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El Infiernito (Spanish for "Little hell"), is a pre-Columbian Muisca site located at the outskirts of Villa de Leyva, Boyaca Department, Colombia. It is composed of several earthworks surrounding a setting of menhirs (upright standing stones); several burial mounds are also present. The site was a center of religious ceremonies and spiritual purification rites, and also served as a rudimentary astronomical observatory.
The area was known by this name long before the discovery of the archaeological site. Spanish Conquistadors called it infiernito, or "little hell," because of the intense heat of the tropical savanna climate.
The first description of the site was made in 1847 by the Colombian army geographer Joaquin Acosta, who reported 25 stone columns, hald-buried in the Moniquira Valley. The findings were studied by Alexander von Humboldt who believed that the site could be used to anticipate astronomical phenomena such as solstices and equinoxes, as indicated by the alignment of the stones with the sun and moon.
The lithic pieces are carved in pink sandstone, many of them in phallic shapes. A total of 109 monoliths have been excavated to date: 54 in the north stone row and 55 in the south, aligned in an east-west orientation, apparently representing the Muisca calendar, dividing the area in two main parts: the north sacred field (Infiernito N 1) and the south sacred field (Infiernito N 2).
Archaeological excavations have collected a large number of samples of wood charcoal which have been useful for radiocarbon date. Three distinct stratigraphic levels can be observed:
IAN - 119 - "El Infiernito", N 2: 2.490 195 Before Present.
IAN - 128 - "El Infiernito", N 1: 2.180 140 B. P.
IAN - 148 - "El Infiernito", N 2: 2.880 95 B. P.
The first stratum is rich in animal remains, vegetal ashes, red ochre, incienso and resins. The second one shows mainly remains of maize oblations. In the third stratum, several pieces of burned carved rocks and lithic flakes, in the remains of a large bonfire, are gathered around a large monolith in the south sacred field.
The first formal archaeological excavations at the site were led by anthropologist Eliecer Silva Celis in 1981; these resulted in the declaration of the site as an archaeological park. The burial mounds were found to have been heavily affected by grave robbery, and the human remains dispersed. The central column (about 5 meters high) described by Joaquin Acosta in 1850, which apparently allowed the measuring of the suns astronomical alignment during the equinoxes, was missing.
Other lithic monuments of the Muisca culture exist in Sutamarchan, Tunja, Ramiriqui, Tibana and Paz de Rio among other locations.
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article El Infiernito