 and is the largest protected area in the country’s natural park system. This site is of great importance for its uniqueness from an archaeological, geomorphological and biological point of view. We will outline below its value in each of these aspects:
It comprises one of the most biologically diverse areas in the world. It is a vast territory of rainforest, which has the particularity of having multiple associated ecosystems. It is in biogeographic interaction with the Andes Mountains, the Gran Chaco, the Cerrado and the Brazilian Catinga, all of them natural biomes, as well as an immense number of water streams. The microclimates existing in the highlands allow for a great variety of ecosystems. Research shows that there could be several species endemic or unique to this place, product of adaptive responses. (See table 1). All these particularities, have allowed it to be considered as a Mixed Heritage of Humanity, for its biological and archaeological conditions.
Type Number of species Remarks
Plants 2.138 16 new to science
Butterflies 189 9 endemic and 16 new to science
Fish 3 new to science
Amphibians 6 new to science
Table 1. Biological findings of the expeditions. Source: Semana Magazine. Chiribiquete Specials.
The Chiribiquete mountain range is one of the oldest geomorphological features of the continent
and the westernmost Precambrian formation of the Guiana ShieldThe Guiana Shield is one of the oldest geological formations on the planet. It is located in northeastern
South America.. Its oldest strata are more than 1.9 billion years old. The tepuyes, Abrupt plateaus with vertical walls and relatively flat summits which reach heights of 800 meters, have been a sacred reference for many South American cultures.
The Chiribiquete is considered one of the archaeological sites with the oldest dates in America 22,000 (AP). It contains more than 75,000 rock art images, which is why it is considered by many as the Sistine Chapel of the Amazon. The evidence also shows that these paintings have been made from 22,000 (AP) to 1978 A.D., so it could be considered one of the sites in the world in which a cultural tradition of millennia has been maintained, more or less uninterrupted.
This discovery has presented great challenges for archaeology, because its uniqueness cannot be seen only within the traditional schemes of particular cultural developments or static chronological times.
One of the greatest impacts has been on the dates of settlement of the American man, extending its antiquity from 14,000 to 30,000 years, reinforcing the theories formulated by Jacques de Cinq-Mars, Canadian archaeologist, of an earlier occupation of the territory. It also reinforces several theories that maintain that this settlement was the result of several migrations from diferent parts of the planet.
The Chiribiquete is a large area to be explored, of which only approximately 20% of the existing total has been excavated. In this percentage have been found more than 60 panels of 7 meters high (average) with rock art paintings, made for ritual and ceremonial purposes for an extensive period of time. Research shows that those who made these paintings had great technical and astronomical knowledge, as well as a complex symbolic thought, which would give foundation
to the particular forms of the sacred throughout the continent.
This is how a deliberate use of some places for the realization of the paintings is evidenced. Most of them consist of rock shelters painted at an altitude between 350 and 650 meters above sea level, some located in very high and difficult to access areas. These stones were subjected to previous preparations for their painting, and protected from sunlight and the effects of rain thanks to the adaptations made artificially as shelter areas.
The drawings are oriented mostly facing the main water courses and coincide with the east-west axis. The representations are of three types: a) murals, b) complex and simple panels, c) movable rocks, all of them perfectly painted mostly in red (96%) with minor varieties of ocheryellow, white and black.
The paintings have an evident ceremonial and ritual purpose, with deep symbolic contents. They are extended representations of ideas and occupy a large part of the rock wall. Their graphic composition is complex and they represent what could be a plot or story. They were almost always made in three large horizontal strata :
Underworld: It is the lowest space of the painting. It is characterized by the saturation and superimposition of colour. The drawings are made on a smaller scale than the rest, and is usually deliberately highlighted with a painted band that separates them from the rest of the strata.
Earthly world: These are less superimposed drawings, with figures on a larger scale in which ritual scenes with the presence of many human figures stand out.
Celestial world: its representations are larger and more independent, suggesting that it is the main theme of the panel. Allusions to animals rather than humans are found, and the irregularities of the surface are used to highlight ideas not seen in any other stratum. (Castaño-Uribe p. 64).
The centre of the world
Another of the exceptional elements of this place is its geographic location. The orientation of the geological formation (tepuis) describes an almost perfect north-south axis with respect to the tilt of the Earth. On the other hand, the equatorial line cuts the Chiribiquete mountain range approximately in half, leaving one part in the northern hemisphere and the other in the southern hemisphere (Castaño-Uribe p. 114)
This privileged position really reflects a navel of the world, a zero point where the horizontal and vertical axis cross with particular precision. Some of the myths of origin of the indigenous peoples near the highlands confirm this
(…) The father managed from the cosmic canoe (Milky Way) to choose the site of origin because he observed that this was the only point where his staff stuck in the rock did not cast a shadow. There he opened a hole on the earth where he poured his seminal power and achieved his first creation: the Moon. And then all the descendants of animals and plants and men” (Taken from G. Reichel-Dolmatoff).
