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Pre-Columbian People

The history of the pre-Hispanic natives stretching as far as the coast of modern day Panama to Tierra del Fuego in Argentina can be tracked as far back as 25,000 years ago. Some Indicators even propose that man crossed the vast land bridge between Siberia and North America voyaging over time to the coastal regions of South America. Approximately between 4000 and 3000 B.C.E., the Northern Andean territory saw the first challenges of agriculture and more complex society.

Pre-Columbian Ecuadorians resided mostly in the highlands, a sequence of basins across the east and west chains of the Andean mountain range, and on the coastal flats along the western pacific. With the terrain being an extension of the same Peruvian Andes', the climate tends to differ tremendously from Peru's abnormally arid weather. Ecuador has a extremely damp, tropical climate which unfortunately couldn't preserve as pristinely as an object would in the ideal Peruvian conditions. The ravages of time have left very little of a Pre-Columbian historical record, thus, the availability of fine Ecuadorian pieces by far - are less obtainable. Much speculation about the political, social, and religious systems still remain because the lack of archeological discoveries. Art experts are still uncertain about the exact symbolism and significance revolving around the art styles but agree that these aesthetic creations were not simply to mimic the physical world but had a deeper connection to the powerful phenomena of nature.

During this time, the coast of what is modern day Columbia and Ecuador developed the first approaches to the establishment of a formularized ceramic linguistic. Both Valdivian pottery and ceramic figurines constitute the majority of these discoveries. Meanwhile on the western coast of Peru, the ChavÍn represented what is arguably the first dominant Peruvian culture to institute sophisticated forms of clay art, vessels, textile design and productions. In time, successive complex social structures allowed sophisticated ceramic production to flourish and expand to new designs such as textile dying, weaving, metallurgy and stone carving. With the advancement of the Inca Empire in Peru around 1400 C.E., and the expansion of lesser cultures from the Amazon basin, non-western art and architecture began to rival the progression of the European world.

Many scholars draw close similarities between the imagery in Ecuador to that of the Andean Mountain cultures in Peru. Most of the imagery is comparable, displaying anthropomorphized animals, common men and women, accessorized heads, trinkets and masks, priest and sovereignty figures in ritual acts. The great powerful forces of the earth sky, forest, and water are symbolized respectively by a wide variety of honorable animals such as birds (particularly eagles and owls), felines and serpents, sharks and even cayman.

Evidence from Archaeological sites indicates there were sacred grounds for ritual and burial. The masses of memorial objects indicates that people from neighboring areas, perhaps relatives or allegiances, were brought to these sacred sites for burial.

Amazingly, some of the earliest pottery of the New World is determined to be from Ecuador despite the ravages of time. Fired ceramics that date as early as 3000 - 2500 B.C.E., have been discovered, marking the beginning of the Formative Period. The ceramics tradition spread across various regions and cultures, especially with the Valdivia, who flourished from approximately 4000-1500 B.C.E. Even complex ornamentation and competent production techniques were distinctive as early as 2600 B.C.E, as intricate ceramic craftsmanship was becoming evident. Ceramics from Valdivia were comprised of vessels and figurines. The variety of vessels includes shouldered pots with a variety of rims and short necks, spherical pots with long necks and red-slipped hemispherical bowls with incised design thought to indicate halved gourds. Decorative motifs and geometric designs also seen. The earlier figurines are simple, small and commonly under 100 mm and carved with stylish features in low relief. Later (ca. 2300 B.C.E.), small red-slipped clay figures, often hand-modeled with more detail predominate.

The Machalilla phase(2000- 1500 B.C.E), which overlaps with the valdivia is where stirrup-spout vessels make an early appearance. Cultures of Peru produced an abundance of these vessels beginning with Chavin and continuing until the Inca conquest. Figurines with "coffee-bean" eyes were also first seen during this phase, ubiquitous in later Ecuadorian figurines. Following Machalilla is the Chorrera culture (1500 - 300 B.C.E.) whose ceramics certainly display Mesoamerican influence.

The Formative Period is then followed by the Regional Development Period. A major stage of intense development in different regions of Ecuador, one being the Bahia phase in the Manabi province, and another the Guangala located to the south of the Manabi province. From 500 B.C.E. to 500 C.E. we can see polychrome were utilizing a broad palette of colors and an large quantity of figurines and figurine whistles displaying a wide variety of human beings and animals.

The Guangala displayed an advanced style of modeling pottery, quite comparable to mid-classic Maya and early Mochica accomplishments. Whistle figurines predominate, often made of burnished red ware with incised design. The Guangala most often hand-made their figurines, and although the variety wasn't as vast as those of the Bahia, they were quite superior in taste and finish.

Other well established cultures in the Manabi province were La Tolita and the Jama-Coaque cultures which had their ceremonial sites on the north coast of Ecuador. The art of these cultures was very similar and displayed great artistic and technical virtuosity. A variety of crafts were practiced including ceramics, metallurgy, woodcarving, weaving, leather working and basketry, although it is mainly the ceramics that have withstood time and nature's devastation. In southern Manabi, archeologists have found thousands of elaborately decorated spindle whorls used for spinning cotton, but very few textiles have survived through the centuries.

Bahia potters mastered a variety of techniques including traditional coiled construction, slip-casting, and even embellished housing using controlled smudging, resist decoration and other techniques introduced during the Chorrera period. The Bahia excelled in the use of polychrome slips, applied a wide spectrum of mineral and organic pigments for decoration. The Bahia crafted many figurines, flutes, ocarinas, and flamboyantly decorated whistling bottles. Another characteristic was decoration encrusted after firing with ocher in brilliant yellows, reds, greens and blues. Human and animal forms are often seen in the ceramics.

Archaeologists and scholars recently discovered that this region could very well be the earliest footholds of ancient american civilization and the key to uncovering the mysteries of these fascinating Pre-Colombians starts with the secrets of Ecuador.

 
 


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