Thursday, January 9, 2020

Cojitambo-Cañar in Ecuador, a 500 BC Archaeological Site

Built sometime after 500 BC, the fortress of Cojitambo in Ecuador, a land that is split by two cordilleras into coastal, Andean and Amazonian regions, stands alone along a high ridge. This coastal region ranges from a tropical rain forest in the north to a mixed wet-dry monsoon region in the central and south. A third fairly low cordillera runs intermittently along the coastal strip. Among the volcanic mountains, known as the Corridor of the Volcanoes, lie rich, fertile valleys or basins, and at one time was centrally covered by lower mountains and hills—these were changed, many lowered into valleys, as the Andes mountains rose to great heights, altering the flow of rivers and the pathway of anciently constructed roads through changing mountain passes.
Cojitambo is located 11 miles northeast of Cuenca and about 4 miles southwest of Azogues

At an elevation of 9,910-feet, the Cojitambo archaeological site is southwest of Azogues , and northeast of Cuenca, a very large and unique ancient Canari city described by the Spanish conquistador/recorder, the 16th century historian, Pedro Cieza de Leon who said: ‘These famous lodgings of [Tumipampa, now known as Cuenca] were among the finest and richest to be found in all Peru, and the buildings the largest and the best. Whatever the Indians said about these residences fell short of reality, to judge by the remains…The temple of the sun was of stones put together with the subtlest of skill, some of them large, black and rough, and others that seemed of jasper … The fronts of many of the buildings are beautiful and highly decorative, some of them set with precious stones and emeralds and, inside, the walls of the temple of the sun and the palaces of the Lord-Incas were covered in sheets of the finest gold and encrusted with many statues, all of this metal…I would say that these lodgings were a remarkable thing. Today all is cast down and in ruins, but still it can be seen how great they were”.
    Originally called the the Cañari settlement of Guapondelig, it was built along an ancient rift valley that provided the fortress with strategic views of Cuenca, Biblián and Azogue, the latter being the capital of the Cañar province. The site is considered to have been a military stronghold, and is named in Quechua (curi tambo) the “Resting Place of Gold,” though no gold has ever been found in the area. The site has 500-foot sheer walls of volcanic cliffs to the east and south of the ruins.
Cuenca ruins in south central Ecuador

Based on early recorded statements about the Cañari, they were a wise, proud, and cunning community. Even to this day they are one of Ecuador’s most prominent and affluent Native communities with sprawling cities. Their history reflects that they were a conquering people that annexed land all the way to the Pacific Ocean before they were much later conquered by the Incas, though the Inca had great difficulty conquering them, and then only after several aborted attempts.
    To the northeast a short distance, Cojitambo is today located in the canton Azogues, province of Cañar, whose etymology stems from the Quechua word, Curi Tambo, which means “Rest or Inn of Gold.”  It sits at about 10,000-feet above sea level, and has a pleasant climate, with temperatures that oscillate between 53º and 72º F. According to the studies carried out, Archaeologists have uncovered evidence that the site of Cojitambo was occupied from 500 BC onward (García Castillo, et al., "Las Ruinas de Cojitambo, Herencia Cañari-Inca que se ofrece al Turismo," University of Cuenca, Cuenca Ecuador, 2011, p14)
Ruins of the Cojitambo fortress, situated on a high hill at the base of the mountains in southern Ecuador

The sheer eastern face of Cojitambo mountain rock rises 490 feet from the outskirts of the village and run for about 1,600 feet in a north-south direction. The dome-shaped rock is Ecuador's most popular site for rock climbing, with more than 100 routes identified that draw enthusiasts from all over the world.
    The Cojitambo archaeological sits on a hillside were the terrain is less steep in the north and west and a road leads to the summit and ruins. The fortress was built to suppress the northern tribes and support Cañari hegemony (control) over other tribes. It is interesting that scholars have found that the Cañari, who dominated this area and occupied Cojitambo had an oral tradition of a massive flood as part of their creation stories, similar to those of the Bible in which it claims there occurred a giant flood in which everyone but two brothers perished.
Map of the area of the Cañari

Archoaeologists claim the Cañari were a group or confederacy of united tribes who formed a people; they inhabited the area from the limits of Azuay to Saraguro, from the Gualaquiza mountains to the Narajal beaches and the coasts of the Jambeli canal. Within the Cañari territory, the most important areas were Canaribamba, Cojitambo, Chobshi, Shabalula, Molleturo, Coyoctor, Culebrillas Yacubinay, Guapodelig and Hatun Cañar.
    The remains of this great civilization of the Cañari are still evidenced today in their ruins and archaeological remains, especially in the provinces of Azuay, Cañar, and El Oro.
    Though the Canari are best remembered to scholars for their resistance to the Inca in 1460, the earlier cultures lived long before the Inca and their ruins of both military and religious site, their buildings were massive and sprawled over great distances.
The hillside fortress of Cojitambo. Originally the walls were much higher and used for defense

Cojitambo was built in part to suppress the Cañari’s enemies and to further the conquest of peoples further north. Before the Inca conquest, the Cañari had masterfully built buildings, temples and houses. They had created a marvelous irrigation system, with tanks or pools of water from which to water their crops. They had built roads through the north, connecting them to the lands in the south, and passed through Cojitambo, a large settlement that served both as a religious center and as a fortress against encroaching enemies.
    On the outskirts of Cojitambo was a huge quarry from which they obtained stone for cutting, dressing, and building their buildings and multiple defensive walls, and blocks of andesite to their northern capital of Tomebamba—modern day Cuenca.
    To the southwest of Cuenca and Cojitambo, is the so-called “Lost City of Gold,” a site called Yacuviñay, an  extensive archaeological complex dating back to about 500 BC, occupied at one time by the Yacuviñay, and much later by the Inca, who used it as a communication point between Saraguro and Loja in the southern end of what is now Ecuador.
Another Cañari city, the Yacuviñay ruins in the Atahualpa canton snuggled in among the forest and unknown until the late 20th century

Atahualpa Yacuviña (“eternal waters”) is situated just beyond Entrada, the entrance to the ruins, about 20 miles northwest of Zaruma, where the ancient Yacuvinay, a part of the Canari culture, built their stronghold that covered an area of 62 acres.
    Historically, while the Valdivia Culture in the Pacific coast region, particularly along the Santa Elena peninsula is a well-known early Ecuadorian culture dating to about 2000 BC, several other cultures, including the Quitus and Caras, who together dominated the northern Ecuador lands, the Canari emerged in the south of Ecuador. Along the coast in the far north were the La Tolita culture that occupied the area from about 600 BC to about 200 AD. The La Tolita overlapped the origin of the Guangala culture in southwest Ecuador from 100 BC to 800 AD.
    Their cultural remains of elegant pottery types, handsome figurines, whistles and ocarinas, and personal ornaments, all suggestive of the complexity of social life, are distributed along the coast of Guayas Province from Puná Island north to southern Manabí Province. The remains of their pottery suggest they were a large and expanding population.

The largest Guangala sites were located inland in the more well-watered valleys where the agricultural potential is still high even today.
    Overlapping and following these early cultures were the Cañari. In all cases, these three cultures were advanced in many areas, and did not seem to develop over many years of an unknown pre-history. What we know of them is when they were building massive structures of cut and dressed stone, and early irrigation to water their crops.

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