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5000 años de Historia y Cultura...



The pre-Columbian culture Valdivia is one of the oldest in the Americas and provides the beginning of the technology of pottery in Ecuador and the "New World", some 5,500 years ago, (3,500 BC). They were sedentary people. They had a safe food supply as was agriculture.

Paisaje Machalilla
Image: Venus de Valdivia

Valdivia is fascinating for three main reasons.

First: It marks the beginning of a sedentary lifestyle on the coast of Ecuador, since before the Valdivia culture the inhabitants of the coast were small bands of gatherers who also trapped or hunted mammals, birds and fish.

Second: The invention of pots and bowls of baked clay marks the beginning of a revolutionary process of large scope. The number of individuals in a group is no longer limited by food obtainable by chance within a few kilometers.

Third: Continuity and change is evident in the ceramics that constitute a fertile field of study. In Valdivia, for example, the wealth of the set indicates sophisticated aesthetic instincts and a surprising cultural wealth. Also, figurines lead us to conclude that they were people whose concerns, ranged far beyond the production and consumption of every day food.

In the Valdivia period there is evidence of navigation with sailing rafts, indicating that the Valdivia pioneered sailing in America.
Paisaje Machalilla
Image: Location


The Valdivians were located on the peninsula of Santa Elena in the province of Guayas and in southern Manabi.


They developed in one of the driest areas of the Ecuadorian coast, and established themselves along rivers and streams close to the sea. Where cold Humboldt current gives rise to a rich flora and fauna with a variety of algae, fish and seafood.


The early formative consists of the Valdivia culture, originally studied in the Valdivia site (now a town of gardeners north of the peninsula of Santa Elena) by Emilio Estrada, Betty J. Meggers and Clifford Evans, and simultaneously by Carlos Zevallos Menendo, Olaf Holm, Francisco Huerta Rendon in the fishing village of San Pablo to the south. Once this culture, which occupied the coast between about 3500 and 1800 BC, was identified, sites of this phase began to appear throughout the area. It is the culture most prolific studied in Ecuador and is divided into eight cultural periods.


Valdivia was a mixed economy based on agriculture and the direct taking of natural resources, flora, fauna and fishing. Their main crops were: corn, beans, chili, peanuts, and cotton. They gathered wild fruits such as papayas, pineapples, custard apples and avocados, hunted deer, guantas, tapir, peccaries and fished in rivers, seas, and estuaries to gather shellfish and seafood.


The Valdivians stand out as one of the first American societies where the extensive use of the ceramic made it a mass-produced article. They made and produced mainly pots, bowls and dishes, always wide-mouthed and with a concave base. The pots were decorated using various techniques, such as:

• Modelling,
• adits,
• Printing.

They generally used geometric motifs on polished pottery. The vasijería Valdivia is essentially utilitarian, although it is part of grave goods without having been produced specifically for this purpose, as is the case in certain cultures from the modal point of view. The pots are divided into two types: some to store liquids and grains, and others for cooking directly over wood or charcoal. There is also a range of bowls and plates usually with a red slip, incised and engraved, or with scalloped edges or lace. Globular bowls almost always have small bumps on the bottom that gives them balance while dish-shaped bowls, with straight edges, replicate the shape of pumpkins. This was confirmed by two pieces found at Huaca Prieta by Junius Bird (1963)

Another highlight of the Valdivia pottery are figurines that usually represent naked women with big breasts, although occasionally some have a hermaphroditic appearance. Others represent pregnant women with an empty chamber in the womb containing one or more dried seeds or pebbles. There are others with infants in arms; with representation from tail cap; two-headed figurines and others in a sedentary position "shaman stool" similar to the wooden benches still seen among the tribes of the rainforest. Some figurines have red slips across the surface and others only in some areas. There are a great variety of details in figurines, but, especially in women’s headdresses and hair. The figurines in the beginning were made out of stone and then later were produced in ceramic.

Personal adornment was very important for the Valdivians, which is shown in Valdivia figurines with lip ornaments, necklaces and earrings. These ornaments were made mainly out of shells such as the bivalve Spondylus sp. and Strombus sp. shell, both of which had great importance for the ritual life of the Valdivia and Andean people.

The artwork in baskets in the Valdivia culture was based on the weaving of plant and cotton fibers, and the manufacturing of ropes and baskets.


The Valdivia culture appears as a true culture of the Formative Period that rapidly becames a complex society centuries before the so-called parent cultures of Mexico (Olmec culture) and Peru (Chavin culture). The Valdivia culture is represented by an intensely agricultural and well organized permanent settlement. The Valdivian had a tribal-like organization, like other societies of that time. Their society was organized through the relations of reciprocity and kinship, which ensured the survival of the group. It is possible that they discussed specialists (shamans) over the relations with the supernatural sphere.

WORLDVIEW: Religious and Funerary

There is speculation about the use of Valdivia figurines. Some appear to have been deliberately broken at the neck or waist which implicates a single use in the ceremonial event, or "symbolic death." The lush feminine attributes, pregnant figures and others with infants in their arms were probably used in a fertility cult or rite of passage. This would be in relation to the nature of incipient agriculture in these populations who need to foster fertility of the fields. No explanation on the possible use of Valdivia figurines is quite satisfactory and if we ever figure out one that is satisfactory, we conclude that it has several purposes depending on the circumstances that prevailed at different times in this long sequence of more than a millennium and a half. The benches of shamans, the two-headed figures and those with a concavity in the head support speculation on shamanistic rites in which psychotropic substances are consumed; it is presumed that they have consumed coca leaves, although no remains have been preserved, but there are figures with swollen cheeks and small containers for the substance that releases the alkaloid.

The dead were buried in the foundations as the homes. It is unclear whether the homes were abandoned after the funeral or not. Children were sometimes buried in burial jars. There are burials of all types: primary and secondary, individual and collective. Domestic animals were also buried, especially dogs, for which funerals followed a pattern similar to that of their masters were made.

Settlement Patterns

The Valdivia represent the first village culture on the continent, whose villages were located along the riverbanks. One of the villages from about 2500 BC was found at Real Alto. It proves an emerging planning and development, organized with about 50 oval houses, arranged on small mounds produced by the accumulation of garbage. It is thought that these houses were made out of plant material (chonta pambil, Panama hat). Each would have housed a family of about 30 people. The houses are aligned in an ellipse. In the center is a place where you can admire two mounds covered with clay possibly for rituals or ceremonials.


There is uncertainty of the origin of the Valdivia culture, because of differences in this social group with its predecessors in the region of the Ecuadorian coast, primarily hunter-gatherers. Based on similarities in archaeological pottery, earlier relationships with groups located in the Amazon region have been postulated, a hypothesis proposed by Donald W. Lathrop. The development of the Valdivia culture gave way in the same region to the Machalilla culture. Many of its cultural elements, especially those related to technological innovation in ceramics, have been spread rapidly to neighboring areas.




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