use in Colombia and its representation in colombian rock art.
Harry A. Marriner
independiente de arte rupestre colombiano.
Spear or dart-throwers (atlatls in Mexico) have
been used world-wide since Paleolithic times to throw sharpened
wooden darts to kill game animals and enemies. The wooden weapon
in essence increases the length of the thrower’s arm and gives a
greater initial thrust to the dart. Since distance is limited by
the force of one’s arm, the bow and arrow replaced the dart-thrower
as the weapon of choice as soon as it was discovered by tribal societies.
In certain areas, rock art has been dated using knowledge of when
the bow and arrow was first used and depicted in that specific area.
Dart-throwers, known in Spanish as Propulsores, Tiraderas, or Estolicas,
were called Queskes, Quisques, or Ckechkes, by the Muisca Indians
of the Colombian highland savannah in the Cundinamarca-Boyaca area
of Colombia. Muiscas (A.D. 700-1600) used the Queske as their primary
weapon, not the bow and arrow. A bow with arrows along with a shrunken?
trophy head and a club are seen on flat gold and copper alloy Muisca
tunjo figures (fig. 1). Arms such as darts, estolicas, axes,
clubs, spears, bows and arrows and quivers were frequently represented
on tunjos (Plazas: 85). Masses of Muisca warriors using dart-throwers
and darts with fire-hardened tips battled Gonzalo Jimenez de Quesada
during the Spanish Conquest of Colombia in 1538. Selection of this
weapon for serious battle was not ideal for professional Guecha
warriors since thin shields provided easy defense from the darts.
Estolicas were used frequently by the common person and inter-tribal
traders. Heavy Macana or Palma Boba wood was used to make Muisca
dart-throwers that measured 42-60 cms. long. Darts measuring approximately
1.6 meters long were made from bamboo (Caña Brava or Carrizo).
(Castellanos in Rojas de Perdomo: 148)). Removable hardwood dart
tips were serrated with jagged cuts. Usually no poison was added
to the tips. Two hooks made of bone, stone, or shell faced each
other at opposing ends of the thrower (fig. 2) and were fixed
into place with Fique or Agave twine covered with tar or tree resin
|Fig 1. Muisca
tunjo with bow and arrows. Museo de Oro Boletin No. 32:2. Bogota.
Fig. 2. Serrated Guane
dart tips and estolica. Bray :138.
Fig 3. Muisca stone
dart hook from Sogamoso region. Eliecer Silva Celis. Museo
This Andean type is the style that was most commonly
used by Muisca Indians around Bogota and the Guane to the north
of them in the state of Santander (Uhle: 111, Tafel IV: 5-7). Ceremonial
and miniature estolicas were made from gold and used as burial offerings
(fig. 4). Full size wooden estolicas were buried with important
mummified persons to protect them in the afterlife (fig. 5)
(Marriner: 1). Some dart-throwers were represented on tunjo figures
buried as prayers asking favors from Muisca gods (figs. 6 & 7).
Fig. 4. Miniature Muisca gold estolica
gold offerings. Perez de Barradas: 73 (After Kunike)
Fig. 5a. Mummy with estolica. Pisba
region. Private Collection.
Fig. 5b. Estolica finger hook. Pisba
region. Private Collection.
Fig. 5c. Pisba estolica dart hook.
Fig. 6. Muisca gold tunjo offering
with estolica. Bray:121.
Fig. 7. Muisca gold
tunjo offering with estolica. Bray: 183.
Representations and actual dart-throwers (fig.
8) have been found in the high Pisba Paramo and Mesa de Los
Santos (see map below), Guane region of the state
of Santander at altitudes up to 3,500 meters above sea level (Bruechert:
1) (figs. 156-158. Bray:138 from Schottelius: 213-225) (Cardale
de Schrimpff 1987: 5) (Ardila Diaz:188), but the average habitation
site of the savannah highlands north of Bogota was closer to 2,600
meters. Unfortunately, no rock art representation of a dart-thrower
has been found in the Muisca or Guane cultural zones. Other tribes
in Colombia also used the estolica as a weapon. Panches, bordering
the Muiscas, were recorded in historic times by the Spanish conquistadors
used darts (Simon: 3, 283) as well as the bow and poisoned
arrows (Castellanos: I, 122). The Tairona culture had also progressed
to the use of bow and arrows by the time of the Conquest as seen
on a gold staff head representing an armed bird-man (fig. 9)
(Jones: 58). But, north of the Tairona in Chiriqui, Panama (once
part of Colombia) we find gold bat-man effigies holding an estolica
Fig. 8. Guane estolicas in the parochial
museum at Guane, Santander. Ardila
Fig. 9. Tairona gold bird-man staff
head with bow and arrow. Fig. 24. Jones:58
Fig. 10. Bat-man gold effigy holding
estolica. Chiriqui, Panama. Fig. 7. Jones:38. Photo: Metrop.
