Quimbaya artifacts

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Quimbaya artifacts [1]


The Quimbaya artifacts can be considered the most valuable and controversial pre-Colombian archaeological discovery. According to archaeologists, the artifacts measure about 2 to 5 inches tall and represent a variety of birds, insects, lizards, and other animals. The gold assemblage dates to around 410 to 590 CE. based on the emergence of gold work appearing in the Quimbaya civilization and radio-carbon dating ash remains present in select vessels. [1][2] The gold is seen as sacred metal work, and is believed to represent the passing onto the afterlife. The Quimbaya populations occupied parts of Colombia, specifically Eje Cafetero and Valle del Cauca, as early as 100BCE. The Quimbaya treasures are most commonly known due to their resemblance to aircrafts. Many theorize that their origin may be of extra-terrestrials. The assemblage is now on display at the Museo de América (Museum of the Americas) in Madrid.


The Quimbaya gold figurines were found in two tombs on the La Soledad site in the Cauca river valley of Colombia. During the 16th century, Spanish raiders were known to ransack tombs and other areas that were notorious for their gold, especially the river valleys.[3] According to reports, there was supposedly 200 gold figurines found when the tombs were looted, but only 123 artifacts were accounted for when ownership was given to Carlos Holguín, President of the Republic, in 1891.[2] The president later gifted the assemblage to the Museum of the Americas. Currently, there are debates of repatriation regarding the assemblage and feuds on the rightful ownership of the prized treasures. The area was looted for gold and other valuable resources, so many contextual artifacts that may have lied with the treasures may never be found. Due to the looting of the tombs, the context behind the artifacts is very vague. Most of the assemblage consists of zoomorphic gold pendants, but a part of the treasures found posses anthropomorphic characteristics, depicting human faces as well as some phytomorphic vessels that represent plants.

Museo de América [2]


The Quimbaya civilization was a culture in pre-Colombia during the 1st century BCE. The peak of their civilization occurred during the 4th and 7th centuries CE, this period is known as The Quimbaya Classic. The Quimbayans were great farmers that cultivated corn and avocados, as well as hunted and fished for food subsistence. The Quimbaya were known for hunting deer and rabbits, along with armadillos, foxes, and opossums. They were also notorious for mining, specifically gold, and developed incredible metal working techniques that gave their art pieces a fine and polished finish [3]. They were often melting gold with copper to create art pieces that had beauty and durability. The civilization is also known to perform ritualistic cannibalism. Sometimes their victims were war enemies, whose heads ended up on sticks, other times it was for special events and rituals. The Quimbaya civilization took burial practices very seriously. They were known for extravagant burial tombs, in which they would leave loads of riches. This is where the Quimbaya artifacts can be found. The Quimbaya civilization has no modern tribes today, as the civilization seemed to diminish around the 18th century.[3] Theories for the fall of the civilization revolve around a cultural development in which tribes were broken off and separated by trades, such as pottery, metallurgy, and religion. Some even suggest that ancient aliens had a lot of influence on the success and disappearance of the civilization. The most logical reason would be the invasion of Spanish colonization.

Pseudoarchaeological Narrative

While archaeologists have come to a common understanding that the Quimbaya artifacts represent a variety of zoomorphic and anthropomorphic figures, many believe that the treasures present a completely different story to the Quimbaya civilization. Critics claim that the figurines depict modern aircrafts and possess aerodynamic characteristics such as wings, rudders, stabilizers, and tail fins. Many theories behind the mysterious assemblage suggest that the artifacts are in replica of otherworldly beings and their spacecrafts. Some hypotheses go as far to claim that the assemblage was of Atlantian influence due to the use of copper in the Quimbaya metallurgic workmanship.

