Permanent Collection

The Museum’s collection comprises about 5,000 pieces and artifacts with ceremonial or utilitarian purposes created in ceramic, stone, shell, metal, textile, and wood. Each one of these objects draws us closer to the spiritual, social, and political practices of cultural groups who lived in the various regions that are Ecuador today, from the Pacific coast to the Andean mountains and into the tropical forests. 

The greater part of the collection is conformed by ceramic pieces whose principal use was in ritual and ceremonial practices. The coastal cultures—Valdivia, Chorrera, and Jama-Coaque—are the most represented, but adding to these are significant pieces from twenty other cultures who populated ancient Ecuador before the arrival of the Incan Empire between 1440 and 1530 AD. Although the objects’ uses are diverse, the collection includes an exceptional number of sonorous pieces, such as whistles, statuettes, and bottles, in addition to an outstanding collection of metal-working instruments—chisels, tongs, and polishing tools.

The collection at the Casa del Alabado Museum is one of the most representative in the country and forms part of the national inventory of archeological possessions of the National Institute of Cultural Patrimony.

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Representative pieces
  • Winged Jama-Coaque figure

    This anthropomorphic figure in flight, covered with feathers and in battle posture, probably represents a traveling shaman. The link to the spiritual world is established by the base on which the person is standing—a plate intended for the inhalation of hallucinogenic substances. The position of the hands, legs, and wings confers a defiant attitude upon the figure before whoever is watching. 

    Anthropomorphic figure, ceramic. Jama-Coaque (350 BC – 1532 AD)
  • Napo funeral urn

    In the Amazon River basin, secondary burials were carried out with cadavers that were exhumed and re-buried in funeral urns with shapes alluding to the human body. Each one invokes an individual and is therefore unique in design and shape.

    Funeral urn, ceramic. Napo (1200 – 1532 AD)
  • The absolute

    Steles synthesize and balance multiple dimensions, planes, levels, and straight and curved lines.  This representation of a being carved with six faces looks in all directions denoting expansiveness and depth.

    Monolith, carved stone, Valdivia (4000-1800 BC)
    Worlds

    The museum’s thematic organization highlights the appreciation and comparison of communities who established ties across the landscape with regard to their foods, symbols, and rituals that have survived over time.

    • World of the Ancestors

      World of the Ancestors


      How did pre-Columbian cultures commemorate their ancestors and remember their past?

      One of the most significant and mysterious aspects of the social life of humans is their relationship with death and with those who have left the world of the living: our ancestors. In some pre-Columbian societies, death was considered a transformation or a journey, not the final destination. In many of today’s indigenous societies, their ancestors take on the form of humans and animals or they become part of the cosmos. This room gathers Pre-Columbian archeological pieces found in ritualistic contexts and burial sites which show us the origins of that view.

      Monolitos Chaupicruz

      Chaupicruz Monolith

      Grave markers or steles with human characteristics signify spaces of ritualistic importance linked with death. Their pointed bases, wedged into the ground, ensured their position, and their material—stone—safeguarded their preservation to the present.

      Monolith, carved stone, Chaupicruz (100-1500 AD)

      El absoluto

      The absolute

      Steles synthesize and balance multiple dimensions, planes, levels, and straight and curved lines. This representation of a being carved with six faces looks in all directions denoting expansiveness and depth.

      Monolith, carved stone, Valdivia (4000-1800 BC)

    • The Primordial World

      The Primordial World


      Mapa

      How were human and natural experiences represented? What symbolism has transcended time?

      The pieces gathered in this space exemplify the transcendence of symbols both in the decorative elements on frequently used items, such as seals, as well as on objects with specific purposes in death rituals, such as funeral urns. Many cultures of the pre-Columbian world shared their symbols, which therefore survived over time and extended across the region.

      Urnas funerarias Napo

      Napo funeral urn

      In the Amazon River basin, secondary burials were carried out with cadavers that were exhumed and re-buried in funeral urns with shapes alluding to the human body. Each one invokes an individual and is therefore unique in design and shape.

