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Jama-Coaque, the name originally given to the prehistoric culture occupying northern Manabí Province, Ecuador, during the Regional-Developmental period, (500 bce–ce 500). More recent research has established that the Jama-Coaque tradition represents four phases of occupation beginning around 550 bce and continuing until the Spanish conquest in 1531. Although its territory may have fluctuated over time, it minimally extended along the northern Manabí coast from Bahía de Cojimíes in the north to Bahía de Caráquez in the south. To the east, limited archaeological evidence suggests that Jama-Coaque influence extended to the Andean foothills.

Jama-Coaque was originally defined by the Ecuadoran archaeologist Emilio Estrada in the late 1950s, on the basis of limited test excavations at the littoral type sites of Coaque and Jama. The culture is best known for its tradition of elaborate ceramic figurines and modeled vessels depicting a wide range of anthropomorphic and zoomorphic imagery. It shares many characteristics with the Bahía culture to the south, such as ceramic house models and neck rests, suggesting shared Asiatic influences. Also common to both cultures are several vessel forms and decorative techniques, such as negative painting, postfire multicolored painting, and nicked or cutout flattened rims on shallow polypod bowls, but enough differences exist to differentiate the two styles clearly. Jama-Coaque figurines are commonly mold-made, and even the larger, hollow, modeled figurines depicting elite personages or dragonlike animals typically exhibit detailed ornamentation assembled from standardized mold-made pieces. Other typical pottery artifacts include both flat and cylindrical stamps or seals, incised spindle whorls, zoomorphic whistles and flutes, and anthropomorphic masks that may have functioned as pendants. A number of these ceramic objects, as well as specific costumes and ornamentation depicted on figurines, have stylistic parallels in Mesoamerica, suggesting maritime contacts with western Mexico.

Both the costumes depicted on figurines and the evidence of numerous fabric impressions in clay suggest a well-developed textile industry. Feather-working is also depicted on some figurine costumes. Lithic industries included a sophisticated lapidary technology of carved and polished greenstone and jadeite. Obsidian was imported from highland sources near the Quito Basin, and a well-developed prismatic blade industry is present at several sites. Artifacts of cut and polished Spondylus shell were crafted into sumptuary ornaments and may have been traded to highlanders for obsidian. The abundance and standardization exhibited by many of these artifact categories suggest a well-developed craft specialization.

Archaeological research in the Jama Valley, at moister higher elevations inland from the coast, have shed new light on the nature of Jama-Coaque settlement dynamics and subsistence production. High population densities and multitiered settlement hierarchies are present throughout the sequence, along with intensified agricultural production based on maize and root crops. The Jama-Coaque polities were stratified chiefdoms that minimally controlled a large river valley. It is also possible that a single paramount from a large ceremonial civic center ruled over all of northern Manabí at various times in the prehistoric past. One such regional center is the site of San Isidro, in the middle Jama Valley some 15 miles inland from the coast. It has over 125 acres of thick habitation refuse and is dominated by a large central platform mound measuring 110 yards in width at the base and some 19 yards in height. Smaller platform mounds have been documented at secondary centers throughout the valley.

By the time of Pizarro's march through Coaque and Pasao in 1531, the Jama-Coaque peoples may have been coming under the progressive domination of the Manteño polity to the south. Although not conclusive, the presence of Manteño burnished black pottery in several Late Integration sites suggests the establishment of enclave communities that perhaps administered tribute payments from the local Jama-Coaque populations.

See alsoArchaeology; Atacames; Guangala.


Emilio Estrada, Prehistoria de Manabí (1957).

Clifford Evans and Betty Meggers, "Mesoamerica and Ecuador," in Handbook of Middle American Indians, edited by Robert Wauchope, vol. 4 (1966).

Betty Meggers, Ecuador (1966).

Robert A. Feldman and Michael E. Moseley, "The Northern Andes," in Ancient South Americans, edited by Jesse D. Jennings (1983).

James A. Zeidler and Deborah M. Pearsall, eds., Regional Archaeology in Northern Manabí, Ecuador, vol. 1, Environment, Cultural Chronology, and Prehistoric Subsistence in the Jama River Valley (1994).

Additional Bibliography

Cummins, Thomas B.F. Arte Prehíspanico del Ecuador: Huellas del pasado: Los sellos de jama-coaque. Guyaquil: Banco Central de Ecuador, 1996.

                                        James A. Zeidler