Monday, May 28, 2018

Unknown Ecuadorian Pre-Historic Cultures

When the Spanish arrived in the Andes in the early stages of the 16th century, and particularly after the conquest of Guayaquil in southcentral Ecuador, the numerous and often ancient native villages in the region began to disappear. As an example, the riverine cities of Milagro and Quevedo two of the pre-Columbian pre-historic settlements that occupied the largest territories along the Guayas river system including the two great rivers of Daule (with headwaters in the interior mountains) and the Babahoyho (fed by tributaries rising in the Andes) that join to form the Gujayas just above the Isla Santay north of Guayaquil, as well as all their tributaries. Whether the Milagro Culture was an empire comparable to those to the south or a looser kind of sociopolitical integration is not yet known.
(Green Circle) The Guayas Drainage Basin, showing the early settlements of the Milagro and Quevedo cultures and their combined territory

The Milagro flourished in an extensive territory within the Guayas River drainage—an area in central-western Ecuador that drains through the Guayas River into the Pacific Ocean through the Gulf of Guayaquil—with settlements built on mounds raised to avoid the frequent inundations from seasonal flooding, especially along the low regions of both the Babahoyo and Daule river basins. Raised fields were built up three feet or more above the natural ground surface to improve drainage for crops, with approximately 50,000 hectares of raised fields that were laboriously constructed in the Guayas River drainage.
    Although generally discussed as one entity, this cultural grouping actually combines the remains of two similar culture traditions: the more ornate Quevedo to the north and the more archaeologically known and understood Milagro to the south, with the latter being experts in ceramic work as well as being renowned for their metalwork, especially for copper “hachas monedas” (money axes), small standardized axe-shaped ingots used as a medium for exchange. Interestingly enough, this rich metalworking tradition was established in a region lacking in metal sources with gold and copper were obtained through trade.
    It might also be understood that the development of 2.2 hectare Isla Santay (Santay Island) in recent history within the Guayas River at Guayaquil and just below (south) of the confluence of the Daule and Babahoyo rivers, has affected the river flow of the Guayas, resulting in backflow to the north causing an increase on the water surface levels upstream of its location. Beyond, along the almost 40-mile runs of the Guayas River to the Gulf, it is briefly constricted at Guayaquil by hills, the Guayas widens south of the city and flows through a deltaic network of small islands and channels. At its mouth, the river forms a broad estuary with two channels around Puná Island, the deeper of which is used for navigation.
    This has resulted from the Guayas estuary semidiurnal tide regime that is fundamental for the understanding of its sediment transport dynamics. As an example, once the sea water enters the estuary and meets the fresh water, which is carrying sediments coming from the rivers, a flocculation of the sediment particles results and increases the sediment concentration in the water column.
    Thus, tides are a significant driver of the processes within the Guayas River system, and during the moments of low current speed, the bigger, newly formed sediment molecules are deposited on the river bed. In time, some of these form isles and even larger islands. In fact, the formation of islands seems to be a natural and recurrent process within the Gujayas River system, with some disappearing with each flooding season, and others becoming established features as the Isle of Santay, causing a fluctuating land arrangement along the Guayas downstream of Guayaquil all the way to the marshy delta, where in millennia past, almost solid land egress existed. How much this affected movement east to west in the pre-historic past is unknown, but judging from the models developed today of that period, such movement cannot be discounted.
    The area was first studied by Jacinto Jijōn y Caamaño, M. Ulle, M. Saville, J. Bushnell, and other archaeologists, between 1910s–1930s, but the Milagro-Quevedo area and culture was first identified by Ecuadorian businessman and amateur archaeologist Emilio Estrada Icasa, as a result of the heightened interest in archaeology at the time Thor Heyerdahl began constructing his Kon-Tiki raft in Guayaquil in 1946-1947.
    When first identified, the Milagro were ethnically defined as chonos, people who occupied both the interior of Ecuador and the southern coast, numbering as much as 240,000 people anciently. They were consummated goldsmiths who delicately worked gold and silver, which they carried for personal adornment.
Map of the Gulf of Guayaquil basin in Ecuador and the scores of estuaries and swamps that make up the land along the Estero Salada and Rio Guayas area

The lack of current identify of these individually developed areas along the Guayas River has been lost to history due to the geographical situation of the region, together with its favorable climate, making it a place of preferences for several Spaniards fleeing Guayaquil due to the continuous pirate attacks that plagued the capital of the corregimiento after 1552. One of these early townsites was named Yaguachi or Yaguacho, placed on the banks of the homonymous (same-named) river.
    The first town was destroyed by a fire and then rebuilt to a small enclosure called Pueblo Nuevo, and renamed Yaguachi Nuevo. One of the features that characterized and was perhaps the most prominent of the Milagro culture was the existence of a large number of tolas (housing mounds) in almost all the territory they occupied (another area of tolas has been found among the settlement of the Caranques one of the most important oldest cultures in the region, as well as of the Socapamba in Imbabura—both pre-Inca cultures).
The Valdivia Culture began on the Santa Elena coast, which is considered to be the origin of Ecuadorian culture

Another culture with very limited research is the Valdivia Culture that existed along the coast at Santa Elena, and also the culture before them called Las Vegas, which is thought to have occupied the outer tip of the Santa Elena Peninsula. The Valdivia were best known for being among the earliest ceramic makers in the whole of the Americas. Although their site was not discovered until 1956 by amateur archaeologist Emilio Estrada, it took ten more years before accredited archaeologists studied the culture and since then few other studies have been undertaken. However most of these studies have since been criticized and outdated, so it has become necessary for contemporary studies on this culture to be made.