Very close to the intersection of the equinoctial line and the longitudinal axis of the mountain range, there are four large chasms or natural cavities of 150 meters in diameter by 150 meters deep. This geographic formation is interpreted by the Desana The Desana are an indigenous people native to the Vaupés River basins, Amazon area. mythology as the mark left by the sun of the site and the moment of the origin, representing four fundamental referents of the sacredness of the universe and constituting four marks of the seminal power that defines dual worlds, represented in all the drawings of the Chiribiquete. A key concept of the quadripartition of the world becomes evident here.
The Milky Way is another important symbolic element in the drawings, being represented as the great cosmic canoe, associated with the anaconda serpent or the cosmic river of milk. This is permanently visible at the zenith of the night sky throughout the year, with slight inclinations that serve as an indicator of the months of the year. Sightings of the sky in the highlands make it possible to see the arc of the Milky Way in a perfect east-west orientation making the same path as the Sun, and the Moon, giving the sensation that both travel on the back of the Milky Way. (Ibid., p. 129). It is surprising not only the precision of the celestial spectacle, but also the way in which this precision is intertwined with the symbolic forms
represented in this place.
One of the most representative elements of the highlands has to do with the multiple allusions to the jaguar and the jaguar men, a symbol that will later be present throughout the continent, configuring what many authors have called continental jaguarity.
In the cosmogonic myths of the region, the jaguar is born from the union between Father Sun and his daughter the Moon. Father Sun entrusts him with the task of protecting the balance of the Earth, and of interlocutor between men and the divine, thus being a symbol that synthesizes and unites the polarities. He is both solar and lunar, that is why his skin is black with white at the bottom, alluding to his lunar maternal origin and yellow with black at the top, symbol of his
paternal solar origin.
In the Chiribiquete there are reiterative allusions to four suns and four jaguars that are intertwined to a centre, an aspect that is very frequent in the
archaeological evidence and in the ethnographic pieces of many cultures and indigenous peoples of Colombia and South America (Castaño-Uribe p. 256). He is also represented in the panels as a feline-headed man with a rattle spear, as a command staff.
Attached to the jaguar is the constellation of Orion, or the jaguar constellation present in Amazonian mythologies. This constellation is
visible throughout the year in the highlands, generating a unique astrological phenomenon: projected from the zenith, its four main stars are identified with the four legs or the four fangs of the jaguar. With its tail unfolded in a leaping attitude, it seems to be sheltering the sacred mountain range all night long, displaying a cosmological leap in an east-west direction (nocturnal sunrise-sunset) (Ibid., p. 112).
The Chiribiquete, which in native language means “the house of the solar swarm”, is providing more than answers, it is providing questions that begin to demolish preconceived ideas about man in ancient times. It is these examples that will lay the foundations for a new way of looking at life, in which everything that has defined us as human beings is evident and clarified. It is clear how this is a place of articulation or crossroads in the process of the dispersal of symbolic and philosophical elements for the entire American continent. That is why it is necessary not only its study and dissemination, but also its conservation.
Annex of images
Image of the ascending jaguar man. One of the most important and repetitive representations of the murals.
This icon has a jaguar head, and the representation of what is possibly a tree, staff or pole. Next to it is a rectangle
with an abstraction of dancing men. (Castaño-Uribe. P. 450).
This image shows a group of men ceremonially dancing and jumping on the upper horizontal axis of a jaguar. This is one of the central elements of the iconography of the Chiribiquete. (Castaño-Uribe. P. 482).
This image shows the representation of the Cosmic Flowered Canoe and the ritual role of the dance. In the foreground a warrior hunter with his weapons deployed: in the middle a crowd of men back (in abstract representation), dances with their weapons up. In the background are the stellar dancers who
are the most prominent, wearing ceremonial costumes from head to toe. In the middle of the scene, the emblematic pole of the centre of the world. (Castaño-Uribe. Pg. 488)
The image shows a jaguar, whose upper back and front side contains the icon
of climbing men as a metaphor within the jaguar itself, which reinforces the idea of the jaguar as a spiritual vehicle of ascension to the Milky Way. Around it, men dancing with wielded weapons and in great agitation. (CASTAÑO-URIBE. Page 487)
Semana Magazine. Chiribiquete Specials. Web site
Universidad Nacional de Colombia Digital Magazine. July 6, 2018. Bogotá
Castaño-Uribe Carlos. Chiribiquete. The cosmic maloka of the Jaguar men. Grupo de
inversiones Suramericana S.A. 2019