• Environment and Geography

    The Valdivia culture arose in one of the most arid segments of the southern Ecuadorian coast, mainly in the Santa Elena Peninsula, although remains of the culture have also been found further inland. Vegetation grows mainly along the banks of the single river that flows through the area, but the cold waters of the Humboldt current nourish a rich ecosystem along the Pacific coast that includes a wide variety of seaweed, fish, and shellfish.

  • Economy and Technology

    The Valdivia people had a mixed economy based on both agriculture and gathering natural resources. Their main crops were maize, beans, and squash, but they may also have planted chili peppers, peanuts, and cotton. They gathered wild fruit such as papayas, pineapples, custard apples, and avocados, and they hunted deer, caught fish, and gathered shellfish.

  • Art

    The Valdivia culture is noted for being one of the first American cultures to produce large quantities of ceramics. They mainly fashioned cooking pots, bowls, and dishes, always with an open neck and a concave base. A variety of techniques such as modeling, incisions, and embossing were used to decorate these vessels with geometric motifs, usually after they had been polished. The Valdivia tradition is also known for its figurines, which were initially made from stone but later in ceramic. Most of these represent women in different stages of life such as puberty, pregnancy, and childbirth. The importance of personal adornment to this culture is reflected in figurines with bezotes (lip jewelry), necklaces, and earpieces. These items were generally made from the shells of sea creatures such as the bivalve mollusk Spondylus and the sea snail Strombus, which would later hold great ritual significance for Andean peoples.

  • Social Organization

    Like other groups at this time, the Valdivia people were organized along tribal lines. Life was regulated through relationships of reciprocity and kinship to ensure the survival of the group. They may have had chiefs and individuals skilled in relating with the spirit world.

  • Beliefs and Funerary Practices

    The Valdivians buried their dead in the same mounds on which their dwellings were built, although it is not clear whether the mounds were then abandoned. Children were sometimes buried in ceramic vessels. Different kinds of burials have been found: primary and secondary, individual and collective. Domesticated dogs were also buried in a way similar to their human masters. The large quantity of fragmented figurines found in archeological sites suggests that these were used in rituals, perhaps associated with fertility, given the predominance of female forms. Such rites could be related to the early use of agriculture by the Valdivians, as a way of ensuring the fertility of their fields. It is believed that these groups used coca leaf, even though no leaf remains have been found, based on finds of figurines with one cheek puffed out as though chewing a ball of coca, and others of small vessels used to store the substance that released the active alkaloid from the leaf.

  • Settlement Pattern

    The Valdivia people were among the first on the continent to live in villages, which they built next to riverside meadows. One of the best known is the village of Real Alto (2500 BCE). This site shows some degree of early town planning, with around 50 oval shaped dwellings built on small mounds or middens produced by the buildup of refuse. The dwellings themselves are believed to have been built from plant matter, like those of the region’s present-day indigenous peoples. Each dwelling would have housed a family group of around 30 people. The homes were laid out in an elliptical plan, with a plaza at the centre containing two clay-covered mounds that may have been used for ritual or ceremonial purposes.

  • History

    The origins of the Valdivia culture remain a mystery, especially given the major differences between this group and the previous inhabitants of the region, who were basically hunter-gatherers. Similarities in ceramic crafts suggest the possibility of links to earlier groups inhabiting the Amazon region, across the Andes Mountains. The Valdivia culture opened the way for the later development of the Machalilla culture, and many of its cultural elements – especially those related to innovations in ceramics – spread rapidly into neighboring areas.