• Environment and Geography

    The Machalilla culture was based in the coastal and inland zones of southern Ecuador, primarily in the present-day provinces of Manabí and northern Guayas. This region has an arid to semi-arid climate on the coast, but is more lush inland, where rainforests, rivers and floodplains predominate.

  • Economy and Technology

    This primarily agricultural people built irrigation works and used more advanced farming techniques than their predecessors. Their main crops were yuca, corn and cotton. They complemented their diet with plants and animals from the sea and nearby rivers.

  • Art

    The Machalilla were the first cultural tradition in the Americas to produce bottles with a human shape. These ceramic vessels took various forms, including male and female, obese and thin, pregnant, and others. They also popularized the use of painted ceramic decoration, applying bands of black paint over white on their pieces. The paint was applied to the surface of earthenware vessels, which were usually highly polished, and even burnished, and in some cases the unpolished areas were decorated with incision and puncture designs. Notable stylistic aspects include the stirrup handle, which would later become very popular in several American ceramic traditions. The Machalilla also became highly skilled in gold, silver and copper metallurgy, working these metals in sheets and recorte pendientes and making earrings and other body ornaments.

  • Social Organization

    The Machalilla were almost certainly egalitarian at first, but different social classes began to emerge as some individuals became skilled in certain trades. At the same time, the different groups began to unify politically to form one of the earliest chiefdoms of South America.

  • Beliefs and Funerary Practices

    The Machalilla often buried their dead under the floor of their residences. The bodies were laid with the legs bent tightly, and presumably were accompanied by grave goods, though most artifacts have been lost to looting in more recent times. Some bodies have been found intact, while others were dismembered. In the latter case, experts think that the bodies were deposited somewhere else and then brought to their final resting place later, leading to some claims that the Machalilla people practiced cannibalism.

  • Settlement Pattern

    Very little direct evidence has been found of this culture’s settlements. However, they are believed to have followed the pattern of the Valdivia culture, which had oval-shaped dwellings with cane walls and grass roofs that were grouped together to form residential complexes, some of which were very large.

  • Relations with other cultures

    This culture carried on the tradition established by the Valdivia culture, which occupied practically the same territory, but the Machalilla extended their influence into neighboring regions as well, such as the Amazon, the Ecuadorian sierra, and more distant places, where traces of their traditions have been found. Some phases of the Chavin culture of the Central Andes display the clear influence of Machalilla ceramics, for example, and certain features of their metallurgy have been found in southern Colombia. As the Machalilla culture declined, the Chorrera culture rose to take its place.