Volcan Baru, Chiriqui, Panama, Central America Tours & Attractions: Sitio Barriles Museum
Walking down the beautiful garden path at Sitio Barriles is like stepping into the past. Distributed throughout the bird and animal filled gardens are relics of an ancient culture first discovered in 1906. In 1925 William Fredrick Houx came to this site, southwest of Volcán, from California to grow coffee and established a hotel along with the coffee plantation. Any excavation, whether for building or gardening, unearthed pottery and stone artifacts.
The biggest discovery came in 1947 when 18 human sized pieces were discovered while preparing an area for planting. These statues, now in Panama City at the Reina Torres de Araúz Museum, show two different races of people; one with African features and the other with oriental features. Who were these people living here 300 to 600 years BC? Are these statues evidence of the migration of early man? Much is still to be learned from this important archeological site.
It is believed that in ancient times Barriles was an important town. Remains have been found of pottery production, medicinal remedy making, a temple, a tomb and gold, both poured and hammered. One large rock displays a significant ancient map, carved with the routes to the neighboring areas and both oceans, which indicated Barriles was a ceremonial site.
Many of the rock artifacts are made from basalt, which came from Volcan Baru over 16 kilometers away. The presence of barrel-shaped stones may be the answer to how these massive pieces of rock were moved and gives the site its name. One massive slab of highly polished basalt shows designs only when wet. This is quite different from the carved pieces. These designs were made with tree resins, and one of these pieces has been determined to be from a temple. Today, metaphysical groups come to Barriles to experience its energy, which is said to be better than that at Manchu Pichu.
The pottery that was made here was created from the different clays that can still be seen along the stream that crosses the property, a stream that we were told goes uphill (north) one kilometer to the Chiriqui River. Both high and low relief appear on the various bowls, urns and pots of many different sizes and shapes.One of the most important recent finds came 7 years ago when a large stone slab was uncovered. It indicated that it was the roof to a structure, which turned out to be a tomb. Embedded in the walls are funeral urns for the ashes of the deceased. No bones have been found, only ashes, as the soil here is acidic and dissolved the bones long ago. Visitors are requested not to touch the pottery pieces, as they are fragile and fall apart with the least provocation. The Barriles culture was probably destroyed by an eruption from Volcán Baru.
Edna Landau, William Fredrick Houx’s granddaughter, lives here with her family and gives tours in both Spanish and English. Besides the wonderful opportunity to experience this archeological site where, unlike many other such sites pictures are allowed. This makes a wonderful outing in a picturesque setting with plants from all over the world. Be sure to check out the Thailand sour lemon tree, which yields a quart of juice per lemon. The family still produces coffee, which is organically grown, hand peeled and roasted. They also make delicious cheese, wine, jelly and duros (a delightful fruit and ice treat), all available for purchase. As the government does not fund this site and no entrance fee is charged, donations are both greatly appreciated and necessary.