Set within Panama’s western highlands near the town of Volcán, Sitio Barriles is one of the most significant archaeological sites in Panama—the items recovered here date back to 60 B.C. They came from an ancient agrarian people known as the Barriles, who are thought to have lived here as early as 734 B.C.
These days, there isn’t much to see besides excavation holes and a few petroglyphs. Still, it’s incredible to stand in a place that humans have inhabited for over 2,500 years.
Not much is known about the Barriles culture. It’s believed to have included four dozen settlements and between 500 and 1000 people. This particular site was likely a ceremonial center.
The Barú Volcano erupted in 600 A.D. and probably disrupted the Barriles people. Sitio Barriles is far enough away, however, that it may have remained populated until 800 A.D.
Fourteen stone statues were discovered here in the late 1940s. Ten of these depict a man with a conical hat riding on the shoulders of another man. This, scholars argue, may suggest evidence for higher and lower social classes within the Barriles culture.
Other objects found here include barrel-shaped stones and a grinding stone—the latter is thought to be evidence for violence or even human sacrifice. Most of the statues are now on display in Panama City’s anthropology museum.
The site is accessible to the public through Finca Landau (a private farm). The family that runs the site has several artifacts on display and runs a small museum. They offer guided tours in both Spanish and English.
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