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Guangala, an archaeological culture or ceramic phase defined for the southwest coast of Ecuador and dated from 100 bce to 800 ce. First identified at the village of Guangala by G. H. S. Bushnell, Guangala cultural remains are distributed along the coast of Guayas Province from Puná Island north to southern Manabí Province; in the east the territorial limits of Guangala are unknown, but sites do not extend as far as the Guayas River. The Guangala way of life has been reconstructed from artifacts, human burials, and other remains excavated from a few sites on and near the Santa Elena Peninsula, a semiarid zone considered to have less agricultural potential than other portions of Ecuador.

Guangala ceramics are known primarily from artifacts without provenience. The style represents one of several regional variants that developed out of the preceding, geographically widespread Chorrera tradition. The Guangala style is characterized by innovative ceramic features which suggest that there was significant evolution also in other aspects of Guangala society and economy. Guangala society has been interpreted as less differentiated and hierarchical than some of the neighboring ethnic groups in the Regional Developmental period.

The earliest Guangala pottery is found in small sites scattered extensively along small rivers over the entire region—evidence of a large and expanding population. By middle Guangala times, people were numerous and lived in large and small permanent villages as well as in dispersed homesteads. One large site on the Bay of Santa Elena had "mounds" which, according to the excavator, may have supported houses. Some communities maintained water catchment structures. Many sites were located adjacent to beaches, river mouths, and mangrove estuaries, where people practiced a mixed economy of farming, fishing, gathering, hunting, craft production, and trade for exotic raw materials. Smaller, "rural" sites were often oriented to small parcels of fertile river bottom land, where farmers cultivated cotton, corn, squash, sweet potatoes, beans, peppers, and fruit. Some sites show domestic craft specialization such as the production of grinding stones or shell beads.

The Guangala people buried their dead, legs extended, in tombs beneath their habitation sites and accompanied by offerings, some of which were preserved: ceramic vessels, obsidian blades, lime containers made of shell (used during coca leaf chewing rituals), fishhooks, beads and ornaments, stone tools, sets of three stones, or three shark teeth, and copper artifacts.

The largest Guangala sites, presumably once occupied by the more powerful local shamans who used a variety of exotic and luxury goods, were located inland in the more well-watered valleys where the agricultural potential is high even today. These sites, several of which have been heavily looted, have produced the finest Guangala pottery and ceramic figurines. Artifacts such as clay seats, associated with shamanistic power, and elaborate figurines and musical instruments suggest that the people at these sites were socially complex and had elaborate rituals. Guangala material culture shows elegant pottery types, handsome figurines, whistles and ocarinas, and personal ornaments, all suggestive of the complexity of social life.

The Guangala people practiced local economic specialties such as fishing at coastal locations, agriculture at inland locations, manufacture of goods such as copper needles and fishhooks and shell artifacts. They no doubt engaged in both local and long-distance exchange, the latter perhaps involving sea voyaging by elites which brought into the region obsidian (volcanic glass for stone tool making), serpentine, rock crystal, and copper, possibly in exchange for export commodities like mother-of-pearl and Spondylus—much appreciated outside of the region. Exotic imports found their way into most Guangala sites, indicating that political leaders circulated rather than concentrated the wealth.

See alsoBahia; Chorrera; Jama-Coaque.


G. H. S. Bushnell, The Archaeology of the Santa Elena Peninsula in South-West Ecuador (1951).

Emilio Estrada, Prehistoria de Manabí (1957).

Betty J. Meggers, Ecuador (1966).

Allison C. Paulsen, "Patterns of Maritime Trade Between South Coastal Ecuador and Western Mesoamerica, 1500 B.C.–A.D. 600," in The Sea in the Pre-Columbian World, edited by Elizabeth B. Benson (1974), pp. 141-166.

Maria Ann Masucci, Ceramic Change in the Guangala Phase, Southwest Ecuador: A Typology and Chronology (Ph.D. diss., Southern Methodist University, 1992).

Karen E. Stothert, Un sitio de Guangala Temprano en el suroeste del Ecuador (Guayaquil, 1993).

Additional Bibliography

Cummins, Thomas B.F., Julio Burgos Cabrera, and Carlos Mora Hoyos. Huellas del pasado: Los sellos de jama-coaque. Quito: Museos del Banco Central del Ecuador, 1996.

Currie, Elizabeth J. Prehistory of the Southern Manabí Coast, Ecuador: López Viejo. Oxford: Tempvs Reparatvm, 1995.

Reitz, Elizabeth Jean, and Maria A. Masucci. Guangala Fishers and Farmers: A Case Study of Animal Use at El Azúcar, Southwestern Ecuador. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh, Department of Anthropology; Quito: Libri Mundi, 2004.

                                    Karen E. Stothert