Valdivia Ruins along the coast of southern Ecuador

Still, to-date, there is a significant lack of theoretical models in the scientific contributions made by Ecuadorian archaeologists, and research is still at the level of theoretical inquiry archaeologists call "Historiography." This tendency began to change in the 1970s, when the first Ecuadorian archaeologists trained in academic settings emerged prepared to address the theoretical and methodological problems of the Pre-Columbian past.
Valdivian Culture shown; this is the area where it is believed that the Jaredites landed, along the Santa Elena Peninsula, occupying the area about the same time the Valdivia are supposed to have been in the area

Other scientists from outside Ecuador, either foreign professionals or doctoral candidates conducting research in Ecuador, have temporarily made this country the center of their research. Generally financed by universities or cultural institutions from abroad, it is not surprising that most of the scientific contributions about the Ecuadorian past have been made by this group. Ecuadorian archaeologists represent less than 10 percent of the total number of archaeologists who have worked in the country.
    According to Ernesto Salazar, a Professor of Anthropology at the Universidad Católica of Ecuador in Quito, in “Between Crisis and Hope: Archaeology in Ecuador,” until the 1970s, “Ecuador did not even have an academic center for training archaeologists, and Ecuadorian archaeology has not been very successful in the arena of professional relationships. An attempt in the 1980s to establish the Sociedad Ecua-toriana de Arqueología failed, as have several conferences and symposia that, professionally, have meant little to Ecuadorian archaeologists.”
    Further, in the early 1980s, the Department of Anthropology at the Universidad Católica, the only one of its kind in the country and one which was traditionally indifferent to archaeological research, introduced an archaeological curriculum that responded to the need to more closely link archaeology to anthropology than to history.
    In addition, the Escuela Politécnica del Litoral established its School of Archaeology (now the Center for Archaeological and Anthropological Studies) for training professionals from the entire Andean region, although ultimately all of its pupils were Ecuadorian. Both centers offer degrees equivalent to a North American B.A. However, the Escuela has now practically closed its doors, while the Department of Anthropology at the Universidad Católica only recently began to include archaeology in its curriculum.
    Other research initiatives in the early 1980s included the Centro de Investigaciones Arqueológicas (no longer active after the death of its founder, the Ecuadorian archaeologist Padre Pedro Porras); a foundation called the Programa de Antropología para el Ecuador, is also inactive since of the death of its founder; and the ECUABEL Project, an experimental program between Ecuador and Belgium for the restoration of historical monuments and archaeological research, which is also no longer active. Finally, the Museo del Banco Central established an archaeological research program that had the best financial support in the country, but which is now inactive due to economic reasons and internal conflicts.
The view of the side of the Gualiman Plateau (nicknamed Wariman by its private owner) in the northern Sierra cloud forest region of Intag. Dozens of pyramids, tombs, and houses surround it, some sitting on platforms cut into the hard rock, dated to 1500 B.C. or earlier

One of the severest difficulties of sponsoring a dig or excavation in Ecuador, is that approximately 7,000 known archaeological sites rest on private land, and a modest but quality dig could come at $30,000. In addition, unlike the pyramids of Mexico or Peru, the ancient structures were constructed of volcanic clay, sensitive to the sun and rain. Unfortunately, the passing centuries have packed the ruins with dirt and lush greenery, converting them into bumps in the smooth landscape.
    Luckily for Ecuadorian archaeology, in the last 1980s, foreign archaeologists became interested in conducting research in Ecuador. This allowed for the extension of the archaeological map, which before 1970 was restricted to the central Sierra region, the Santa Elena Peninsula, and the north coast, while the eastern region was known only through the works of Evans and Meggers along the Napo River. Especially notable are the Columbia University investigations of the Santa Elena Peninsula; the University of Illinois, which studied the Formative Period along the coast; the Spanish investigation of Ingapirca and the province of Esmeraldas; the German mission that worked in Cochasquí in 1965; and the French mission's survey of the province of Loja.
    The obvious point is, with so little archaeology having been accomplished in the Ecuadorian area, and so many ancient sites no longer existing in the south or Guayas basin, especially inland along the southcentral and eastern perimeters of the land, it is understandable why so few sites have been uncovered, let alone studied. Yet, their history, were it known, would lend a great deal to the understanding of this vital area that dates back to before the Nephite era.


  1. If BYU would stop looking in the wrong place for evidence of the Jaredites and Nephites, I'm sure we would have much more information about these civilizations. Really sad that these so-called scholars can't see the fatal flaws in their own Meso-American model.

  2. It is also sad that for an archaeological department dedicated to searching out archaeological sites in the Western Hemisphere that they have restricted themselves and their research to a single, very small area of this vast land. To them it appears that if it is not in Mesoamerica, it either doesn't exist, or is of no consequence to their research goals.

  3. What Ecuador needs is a LIDAR scan like Guatemala recently had. And look, there's a company in Ecuador that could do it.

    I'm sure some of those LIDAR fly-overs could reveal complex and extensive constructions underneath the overgrowth. The Jaredite Empire rests out of sight. Too bad that it takes mucho money to see it.