Villa de Leyva, Colombia, is located in the Colombian Eastern Cordillera, in the department of Boyacá and, according to the Muisca denomination, in the Alto Valle de Saquencipá.
This town has an incredible historical, cultural and natural heritage, and it is considered one of the most beautiful towns in Colombia.
Villa de Leyva was declared a national monument in 1954 because of its architecture, its museums, the traditions of its inhabitants and its history. Since the beginning of the XXI century, it became part of the Network of heritage towns of Colombia.
Environmental features of Villa de Leyva
The town of Villa de Leyva is about 3 hours by car from Bogotá. The nearest capital city is Tunja, which is a two-hour drive away.
It is between 2,000 and 3,200 meters above sea level. In terms of climate, it has three climatic zones: Dry, Sub-Humid,and Humid. October is the rainiest month and the first months of the year are the driest. Villa de Leyva’s average temperature is between 17°C and 18°C.
The “Dinosaurs” of Villa de Leyva
Villa de Leyva did not always have the current climatic and geographic conditions, and its fauna and flora have also changed.
Many people believe that in Villa de Leyva there were dinosaurs. The truth is that there were marine reptiles, which are different from dinosaurs.
We all sin of calling “dinosaur” to any big, rare and extinct creature of which only a few skeletons are preserved. But, in reality, many of those fossilized remains have nothing to do with dinosaurs. This will be a story of another post…
Half of the Colombian territory was covered by the Sea
During the Cretaceous, about 145 to 65 million years ago, the sea covered a large part of the Colombian territory, including the area of Villa de Leyva.
This sea was inhabited by many organisms that are now extinct, but that dominated the oceans at that time. With the uplift of the Andean Mountain Range, this internal sea withdrew, exposing the rocks that were formed from sediments deposited during the Cretaceous.
Today we can find in these rocks a fossil record of great paleontological value.
The Fossils of Villa de Leyva
Some examples of these fossils are the famous ammonites, which are the most common in stores and facades of the town. There are also the marine reptiles, not dinosaurs, which are exhibited in museums and some private collections.
Among the marine reptiles found in Villa de Leyva are: plesiosaurs, pliosaurs, ichthyosaurs, mosasaurs, and the famous Kronosaurus boyacensis. The specimen is exhibited in the Fossil Museum (El Fósil, a private collection).
This individual is the designated specimen (i.e., holotype) whose characteristics define this species of kronosaur endemic to Colombia.
These, and many more fossils found in Villa de Leyva and its surroundings (such as turtles, mollusks, crustaceans, and other marine organisms), allow us to reconstruct the geological and paleontological history of Colombia and the planet.
Researchers from El Fósil Museum explain that the marine environment is very suitable for fossils to be preserved.
This is because dead animals that fall to the bottom of the sea are covered by sticky sediments that quickly cover them, thus preserving them.
The importance of Fossil Records
Fossils are of great importance to understand the climatic and geographic changes that occurred in our country and our planet throughout its history. This will allow us to have clues about how future changes may occur.
For this reason, fossil material should only be collected for scientific purposes. This material has no legal economic value.
So, please, DO NOT BUY FOSSILS. Do not contribute to the growth of fossil trafficking in Colombia.
With the looting of fossils destined for sale, not only is humanity’s heritage being trafficked, but a great deal of useful information for science and understanding of the environment is being stolen.
Paleontology and Archeology Attractions Of Villa de Leyva
The Museum has been functioning for more than 30 years as a space to investigate and deepen in prehistory and anthropology, projecting it to the pedagogical, artistic and cultural field.
There are about 25 sculptures in ferroconcrete, made by the master Luis Alberto Acuña. These sculptures are of prehistoric animals and samples of fossils found in the natural context of Villa de Leyva.
This museum is attached to the Faculty of Sciences of the National University of Colombia. It houses a great paleontological and cultural heritage, highlighting the fossil pieces dating from the Cretaceous period (130 million years ago approx.). It has 2425 pieces in its collection and 441 pieces in the exhibition.
The museum’s house is a colonial architectural jewel built in 1570 by the Spaniards, where the Molino de la Osada or “de Losada” used to work.
Besides paleontology, there is the Arboretum project called “Padre Gustavo Huertas”. The project has a collection of about 130 species of the typical ecosystems of the country. This living collection of native species is used for research and conservation purposes.
The Fossil Museum
El Fósil Museum was founded in 1977 by the initiative of the farmers of the region after their discovery of a specimen of pliosaur when they were working in the field.
It was named by science as Kronosaurus boyacensis Hampe. This pliosaur fossil specimen is the most complete found to date in the world.
The Museum currently exhibits more than 500 pieces of Colombian paleontological heritage.
A special feature of this museum is that it is still run by farmers who are members of the community action board of the Monquirá neighborhood.
The Archaeological Park: Muisca Astronomical Observatory
Near the town of Monquirá there is a group of lithic monuments, of phallic, funerary and astronomical character, catalogued as “Muisca Solar Observatory” in situ.
This ancient observatory was discovered by Dr. Eliécer Silva Celis around 1960. It is composed by stone columns of medium height arranged in a series of rows.
The stone columns are carved in cylindrical forms, and the rows delimit the sacred field to the north and south.
In addition, there are forty monoliths of phallic character. Those monoliths where a symbol of male fertility for the indigenous people that live there in the past. The purpose of those constructions was to propitiate the action and fecundity of the earth.
A few meters from the Solar Observatory, in the northeastern sector, there is a “Dolmen Tomb”, also built in lithic material.
I hope you liked this brief summary of the paleontological attractions of Villa de Leyva. If you want to know more do not hesitate to contact us.
- La verdadera historia de los fósiles de Villa de Leyva.
- Villa de Leyva’s Mayor’s Office Website
- Colombia Travel
- SITUR Boyacá
About the author
Current director of Sula. Doctor in Biological Sciences. Her main interests are to explore and understand the organism – environment interactions, taking advantage of emerging knowledge for the management and conservation of species and ecosystem services. She is currently working as a consultant in functional ecology, ecosystem services and conservation projects in Colombia related to ecotourism and birdwatching.