Ancient Astronauts

Those who believe the pseudoscientific backstory are led to believe that the assemblage was made in honor of ancient aliens.The only explanation to some for the similar resemblance to airplanes is the answer of extraterrestrial interference. The Quimbaya civilization is a mystery in history, no one is quite sure of the exact establishment or the reason for their end. Their magnificent metallurgy is also a mystery due to the Quimbayans starting out very simple and lacking development. It is said that they rapidly went from living in primitive shacks and barely able to use bronze tools, and then they became gold working masters out of nowhere.[4] Due to the nature of the pendants, when worn in a necklace fashion the figurines depict space crafts taking off. Some ancient astronaut believers theorize that the Quimbaya people were mesmerized and amazed by the extraterrestrial's aerodynamic technology, so they created relics to portray the technology and to bring luck among their people.[4] Pseudoscientists fail to examine the anthropomorphic figures that depict humans, but choose to only focus on the zoomorphic pendants that resemble an aerodynamic symbol. To many, these artifacts serve as cold hard proof of alien existence and interaction with humans on earth.

Peter Belting and Conrad Lubbers with their radio-controlled scale models [3]

Belting and Lubber's model

In 1994, two German men, Peter Belting and Conrad Lubbers, created a radio-controlled scale model of the Quimbaya artifacts in order to solve the debate. The models lacked some aspects of the original artifacts, but still showed capable of flying when landing equipment and a motor were implemented. [5] The two men’s argument is that, when the size is increased but dimensions are kept the exact same, the small figures are capable of flight, which is impressive that the Quimbaya civilization would have recognized and understood aerodynamic technology to this extent. It is also worthy to note the size of the artifacts. The Quimbaya treasures measured only to about 2 to 5 inches tall, but despite their size were still accurate enough in their design to have the capability of flight.This experimental applied science is an interesting way to test the ancient alien hypothesis, and seems to produce objective evidence in the terms of pseudoscience. In season 1, episode 1 of Ancient Aliens, on The History Channel, multiple scientists show their support in the models and the evidence. Also featured in this episode, they compared the Quimbaya aircrafts to the Saqqara Bird from Egypt. In mentioning the other notorious artifact, they are attempting to make ties to the two civilizations, that were half way across the world from each other, and suggesting the extraterrestrials have influence in both regions.

Quimbaya Turtle that seems to depict a modern day trenching machine [4]

Modern Machinery

In addition to depicting aircrafts, the Quimbaya artifacts are also said to represent modern day machinery. Some types of technology that is referenced is trenching and digging machinery. One argument against the normalized archaeological belief that the pendants depict zoomorphic figures of common insects, birds and reptiles from that region, is that some of the artifacts possess characteristics that are not present in any animal.[4] Some of the bird like figures have wings attached at the bottom, which contradicts all species of birds that have wings at the top. A turtle figurine possesses gear like pieces attached at the legs. Additionally, figures that are supposed to be fish have slim tail fins that are more aerodynamic like than fish physiology.

Archaeological Record

Opposed to the mainstream, popular belief of the Quimbaya artifacts depicting alien aircrafts, the archaeological evidence suggest no event could have ever occurred. There is virtually no archaeological evidence of an alien arrival on Earth. With alien contact, and especially in the form of large aerodynamic vessels, there would and should be an abundance of metal pieces from the aircrafts in the archaeological record, as well as fueling ports and runways. The Quimbaya artifacts have an incredible similarity to airplanes, but the pseuodoarchaeological narratives hold no stance compared to the factual scientific data. Another aspect to take into consideration is the fact that the relationship between the Quimbaya artifacts resembling modern day airplanes may be inverse. The emergence of airplanes in history is not until 1903 when the Wright brother created the very first functional airplane.[6] Bird and fish species have been present on Earth for millions of years, which could have served as inspiration for aircrafts. The utilization of copper in the tumbaga alloy composition is not only explainable by Atlantan influence and trade, but is very common in the valleys of Colombia and Costa Rica. Other than the analogy of the Quimbaya artifacts depicting airplanes, the pseudoscientific argument offers no other evidence for the ancient alien "theories". The personal interpretation of an object is not enough to prove a hypothesis. Archaeologists offer actual research and data analyzing the artifacts and their origins.

