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jueves, 2 de diciembre 2021
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An Archaeological Site in Sabaneta from 20 Centuries Ago: An Untold Story

By: Ronal Castañeda Tabares - Journalist

Between 2016 and 2019, several local researchers explored and found direct evidence of domestic and agricultural activity in the jurisdiction of the Sabaneta municipality. The evidence is from approximately 2,000 years ago. They found technology, modes of organization and even food remains.

Reference image of what the site of the find would look like and its distribution in domestic and agricultural areas in a pre-Hispanic civilization in the Aburrá Valley. Illustration: courtesy of Lina Tabares Velásquez.

Researchers from the Sipah Corporation, Universidad de Antioquia and the Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Medellin branch, found human remains that date back 2,000 years from domestic and agricultural areas. The remains were found at the top of a hill in the municipality of Sabaneta, Antioquia, in a site with archaeological potential called Monte Azul, which has soils that were tilled by the past inhabitants of the Aburrá Valley. Among the pre-Hispanic remains were found more than 3,000 fragments of Ferrería pottery, a type of pottery that dates from 2,500-1,500 years ago.

Lithic artifacts such as stone tools, blades, and racloirs, utensils such as manos —pestles— and metates, vegetable waste, charcoal and buried structures with canals where water was probably conveyed for irrigation, a stove dug into the ground and lined with ceramic fragments to create refraction with fire, traces of what would have been posts of one or two dwellings that may have been inhabited by families for two generations and a cultivation area on the slopes were recovered in this finding, published in May in the journal Geoarchaeology.

"The populations that produced this type of pottery have been commonly associated with groups of people who did not occupy the Aburrá Valley very densely. They were not centralized or hierarchical societies with leaders. Instead, they did share certain technological aspects such as pottery production and soil management", explained Andrés Godoy Toro, anthropology graduate from the Universidad de Antioquia and co-researcher of the project. He added that these findings are an important advance because they contribute to the limited pre-Hispanic ethnographic information on the Aburrá Valley. There are few records about the ethnic groups of the valley, what they were like, where they were or what did during this period.

With an index called "minimum number of vessels", the researchers took the fragments and identified at least 115 pots (see figure). There is more. On the slopes near the hill, they also discovered intentionally mixed soils enriched with organic matter. Due to the characteristics of the terrain, the soil was cut into ridged platforms —terrace farming— on a slight slope, a technique used by other indigenous cultures in pre-Hispanic times.

This research was conducted between 2016 and 2019. It involves both basic and preventive archaeology, and about 25 professionals participated in it. Carbon-14 tests were performed with samples sent to laboratories abroad. The experts discovered that between the two sites, hillside and hilltop, there was a maximum difference of 120 years, so it was inferred that they were a domestic and an agricultural area associated with simultaneous human activities.

Juan Pablo Díez, director of the Sipah Corporation, an entity that also participated in the project, indicated that this is not the first site in the Aburrá Valley with Ferrería ceramics. He stated that Monte Azul, near the urban center of Sabaneta and the Medellín River, is the "first site that has only Ferrería ceramics and in which we were able to find anthropic management of the slopes. This is very atypical because preventive archaeology ignores the slopes and prefers flat or elevated areas", that is, where they found the system of terraces and canals used for cultivation.

What the Soil Tells

This was also a study that highlighted the importance of the data provided by the soils. As pointed out by Professor Juan Carlos Loaiza Úsuga, director of this research project, 99% of archaeological records are in soils, hence the importance of including geoarchaeological techniques in these excavations. Professor Laiza Úsuga works at the Department of Geosciences and Environment, Faculty of Mines, Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Medellin. 

"The use of techniques from earth sciences is very useful. There are geoarchaeology studies that have found materials for plastering walls, transit sites based on horizontal cracks, lithic fragments, bones and charcoal from bonfires... In the case of Monte Azul, we can see that when humans use the soil for agriculture, they leave some structures associated with the tillage process and the presence of soil organisms", commented Loaiza Úsuga, PhD in environment and soil sciences.


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