La Plata, an island approximately 5.5 square miles in size, lying just south of the equator, 14 miles off the central coast of Ecuador. Archaeological evidence indicates that the island was an important offertory and religious center during the pre-Columbian era. Findings of Valdivia, Machalilla, Chorrera, Bahía, Jama-Coaque, Manteño, and Inca pottery at various sites around the island indicate that it was utilized from the Early Formative Period (around 2450 bce) through the Inca conquest.
Large quantities of broken clay figurines, engraved stones, and processed Spondylus (thorny oyster) shell have been found at archaeological sites on La Plata. The figurines exhibit a wide range of styles and are generally of crude manufacture. The nature of the deposits suggests that they were ritually smashed and left as offerings. The engraved stones are found in similar offertory contexts. Spondylus shell was highly valued by Andean cultures throughout the pre-Columbian era. The amount of Spondylus shell found on La Plata suggests that it may have been an important source of this material, which in turn may have contributed to the ritual significance of the island.
In 1892 George A. Dorsey was the first to undertake archaeological investigations on La Plata. His discovery of an Inca burial on the island marks the northernmost limits of Inca expansion along the Pacific coast. The grave was found to contain a wealth of materials including gold, silver, and copper figurines, a gold bowl, tupus (metal pins), and Inca polychrome pottery. The type of figurines found in this burial is known from only a limited number of sites around the empire, most of which were of extreme ritual importance to the Inca. It has been suggested that the burial on La Plata may have been associated with the state rite of capac hucha, which involved the ceremonial sacrifice of children and served to define the sacred and political boundaries of the Inca Empire.
See alsoArchaeology .
George A. Dorsey, Archaeological Investigations on the Island of La Plata, Ecuador (1901), Field Columbian Museum, Anthropological Series, Publication 56, vol. 2 (1901), and Jorge Marcos and Presley Norton, "Interpretación sobre la arqueología de la Isla de La Plata," in Miscelánea antropológica ecuatoriana 1 (1981): 136-154.
University of Bristol. Isla de la Plata Expedition. Bristol: University of Bristol, 1991.
Tamara L. Bray