Ion Beam Analysis

Some studies have utilized Ion Beam Analysis to determine the exact nature of the metallic figures. The results of PIXE, claim that the alloy is homogenous from object to object, but have differences in composition. [7] Alessandro Zucchiatti, from Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, and other scholars who conducted the PIXE analysis on the artifacts interpret the data as, “…intentional, masterly use of the Cu/Au ratio to control the object colour so to make it coherent with the use and symbolism of the object.” [7] Based on the data, archaeologists are able to understand the context of artifacts more efficiently. Scientists have come to an understanding based on the alloy compositions of the assemblage that different artifacts were composed of varying Ag, Au, and Cu percentages, creating different reddish and gold shades. These types of studies give context and clarity to the expertise the Quimbaya people utilized when creating their pendants and other gold metallurgy objects. The workmanship was so precise when creating differentiating coloring for various objects, as well as in observing natural aspects for inspiration such as birds, lizards, and fish, in order to design their elegant figurines.A majority of the artifacts that were sampled showed homogenous alloy compositions, while a few outliers showed abnormal results. [2] The skewed results did little to alter the conclusion that the artifacts could be sorted into three categories based on composite.

Optical Microscopy

Other forms of analysis that have been performed on the assemblage consists of optical microscopy. This technique is used to identify tool marks, technical processes, usage and wear damage and deterioration due to burial conditions.[2] When the gold figurines underwent this analytical process, the results show that most of the assemblage was created using wax molds, and some were later altered with hammering or patchwork. A few of the pieces showed porosity and minor mistakes, but the majority of the collection was meticulously made with high quality. The study also shows a layer of wear and damage to the surface of some of the vessels that indicate improper cleaning with abrasive products and poor preservation of the items; these processes have removed a valuable surface layer that could have potentially been analyzed and led to better data quality. Fortunately for the researchers, a sample of uncontaminated ash was discovered inside one of the anthropomorphic vessels that were sent out for radio-carbon dating in an attempt to chronologically date the assemblage. [2] The data returned and aged the specific vessel to around 410 to 590 AD. The conclusion the scholars came to based on the multitude of analytical data they collected, is that the Quimbaya gold artifacts represent a particular metallurgy technique that was utilized by the civilization during a specific time period phase that would not have advanced past it’s production period in that area. This could explain the preciseness of the work only during the Quimbaya Classic period, the detail and dedication to the metallurgic work was a short lived hobby for the Quimbaya civilization, which is why the scholars are suggesting that these iconographic pieces are characteristic of this time span.


  1. Scott, D.A. & Meyers, P. (1992) Archaeometry of Pre-Columbian Sites and Artifacts. UCLA institute of archaeology and the Getty conservation institute, Los Angeles California.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Perea, A, et al. Pre-hispanic goldwork technology. The Quimbaya Treasure, Colombia. Vol. 40, Journal of Archaeological Science, 2013, pp. 2326-34. ScienceDirect.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 The art of Precolumbian gold : the Jan Mitchell collection. Boston : Little Brown, 1985.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 ALIEN TECHNOLOGY: Quimbaya (Tolima) Airplanes. AncientAliens.com, 2018, www.theancientaliens.com/technology--quimbaya-airplanes.
  5. Steven Thomas, Robert. Intelligent Intervention. Dog Ear Publishing, 2011.
  6. https://airandspace.si.edu/exhibitions/wright-brothers/online/fly/1903/
  7. 7.0 7.1 Zucchiatti, Alessandro, et al. Prehispanic goldwork technology study by PIXE analysis. Vol. 332, Nuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research Section B: Beam Interactions with Materials and Atoms, 2014, pp. 160-64. ScienceDirect, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0168583X14003097.