In the Darien township, Cauca (see
map below), one estolica from the Calima cultural zone was radiocarbon
dated to AD 1200-1290 and was apparently made from the Chonta palm.
It pertained to the late Sonso period (A.D. 1100-1600) when styles
distinct from the earlier Yotoco culture (B.C.100-A.D.1100) are
seen in the Calima area. The styles were so different that the Sonso
people may have been immigrants from another area. This Sonso period
estolica closely resembles what Krause calls the Brazilian type
2 estolica (Krause: 143) with a broadening of the shaft into a handle
with a hole for the index finger. This defining characteristic is
widespread in eastern South America (Spranz in Metraux: 159, 247).
Only two examples of this type are know from Peru (Metraux: 246)
since the usual Peruvian type is a stick with a hook similar to
the Colombian “Andean style” instead of a hole for the forefinger.The
Sonso period estolica (now 70.2 cms long with a 2cm diameter finger
hole and 3.3cm at its widest part at the hole, then narrowing to
1.8cm for the long shaft) and parts of five darts (present shrunken
sizes of three of the darts: 23.4cm, 33.7cm, and 42.6cms) (fig.
11) were found in a wooden coffin similar in design to some
found in the San Agustin area dating about A.D. 425-1180. Similar
wooden coffins have also been found in the Quimbaya area and in
other valleys of the Central Cordillera (Reichel-Dolmatoff : 102.
and fig. 19) (von Schuler-Schomig: 2:25-28). Mention of estolica
use in the Calima area around the Cauca river (Rojas de Perdomo:
262) shows the diversity of dart-thrower use in Colombian climates
varying from the freezing paramo to the pleasant (24 degree Centigrade)
Calima area at 1,000 meters elevation above sea level. A spectacular
gold estolica from the Yotoco culture measures 27.6 cms long (fig.
12) (Cardale de Schrimpff: 102). Similar gold estolicas with
silver dart hooks have been found in Peru associated with the Moche
culture (Marriner: Sept. 2000). Again, we find use, but no rock
art representation of a dart-thrower in the Calima cultural area.
One shrunken and distorted estolica and dart from the Quillacinga
(A.D. 600-1600) cultural area of southern state of Narino(see
map below), was found near the city of Pupiales, possibly around
the 3,000 meter elevation (fig. 13).
Fig. 11. Estolica.
Sonso culture, Darien, Cauca. von Schuler-Schomig:27.
Fig. 12. Gold estolica.
Yotoco culture, Cauca. Cardale de Schrimpff 1992:102
Fig. 13. Quillacinga
estolica and dart. Pupiales region, Narino. Private Collection.
The style is similar to the Sonso estolica, but with a squared
area around the finger hole (Marriner: 1999). Only by traveling
south to the remote and nearly inaccessible region of the Chiribiquete
National Park (see map below) do we finally find
clear depictions of dart-throwers in Colombia on stone. Red pictographs
on vertical rock faces portray anthropomorphic beings with darts
in one hand and a dart-thrower in the other. The Chiribiquete park,
crossing the tropical jungle-covered borders of the Caqueta and
Guaviare states, not far from the Amazon River, contains at least
36 sites amongst large vertical precambrian and paleozoic rock formations
(tepuys) covered with thousands of pictographs. Today, the karijona
Indians inhabit this remote area 400-600 meters above sea level,
but it is not known who painted the Chiribiquete pictographs. Carbon
associated with exfoliated rock containing red paint has been dated
to human occupation during at least 750 years from A.D. 500-1,250
(Castaño-Uribe: 36-39). These dates
were associated with cult painting and not permanent habitation
sites. There are positive indications that man was visiting this
area as early as B.C. 3,600. Scenes possibly representing shamans
hunting animals with estolicas abound in the pictograph sites. Some
pictographs show the relation between man the hunter, and his prey,
in what some call a sexual context (fig. 14).
|Fig. 14. Red
Pictograph. Anthropomorph with estolica. Chiribiquete. Castaño:35.
