Nueva Esperanza, the largest archaeological find in Cundinamarca that remains under the scrutiny of experts

Archaeological excavations at the Nueva Esperanza site, TCE sector. Photo: Minute of God University Corporation UNIMINUTO. Rectory Bogotá On-site – Nueva Esperanza MANE Archaeological Museum.

A few years ago, very close to Salto del Tequendama, south of Soacha, in what is identified by archaeologists as a terrace (a flat place by geographical nature), one of the largest indigenous villages was identified: the community of New Hope.

The facts arose when, due to the need to build an electrical substation, archaeologists noticed that under the surface they were hiding the remains of houses, tombs, thousands of objects and sacred places of one of the societies that remained settled in said territory for the longest time (from 400 BC to 1600 AD) and one of the oldest so far identified.

But although at the time the analysis of this town of about 14 hectares began to be carried out, in the last stage of the investigation, in the sector called TCE, about 16 tons of archaeological material were also found, including bone remains, vessels, pieces in gold and lithic material – that raised doubts about the way in which this community inhabited this region and that are still under the scrutiny of experts, urgent to find answers and reconstruct the past.

“We still have a lot of work to do and we must also keep that in mind because in just ten years that we have been studying this, we have resolved important questions. However, every time we solve one, two more arise, which is going to open more lines of work that must be subjected to investigation. As we have not finished analyzing everything, we are going to be able to generate more knowledge, which will be adapted to the new paradigms, to the technological changes that allow us to develop new interpretations and studies”, explains Sebastián Rivas, director of MANE and coordinator of the culture subsystem , art and heritage of UNIMINUTO.

It is known that the inhabitants of Nueva Esperanza were farmers and artisans. They were dedicated to the production of cotton blankets that they later exchanged with other populations in the region and in very remote areas of the department of Cundinamarca (communities of Cauca, Magdalena Medio, the Tayrona zone, Los Santanderes, the Llanos Orientales, among others) to obtain raw materials and food that could not be obtained in the Sabana de Bogotá.

“We know that they were merchants and we also know that they were very spiritual people, since we have found a lot of evidence of the development of not only funerary rituals, but also of offerings that they dedicated to the gods,” explains Rivas.

This indicates that they were not isolated communities and, perhaps, the same exchange of products also allowed them to acquire knowledge and ways of interpreting the world. Hence, it is not surprising for archaeologists to have found a town with the foundations of ancient buildings, which were initially circular and later became rectangular and very similar to the Amazonian malocas.

In that same sense, experts say, today the archaeological evidence also accounts for the role of women over almost two thousand years, because although during the initial period (Herrera period from 400 BC to 200 AD. C.) was more preponderant, at the end, towards the late Muisca period (1000 -1600) the female images are found in less quantity.

“The figures that represent the female image had a very important role, not only in reproductive terms but also in symbolic terms. That role, which remained in force for many generations, began to be less and less frequent while male figures gained prominence”, explains Rivas.

nose ring  One of the goldsmith pieces of the inhabitants of Nueva Esperanza is exhibited at MANE.  Photo: Minute of God University Corporation UNIMINUTO.  New Hope Archaeological Museum.  Rectory Bogotá Face-to-face.
nose ring One of the goldsmith pieces of the inhabitants of Nueva Esperanza is exhibited at MANE. Photo: Minute of God University Corporation UNIMINUTO. New Hope Archaeological Museum. Rectory Bogotá Face-to-face.

To get to the MANE (New Hope Archaeological Museum) it is necessary to take the road through Mesitas del Colegio or through La Mesa. There, not only the archaeological goods recovered in these excavations are exhibited, but it also has a laboratory in which important investigations are carried out.

Lina Velarde, an anthropology student at the University of Caldas, today turns to the bone remains, which date from the Late Muisca period, to inquire about the possible diseases suffered by the inhabitants of Nueva Esperanza, since one of the great questions that is asked archaeologists has to do with the possible causes that led to this great settlement to disappear. Experts point out that just as it could have disappeared because its inhabitants moved to more successful villages, they could also have faced epidemics or deadly diseases.

