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miércoles, 16 de junio 2021
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Carvings of the Nus River Valley Ancestors

by Natalia Piedrahíta Tamayo

In the municipalities of Yolombó and Yalí, 11 petroglyphs with different carving techniques were found. They date from the Late Holocene, between 6000 and 2500 years before present. These representations add to the evidence of the presence of groups devoted to pottery in Antioquia’s Northeast.

The petroglyphs are located in the village El Rubí, in Yolombó. According to researchers, the facts that they are so close to the Nus River and that they point in that direction indicate the communities’ relationship with this tributary. Photo: courtesy Juan David Ruiz.

Even though some municipalities in Antioquia have carried out anthropological research and the country has the Archaeological Atlas of Colombia (Atlas Arqueológico de Colombia), getting an accurate idea of the distant past is no easy task. Fortunately, the remains of other eras offer important clues. Among those remains, we find preserved pre-Columbian objects and chiseled rocks. Those fragments bear witness to the traces that others left in the places we inhabit today.

In the village El Rubí, municipality of Yolombó; more exactly, in the estates La Gitana and La Trinidad, Juan David Ruiz Pérez recorded and analyzed 10 rocks with a similar morphology and diverse carvings. Some are in better shape than others, but he identified notes of ancient carvers on all of them. Cuts made over the years by the weather or living things have been added to the rocks.

“The rocks are over 2 meters wide, with flattened sides. They all face the Nus River valley. Three of them are in La Trinidad, and they are in good shape. The rest are in La Gitana. They have been tampered with by tourists. They have many marks on them, but we can still see the carvings and their symbols”, explained Ruiz Pérez, an anthropologist from Universidad de Antioquia and author of the research project Space and Petroglyphs in the Nus River Valley (Yolombó-Antioquia). New Data for Interpretation (Espacio y petroglifos en el valle del río Nus (Yolombó-Antioquia). Nuevos datos para una interpretación).

What little is known about the pre-Hispanic populations that inhabited this territory is related to the discovery of Marrón inciso ceramic pieces, similar to the style called “Cancana”, made in the village El Rubí, Yolombó. They all have a chronology of about 5460±70 years before present (BP) and 3280±70 years BP. Such discoveries were referenced by Elvia Inés Correa Arango in 1996 in the research work Archaeological Excavations for the Archaeological Rescue Project of the Sebastopol-Medellin Gas Pipeline (Excavaciones arqueológicas para el Proyecto de rescate arqueológico del gaseoducto Sebastopol Medellín).

Most of the patterns we see are geometric and abstract. Only one figure is zoomorphic. One of their features is their location, which makes them very visible in their surroundings. The seven petroglyphs of La Gitana are on a slope full of igneous rocks that face the Nus River alluvial plain. According to the researcher, a path, “very likely pre-Hispanic”, goes through this location and reaches the banks. The three petroglyphs of La Trinidad also point to the river and the mountains of the San Roque municipality. There is a creek some 20 meters from these petroglyphs.

“The interpretation of the location that surrounds the petroglyphs may cast light on the relationship that the human settlements had with the territory they inhabited. Some theories state that the petroglyphs served as territorial markers or were part of a mystical context, but the paradigm that each researcher follows is also at play”, explained Alba Nelly Gómez García, head of Universidad de Antioquia’s Anthropology Department.

From a researcher's point of view, the probable connection with water, which flows in the Nus River, and the angle of the lines on the rocks’ flat side, which faces outward and can be lit up by the sun or moon, may be related to the marking of a special place for the carvers that chiseled those rocks. “I think they were made by human groups that settled near these rocks”, explained Gómez García, who theorizes that the petroglyphs were part of their daily activities since they are close to terracing where housing patterns are observed.

According to Gómez García, there are records of petroglyphs in all the regions of Antioquia. They are very close to water both in the Southwest and Northeast. With 98 petroglyphs, Támesis is one of the municipalities with the highest number of discoveries. However, there have been similar archaeological finds in Urrao, Pueblo Rico, Valparaíso, Barbosa, Porce and Envigado.

The Morning Star Carved in Stone

This study didn't attempt to interpret the carved symbols. However, the researcher highlights a special discovery made near the municipality of Yalí—a very different petroglyph in space and shape. The technique used for this petroglyph was pecking, while the others were carved by engraving or scraping. “It bears a clear resemblance to what some researchers say is the Andean cross, which others call “Venus”. It’s a design that is repeatedly represented in diverse cultures and eras, from the United States down to Chile”, told us Ruiz Pérez, who tracked the pattern after he realized that it is repeated in diverse places.

In the Maya codices, it’s the equivalent of Venus or Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent, which looks like an x with jagged edges. What might this coincidence with the discoveries of Yolombó and those in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula mean? This research project raises the possibility that a cultural and diffusionist connection took place in the continent.

The symbol may have changed meanings over time, but it remained. It speaks to the power of the symbol, Ruiz Pérez theorized. I don’t think it's crazy that they portrayed celestial events on these rocks since the sky has always been important for humankind. We have studied and interpreted the sky, and we have learned about the signs given by astronomical changes. The project concludes that linking the symbol to space and digging up its meaning may be an illusion. We can hardly understand the thought of contemporary humans or advertisement and media messages. In this sense, finding a pre-Hispanic symbol repeatedly and in diverse places leaves some hypotheses and many questions.

To some researchers, the petroglyphs may have also been territorial markers. Photo: Juan David Ruiz Pérez.

The petroglyphs are located in the Nus River basin, which connects the Northeast to Magdalena Medio. There is another indispensable association—near that place, other kinds of rock art have been recorded, such as the depictions on the Alicante River cave walls, in Maceo.

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