Ecuador Archeology and Ethnology

By | December 14, 2021

Although largely subjected to Inca domination and having, especially for the southern districts, absorbed various cultural elements, Ecuador at the beginning of the century. XVI still had numerous populations that preserved purely local arts and traditions, more similar, albeit superior, to the culture of the Colombian Chibcha than to that of the invading Quechua. Among the most evolved confederations of tribes at that time are the Quillacingas and the Pasto in the north of the present republic, the Quitu and Cara, residents of the central region, the Puruha who dominated in Riobamba and in the south the powerful Cañari and Palta.

It results from the archaeological examination of some localities of the coast and the plateau (excavations by Max Uhle, M. Saville), and from the pre-Inca traditions preserved by the Spanish chroniclers of the 16th-18th centuries such as the Cieza de León, the Velasco and others, that the Ecuadorian civilization encountered by the first Europeans was the product of the fusion of various cultures superimposed on each other which, according to Rivet, were imported by three great migrations of different ethnic elements, of which the first, of oriental origin (Guianas, Amazonia), formed by Caribbean populations, overlapped on its arrival in Ecuador with a race (perhaps Paleo-American or Lagoa Santa race) of which many cultural elements were of the type called Malai-Polynesian (arrow propeller, pan flute, trophy heads). To these elements gl ‘ karacoli caribico), the narigueras (bone, metal and lithic ornaments of the nasal septum), the pectoral plates in metal or stone, etc. The second migration that took place in more recent times was probably of Central American origin (perhaps due to the so-called archaic culture of Mexico), with many Chibcha elements. This invasion introduced the use of corn, sweet mandioca, multi-footed pots, pintaderas, native gold processing, etc .; this migration was followed by a third of Andean origin (Aymarà) introducing elements of the so-called Tiahuanaco civilizationas well as the knowledge of copper and bronze. The last invasion was the Inca invasion which added its own cultural forms to the Quechua. For Ecuador 2012, please check

Given the scarcity of archaeological excavations carried out so far in Ecuador, also given that the aforementioned migrations have certainly divided into numerous waves, each of which perhaps introduced a few new cultural elements, it is impossible today to be able to establish a true chronology, limiting ourselves to believing that the second migration (Central American-Chibcha) arrived in Ecuador in the period in which the old Maya empire flourished (1st-7th century AD).

The Ecuadorian populations distinguished themselves in dressing from their Chibcha and Peruvian neighbors because they wore a belt with a small band of intercrural fabric, as well as a short tunic of cotton for the residents of the coast, and of llama wool for those of the plateau. As ornaments they wore bracelets, necklaces, breastplates of gold or gold-plated copper; in addition, the earlobes, the nasal septum and the lower lip were perforated to fix gold ornaments or precious stones (emeralds). Famous were the Quillacinga (transl. Literally “men with the crescent”) who wore enormous golden plates in the shape of a crescent from which they took their name. A practice, perhaps a ritual, particular to Ecuadorian archeology, was the incrustation of laminates of gold in cavities made on the outside of the teeth (especially incisors). This operation, extremely difficult due to the hardness of the enamel to be engraved, was performed with absolute precision without touching the nerve. The gold working technique was very advanced (among other things they knew the lost wax casting) and from the few remaining jewels we can get an idea of ​​the art that Ecuadorian goldsmiths had reached in pre-Columbian times.

The dwellings varied according to the regions: from the leaf hut in the torrid area to the small squared stone houses of the plateau and the mud huts of the coast; however in Manabí the Saville discovered the remains of vast houses (some more than 50 meters long) built in stone and divided into various rooms. The characteristic stone seats supported by a squatting zoo- or anthropomorphic figure of which the National Museum of Anthropology and Ethnology of Florence owns an excellent example also belong to the culture to which these houses belong. These seats were found in large quantities, but on a small area and were to be used for ritual use, as well as stone pillars borne by exquisitely carved animals, discovered in the same region.

The art of stone carving is confined to the coast; however, it seems inexplicable why in the region where stone sculptures are easily encountered, there is a scarcity of lithic artifacts (axes, mace heads, etc.) very common in the plateau, in which there are very varied forms, some of which details to Ecuador. Also of interest are the star-shaped stone mace heads of the New Guinea type and certain eared axes, found along the coast, which are so large as to suggest that their use was exclusively ceremonial. The Ecuadorians of the coast were mainly fishermen while in the plateau they cultivated maize and in the early days they owned the guinea pig (Cavia cobaya), and later domesticated the lama. The leaders or kings of confederations such as the Scyri (chiefs) of the Quitu handed down the power from father to son until the Inca Tupac-Yupanqui conquered the region, a work that was done by his son Huayna Capac by marrying the last descendant of the Scyri of the Quitu.

Regarding religion we know that the Quitu and the Cañari worshiped the Sun and the Moon to which they had dedicated two great temples in Quito. Along the coast, religion was more primitive, with the worship of trees, stones, fish. In Manta the god of health was revered in the form of a huge emerald and in this last region even more than in the plateau, human sacrifices were very common, so much so that among the Puruha there was also the custom of sacrificing the firstborn of children while keeping it the body in vessels of gold or stone. The burial systems varied from one place to another and according to the epochs. In the north there was the simple burial in rectangular pits, the Caras used instead to place the deceased sitting in a pit that was covered with earth so as to form an artificial hill proportionate to the rank of the dead. The bodies of the Quitu Scyri were embalmed. Mortuary wells were used in the Azuay region, some of which, from the Tiahuanaco period (3rd migration), discovered near Sigsig in 1899, gave the discoverers a prodigious harvest of gold objects (a single Sigsig well discovered by Serrano contained more than two quintals). In other regions the burial system in ceramic urns was also used. With regard to Ecuadorian ceramics, it was very varied, although generally more refined and artistic along the coast than in the interior. Some vases from the Manabí region are very advanced in technique and art, although not comparable to those produced by the cultures of the Peruvian coast (Ica, Nazca, Pachacamac, etc.). The system of decorating ceramics with plastic ornaments obtained with shapes was used; others have pictorial decorations in which zoomorphic stylizations appear (Tuncahuán period).

Nowadays there are various tribes in Ecuador that still preserve their cultural heritage intact; among these the most notable are the Jívaro, the Záparo and the Colorado. The latter, who live in the tropical forest that stretches between the Western Cordillera and the Pacific, linguistically belong to the Chibcha family and still use the practice of artificially deforming the skulls of children, a survival from pre-Columbian times when it was widely used among the Ecuadorian populations. Among the Colorado, the father passes on his family name to the boys and the mother his to the girls.

Ecuador Archeology