“The aim is to find indicators that can tell us about periods experienced by individuals, such as vitamin deficiency, that individuals were exposed to unhealthy environments that favored infections, for example. I also find myself analyzing their oral health through their teeth, which can also provide information about the diet they were following, if they were consuming soft or hard diets. I am very interested in the child population and to see what aggressors they could have been exposed to (…) So part of the question has to do with what happened to the late Muisca, if they were perhaps facing adverse situations or if it definitely corresponded to other causes”, explains Velarde.

In the photos one of the bone remains and one goldsmith.  Photo: Minute of God University Corporation UNIMINUTO.  New Hope Archaeological Museum.  Rectory Bogotá Face-to-face.
In the photos one of the bone remains and one goldsmith. Photo: Minute of God University Corporation UNIMINUTO. New Hope Archaeological Museum. Rectory Bogotá Face-to-face.

Assuming that the space is not only a place where pieces are exhibited, says Rossmery Arias Bonilla, director of the center for culture, art and traditions of UNIMINUTO, -entity in charge of guarding and protecting this heritage- the opportunity was given to also open a science space.

“The interesting thing about this museum in particular is that it not only has an exhibition where people can see what the find is about, how it was, how it was made, what kind of pieces were found, but it is also a museum with a vocation of research because it has a laboratory and also all the basic information of the archaeological excavation, not only with the pieces, but also with the context information. This might seem obvious, but when one starts to see it is not common because the collections of the other archaeological museums are made up of pieces that were found through the guaquería where the entire context was destroyed, ”he explains..

This reason has also been the reason for other important studies to be carried out. Like the one that is currently being carried out by highly experienced researchers such as Dr. Marcos Martinón-Torres and Dr. Agnese Benzonelli from the University of Cambridge, to investigate the goldsmith technology of the ancient pre-Hispanic inhabitants of Colombia.

“What we can say is that the goldsmithing of the people of Nueva Esperanza was very different from what we know as Muisca goldsmithing. The inhabitants of Nueva Esperanza produced or imported gold objects that were used to wear them on the body and that was not very common in the goldsmith of the Muisca. The Muiscas, to make a clarification, were excellent goldsmiths, but most of the objects they made were used to offer them to their gods, they buried them in the fields of crops, in caves or threw them into the lagoons and hence the legend of The Golden. The inhabitants of Nueva Esperanza produced a large number of gold objects, but most of these were used as jewelry that they wore on their bodies,” explains Rivas.

To date, experts say, about 40% of the archaeological evidence has already been analyzed and the remaining 60% is still pending study. 60% where it is still possible to find more answers about the history of the residents of Nueva Esperanza who inhabited an area of ​​14 hectares, of which only 9 have been excavated, to recover an invaluable cultural heritage.

Although the foregoing would indicate that there is a high probability of finding new finds in the area that has not yet been exploited, the truth is that to carry out new excavations it would be necessary to request permits granted by the Colombian Institute of Anthropology and History (ICANH) for the possible construction of more substations, since it is the companies interested in the development of new projects that implement the archeology programs and, in the end, those that make the due removal of the material of patrimonial interest for proceed to execute their infrastructure works in what was the territory of the ancestors.

Since the month of February, the Archaeological Museum of Nueva Esperanza (MANE) once again opened its doors to the general public.  Photo: Minute of God University Corporation UNIMINUTO.  New Hope Archaeological Museum.  Rectory Bogotá Face-to-face.
Since the month of February, the Archaeological Museum of Nueva Esperanza (MANE) once again opened its doors to the general public. Photo: Minute of God University Corporation UNIMINUTO. New Hope Archaeological Museum. Rectory Bogotá Face-to-face.

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Nueva Esperanza, the largest archaeological find in Cundinamarca that remains under the scrutiny of experts