• Environment and Geography

    The people of the Capulí culture inhabited the highland region of what is now northern Ecuador and southern Colombia. This mountainous region rises over 3000 meters (10,000 feet) high and features a temperate climate and abundant rainfall during the wet season that feed the many rivers that descend from its high peaks.

  • Economy

    The Capulí economy was based on the cultivation of maize and complemented by hunting of deer and birds. Guinea pig bones found at some archaeological sites suggest that they may also have consumed this domesticated rodent. Trade also played an important economic role, allowing them to obtain goods and resources from distant regions, including both the coast and the Amazon rainforest. In their commercial activities the Capulí chiefs benefited from the sale of coca leaves, which were a significant source of wealth.

  • Art

    Artistically, the Capulí people are best known for their ceramics, which are relatively simple in design but are elaborately decorated. Ceramic vessels are decorated with a black on red relief painting style with repeated geometric designs such as rhomboids and triangles; incisions and modeling were also used. The most common vessels are pedestal plates, dishes with anthropomorphic figures integrated into the base (as bearers), anthropomorphic vessels, and anthropomorphic figures seated on stools, modeled with flat bases. Their life-like ceramic figures give an idea of the type of clothing, hairstyles, headdresses, and body painting that were used by this culture. Animal figures were also made, often with anthropomorphic features. Particularly noteworthy are the Capulí clay masks, which are remarkable for their detailed features and subtle expressions. Many of the figures take the form known as coqueros, showing persons chewing coca leaves, with one cheek puffed out from the wad of coca in the mouth. The Capulí also worked with metals to make nose rings, nipple covers, and musical instruments, often decorating them with geometric or zoomorphic figures such as monkeys or felines.

  • Social Organization

    Little is known about the social organization of the Capulí people. Certain differences in burial styles and grave goods suggest that this society had different social ranks. The level of expertise achieved by some craftsmen suggests that these were specialists who worked full time on such tasks. The Capulí may have been organized into a number of chiefdoms, each controlling a defined territory.

  • Beliefs and Funerary Practices

    The Capulí culture used two forms of burial. Some individuals were buried in shallow graves with grave goods of little value, while others were buried in tombs up to 40 meters (130 feet) deep, with a lateral chamber containing the bodies of three or more persons accompanied by a rich array of grave goods, including higher quality ceramics and some gold artifacts. In all cases the bodies were laid out in an extended position. Some of their tombs were covered with large artificial mounds known as tolas, made from layers of earth that was packed down and burned, perhaps during the funeral rites themselves. Music is believed to have played a key role in Capulí ceremonies, judging by the large number of gold bells and rattles have been found, and the ceramic ocarinas that faithfully reproduce the shapes of seashells.

  • Settlement pattern

    Capulí dwellings were made of perishable materials and located on the summits of the artificial hills known as tolas. They were widely separated by open areas and situated around a larger mound that may have held a temple made of perishable material that disintegrated over time. The mounds were built in stages and took a variety of forms and sizes.

  • History

    The Capulí were descended from groups that inhabited the same territory in earlier times. Over the course of its existence the culture maintained relations with other groups in the Andean highlands, on the Pacific coast, and in the Amazon rainforest, in an area that now covers parts of Ecuador and Colombia. The group operated extensive trading networks even with inhabitants of very distant lands. During the fifteenth century, the Capulí made contact with the Inkas, and in the sixteenth century with the Spanish conquistadors.