Valdivia, Ecuador

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Valdivia, Ecuador

Valdivia, archaeological site in coastal Guayas Province, Ecuador. Valdivia is where the Early Formative Valdivia Culture was first defined by Ecuadoran Emilio Estrada in the mid-1950s and subsequently investigated by the Smithsonian archaeologists Clifford Evans and Betty Meggers. The site (G-31) is at the mouth of the Valdivia River valley. Cultural refuse of the Valdivia occupation covers some 4.2 acres on the slope and basal portion of a low spur. The deposits are deepest in the basal sector of the site, where a later Guangala occupation of smaller size overlies the Valdivia deposits. Deep excavations conducted here in 1961 yielded abundant remains of Valdivia pottery, chipped stone artifacts, fire-modified rock, fish and animal bones, and shell. No visible stratigraphy was recognized during excavation, however, and no archaeological features were identified.

The unique ceramic materials and associated radiocarbon dates recovered at Valdivia allowed the investigators to establish a four-phase ceramic sequence (labeled A through D) thought to reflect gradual developmental change through time. At the time, the basal materials were thought to represent the earliest pottery in the New World. Its relative sophistication raised the question of origins and led the investigators to hypothesize a trans-Pacific diffusion of this pottery tradition in the latter half of the third millennium bce from the Neolithic Jomon culture of Japan, a position that Meggers still strongly defends. This argument was subsequently challenged by a number of scholars on multiple grounds, not least of which was the discovery in the 1970s of very early Valdivia deposits and associated ceramics that predated phase A at Loma Alta, a village site located on alluvial bottomland some 6 miles up the Valdivia Valley as well as at other large village sites such as Real Alto. The latter finds constituted another ceramic "phase" in the emerging eight-phase chronology of Betsy Hill, the chronology that most Valdivia scholars use today.

The littoral location of the site, and its obvious reliance on marine and estuarine subsistence resources, led the investigators to characterize Valdivia culture as a semisedentary maritime adaptation of egalitarian fishermen and shellfish gatherers having only a marginal reliance on horticulture. In reality, this characterization pertains only to smaller beachfront sites, such as G-31, which appear to have specialized in the exploitation of littoral resources. Subsequent archaeological survey of the entire Valdivia valley has revealed that such shoreline settlements formed one component of a more complex regional settlement system that involved the exchange of maritime resources with large inland farming villages such as Loma Alta for horticultural produce and terrestrial game resources.

In spite of their problematic interpretations of Valdivia culture, the pioneering work of Meggers, Evans, and Estrada at site G-31 stands as a landmark in South American archaeology.

See alsoArchaeology; Real Alto; Valdivia Culture.


Emilio Estrada, Valdivia: Un sitio arqueológico formativo en la provincia del Guayas, Ecuador (1956).

Betty J. Meggers, Ecuador (1966).

Henning Bischof and Julio Viteri Gamboa, "Pre-Valdivia Occupations on the Southwest Coast of Ecuador," in American Antiquity 37, no. 4 (1972): 548-551.

Donald W. Lathrap et al., Ancient Ecuador: Culture, Clay, and Creativity, 3000–300 B.C. (1975).

Additional Bibliography

Hill, Betsy D. "A New Chronology of the Valdivia Ceramic Complex from the Coastal Zone of Guayas Province, Ecuador." Ñawpa Pacha 10-12 (1972–1974): 1-32.

Marcos, Jorge G. Los pueblos navegantes del Ecuador prehispánico. Quito, Ecuador: Abya-Yala, ESPOL, 2005.

Meggers, Betty J., Clifford Evans, and Emilio Estrada. Early Formative Period of Coastal Ecuador: The Valdivia and Machalilla Phases. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1965.

Meggers, Betty J. "La cerámica temprana en América del Sur: ¿Invención o difusión?" Revista de Arqueología Americana 13 (1997): 7-40.

Raymond, J. Scott. "Social Formations in the Western Lowlands of Ecuador during the Early Formative." In Archaeology of Formative Ecuador, edited by J. Scott Raymond and Richard L. Burger, 33-67. Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 2003.

                                           James A. Zeidler

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Valdivia, Ecuador

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