Ciudad Perdida /Teyuna (Colombie): Many more potential ruins recently identified near the site

Archaeologists Explore Colombia's Lost City

Many more potential ruins recently identified near the site of Ciudad Perdida still remain shrouded in forest.

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Ancient Stairway at Ciudad Perdida (Teyuna). Courtesy Global Heritage Fund

A team of archaeologists are uncovering remains of an ancient city that, until recently, had been unknown to most of the outside world for centiuries. Known today as Ciudad Perdida (or Teyuna), Spanish for "Lost City", it is one of Colombia's most spectacular heritage sites, despite the fact that relatively few of the world's travelers have even known of its existence. Inhabited by theTayrona people until the end of the 16th century and tucked away within the lush jungles of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta not far from the Colombian coastline, it is made up of hundreds of stone terraces and rings, which archaeologists believe were used as foundations for temples, dwellings and plazas.  Although the Tayrona built more than 250 towns across a 2,000 square mile area, few are as large or as impressive as Ciudad Perdida, which is believed to have been a regional center of political, social and economic power, home to around 3,000 people. 

Now, a team of scientists, students and volunteers will be surveying and investigating a number of locations within the 2,000 square mile Teyuna region, exploring potential ancient residential and other settlement sites that will help fill in the picture of a civilization that today only exists in ruins and oral stories and recollections handed down from generation to generation among the current indigenous people who still live near or among the ruins. 

Dr. Santiago Giraldo, who has led efforts to investigate and restore the site and who will also be directing the upcoming surveys, shows the jungle-shrouded region from his smartphone tablet to a news correspondent. "What we're going to be doing in the next few field seasons is explore all this area right here that you see as forest cover." he says, "because we've been finding that the structures keep on going down toward the river, and that area hasn't been surveyed. So we're trying to understand to what extent this city actually extends down to the river and what would be its limits."

In 2013, Giraldo's team will focus on surveying three poorly understood sites located a short distance from the core area of Ciudad Perdida to, in part, determine the relationship of these sites to the larger city. They intend to map the already-discovered flagstone path that connects them to the core, including the surrounding topography and structures located at the sites. They will also be investigating the presence (or absence) of buried settlements dated to the earlier Neguanje period (AD 200-1,000) to better understand the origins of the sites. Moreover, they will conduct conservation work at collapsed structures in collaboration with an archaeological conservation team led by Catalina Bateman. 


A view of the monumental stone platforms and terraces in the central core area of Ciudad Perdida (Teyuna). Gavin Rough, Wikimedia Commons

There is more to Ciudad Perdida than archaeology, however. Looters have pillaged the site for artifacts to sell on the illicit antiquities market. However, this has been arrested, and now the focus is on preservation. But even this will be a challenge, given the increase in tourism and the adverse effects that can have on site preservation. Following the discovery of the city, the Colombian Institute of Anthropology and History (ICANH) began a program of study and conservation at the site. In partnership with the Global Heritage Fund (GFHF), ICANH is stabilizing the site and saving it for posterity, protecting the site from threats that include destructive vegetation growth and erosion, in addition to the already-mentioned effects of tourism. The indigenous inhabitants of the area will be intimately involved.

Says Dr. Dan Thompson, Director of Global Projects and the Global Heritage Network at the GHF:  "Seeking to minimize the impact on the environment and the indigenous cultures is central to management planning, and this concern is being addressed through consultation with the indigenous Kogi people.........Where the future of the site was once dim, hope has returned, and through the efforts of all those involved the site will once again enjoy its former glory, taking its rightful place among the world’s greatest cultural heritage sites".[1]

More information about the survey work that will be conducted in 2013, and how one can participate, can be obtained at  

See the videos below for more information about Ciudad Perdida and its significance.

For information about the Global Heritage Fund, go to

 [1] Thompson, Dan, Ciudad Perdida: The Greatest Site You've Never Heard Of, Popular Archaeology, Vol. 4, September, 2011.