The Guaqueros of Mompos

Guaquero – person who plunders graves or other archaeological sites

As the waters of the Magdalena River continue to drop due to an alarming water shortage brought about by the ongoing effects of the climatic phenomenon known as El Niño, the widening banks around Mompos’s ports have provided an unexpected source of work for some of the more enterprising locals.

Guaquero

The Guaqueros of Mompos

The Guaqueros of Mompos are hard at work and are reaping the rewards of toiling in the blazing sun.

Digging into the dark alluvial deposits as the river recedes, these Guaqueros make their money finding trinkets dating back to Republican, Colonial and even from the pre-Columbian eras.

Guaquero

Guaqueros washing through the grit

Guaquero

The tools of the Guaquero trade

Using implements which are not dissimilar to those used in gold-panning, one member of the team will be involved in digging down through the dark mud to a level expected to represent the actual water-level dating back hundreds of years and here, just perhaps, they’ll find something of value.

Gauquero

The Guaquero digging into the past

Of course, since temperatures have been soaring and routinely ensure that the mercury is close to the 40 degree mark, the first few feet of excavations require a certain degree of fitness and athleticism. Then, once this hard crust is broken down and bested, the moist dirt gives away more easily.

Guaquero

Some “treasures” found by the Guaqueros

In the above image you may be able to make out some of the that day’s finds. In the saucepan on the left amidst the fine sand and mud there are tiny slivers of gold. And on the right, you can see some of the more routine discoveries such as colonial era nails and fragments of colonial or pre-Columbian pottery.

More discoveries

More discoveries

Given the history of Mompos and the surrounding area and it’s importance not only to the pre-Columbian people that inhabited here and then it’s importance as a major port along the Magdalena River (the other ports being Cartagena and Honda), it’s no surprise that the dense soil around the river banks provides some insights into the life and times of the various communities here and the evolution of the town.

On this day the Guaqueros were not so successful, but their haul was of interest to me. They gladly showed me the snarled colonial nails, the broken pottery and other trinkets including a French era brooch and a small cannon ball. This wasn’t going to be a red-letter day in terms of earnings for them, but, when I return to Mompos I am invited to the family home to see their other discoveries and will potentially buy some antiquities from them.

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