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  HOME | Central America

Remains of Barriles Culture Tell the Story of Ancient Panama

VOLCAN, Panama The funerary urns of the Barriles culture refuse to disappear no less than 1,400 years after its last members were driven off the slopes of the Baru Volcano, the highest point in Panama, by its final eruption.

The remains of that settlement remain on the Barriles Site, an archaeological park in a valley of the touristic community of Volcan in western Panama, a few miles (kilometers) from the Costa Rican border.

The population was named for the rocks in the shape of barrels discovered by National Geographic archaeologists in the 1940s on some ranches in the area, Luz Graciela Adames, a Ph.D. and professor of anthropology at the Autonomous University of Chiriqui, a province in the Panamanian highlands, told EFE.

This historic site covering more than 2.1 sq. miles (5.5 sq. kilometers) at an altitude of some 14,000 feet (1,300 meters) is on the grounds of a private ranch belonging to the Landau Houx family, which guards these historic riches that include burial sites, rock art, stone sculptures of men, mortars for grinding food and the foundations of ancient dwellings.

The exact ethnicity or cultural group to which members of the Barriles culture belonged remains unknown.

Studies indicate the presence of migrants from Asia and Africa who settled here before the Christian era, Edna Houx de Landau, daughter of one of the U.S. archaeologists who took part in the discovery, told EFE.

Studies have been done by the Free University of Berlin and the Humboldt University of Berlin, and dwellings have been found indicating that the Barriles Site was inhabited before the Christian era, she said.

Research by the historian of Central American lithic art, Mercedes Luisa Vidal Fraitts, said the statues were discovered underneath the ashes of the last eruption of Baru volcano, which makes her believed they were made before 600 A.D.

Some of the chief attractions among these vestiges are the buried urns and the remains of stone carvings.

The theme park has two excavations: one uncovered the foundations of dwellings and the other is a cemetery of funerary urns, which shows that people of the Barriles culture cremated their dead and buried them in family groups, because in a single area several urns were grouped together, Houx de Landau said.

Barriles also contains a ceremonial altar and stone statues of men that are unique in Panama, and of which 19 are on display at various museums in the country.

The Landau Houx family created the Barriles Culture Foundation that allows them to preserve the site, but it urgently needs support to be able to maintain the historic remains in optimum environmental conditions, Houx de Landau told EFE.


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