Fig.15. Red Pictograph.
Anthropomorph with barbed dart. Chiribiquete. Castaño:82,
According to the Colombian anthropologist Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff,
hunting in the Amazon region is considered a type of courting, requiring
the hunter to follow strict rules and procedures to seduce the animal,
but only after a shaman has given the hunter his approval. Some
of the most frequent rules and procedures are: sexual abstinence,
vomiting, the use of aromatic plants, ritual cleaning of weapons,
special diet, the use of tobacco and perfumes, amulets and magic
spells. Behind all of this preparation, it should be noted that
the hunter has been in training since childhood, learning the ways
of the hunter and the hunted, special rituals, and gaining a profound
knowledge of the life cycles and daily movements of many animals.
Various Chiribiquete pictographs show anthropomorphic figures in
the act of dancing and in rites accompanied by their estolicas and
darts with up to 8 barbs (fig. 15). In summary, three dart-thrower
weapon styles were definitely in use in Colombia between AD 500-1538,
and possibly much earlier. Use has been documented from hot tropical
Panama through the warm Calima cultural area in the state of Cauca,
up through the savannah highland plains of the Cundinamarca-Boyaca
region where the Muiscas lived, up higher to the Pisba paramo of
the Guane, south to the mountainous area around Pasto, and then
down into the Amazon jungle area of Chiribiquete where the Karijona
live today. In Colombia, representation of dart-thrower use in rock
art has only been discovered in the form of red pictographs in the
remote region of the Chiribiquete Natural Park. Hopefully further
investigations will uncover more evidence in the form of petroglyphs
remains in Colombia.
de los santos (Santander). Guane cultural area. See
de Pisba (Boyaca). Muisca cultural area.See
(Valle del Cauca).Calima cultural zone. See
Chiribiquete national park.(Caqueta / Guaviare).
Nariño .Quillacinga cultural area. See
comentarios? escriba a: firstname.lastname@example.org
citar este artículo: MARRINER,
Harry . Dart-thrower
use in Colombia and its representation in colombian rock art.
en Rupestreweb, http:///rupestreweb.tripod.com/marriner.html
-The author would like to thank Marianne Cardale de Schrimpff
for her suggestions and loan of material, and Diego Martinez for
his assistance with the graphics-
Ardila Diaz, Padre Isaias. El Pueblo De Los Guanes: Raiz Gloriosa
y Fecunda de Santander. Santander. 1978.
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Bruechert, Lorenz W.. Mummy Burial of the Muisca Empire. Atlatl:
The Newsletter of the World Atlatl Association, Inc. April 1998.
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en el suroccidente de Colombia. Fundacion Pro Calima. pg 102 (MO24295).
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Marriner, Harry. Estolicas of the Colombian Muiscas. The Atlatl:
The Newsletter of the World Atlatl Association, Inc. April 2000.
Vol. 13, No. 2:1., Aurora, Colorado) /. Drawings of two Peruvian
Moche culture gold and silver estolicas in a private collection
were copied on 20 Sept. 2000. The gold shaft length was 38.4 cms
for #1 and 38.5 cms for #2. Shaft diameter was 1.9 cms for #1 and
1.8 cms for #2. Weight of #1 was 52 grams and #2 was 51 grams. Both
had a cap near the hook end a little wider than the shaft diameter.
Four decorative bands were spaced along the shaft, one holding the
silver hook and one for the cap / Marriner, Harry. Data taken in
1999 from a Quillacinga estolica in a private collection found c.
1989. Estolica shaft (present shrunken state) apparently of palm
wood measures 1.3 cms diameter, 90cms overall length, with 1.5cm
finger hole in a 4.5cm2 area located 33 cms from the shaft end.
Hook was carved into the main shaft at 9.5 cms from the finger hole
and 8 cms from the back tip of the estolica. Dart is serrated at
tip for 19 cms. The dart shaft is 1.5 cms diameter and overall length
is 32.5 cms. 1989.
Metraux, Alfred. Weapons. Handbook of South American Indians.
vol. 5. Washington 1949.
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2, Instituto Bernadino de Sahagun. Consejo Superior de Investigaciones
Científicas. Madrid. 1951.
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de Orfebrería Prehispánica. Jorge Plazas Editor. Bogota. 1975.
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Valencia Editores. Bogota. 1979.
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Boletín de Arqueología 2 (3). Bogota. 1946.
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Der Vereinigung. Pro Calima. Bogota Diciembre 1981.
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