      Funeral urn, ceramic. Napo (1200 – 1532 AD)

      Sellos Jama-Coaque

      Jama-Coaque seals

      Ceramic seals developed by cultures such as the Jama-Coaque and the Manteño-Huancavilca served a double purpose—decorative, as stamps to decorate textiles or the body, and as identification. It is possible that each image reflected had a meaning for the person who used it as well as for the social group to which they belonged.

      Flat seal, ceramic. Jama-Coaque (350 BC – 1532 AD)

    • Parallel Worlds

      Parallel Worlds


      Mapa

      How did pre-Columbian cultures experience their habitat?

      We humans observe and portray the world around us in many ways—we draw the landscape, we map the stars, and we photograph plants and animals. Every representation conjugates our experience with the natural and the cultural. Today, these experiences are separated but that was not always the case. The Parallel Worlds room is an attempt to open a dialog between the natural (Biodiversity) and cultural (Life cycles) dimensions of our surroundings as many pre-Columbian cultures did.

      Life Cycles

      The varied facets of human life, from the experiences of different gender roles in society to the earth as the basis of creation, are fundamental pre-Columbian expressions. The figures assembled in this room are representations of the human body, its movements and gestures. Here, the representations are in action, expressing pain, joy, and contentment. Such everyday moments facilitate a connection with our own experiences.

      Figurinas Valdivia

      Valdivia figurines

      Ceramic figures called the Venus of Valdivia are emblematic pieces from Ecuador’s pre-Columbian past representing women in different phases of life—youth, pregnancy, lactation, and old age. Their ritual importance is undeniable although their function remains the object of archeological research.

      Femenine anthropomorphic figure, ceramic. Valdivia (4000-1800 BC)

      Mesa Jama-Coaque

      Jama-Coaque table

      The talent of pre-Columbian potters is evident in the details and symbols of their ceramic pieces. This table or incense burner, meticulously decorated and rich in detail, weds animal and human depictions relating to the planting and fertility of the fields. Seven human figures and seven frogs or toads encircle it.

      Incense burner or circular table, ceramic. Jama-Coaque (350 BC – 1532 AD)

      Parallel worlds


      Mapa

      How did pre-Columbian cultures experience their habitat?

      We humans observe and portray the world around us in many ways—we draw the landscape, we map the stars, and we photograph plants and animals. Every representation conjugates our experience with the natural and the cultural. Today, these experiences are separated but that was not always the case. The Parallel Worlds room is an attempt to open a dialog between the natural (Biodiversity) and cultural (Life cycles) dimensions of our surroundings as many pre-Columbian cultures did.

      Biodiversity

      The diversity and complexity of the natural world is reflected in their representations—the shapes of fruits and plants on which they subsisted and the appearance and sounds of elusive, domesticated, or sacred animals. Biodiversity, whose vestiges endure today in parts of the Ecuadorian territory, was thus a protagonist of the sensitivity and creativity of pre-Columbian artisans.

      Mono colgante

      Hanging monkey

      The little hanging monkey of the Jama-Coaque culture (300 BC–400 AD) is characterized by his jovial expression and his energy; he seems to be swinging from a vine, moving his arms, feet, and tail. Details like his necklace and earrings make him human-like, which could be a representation of his domestication.

      Zoomorphic figure, ceramic. Jama-Coaque (350 BC – 1532 AD)

      Pachamama

      Pachamama (Mother Earth)

      The figure modeled on this bottle—a mother carrying her child swaddled across her back, as is customary in certain parts of the Andes—has a direct link with agricultural rituals, especially planting.

      Anthropomorphic tubular bottle, ceramic. Pasto (700-1500 AD)

    • Axis Mundi

      Axis Mundi


      Mapa

      How was day-to-day living linked with spiritual life?

      The spiritual and the quotidian are inextricably connected in pre-Columbian cultures. That connection between their realities is the protagonist of this space where ceramic depictions are gathered of men and women whose roles were of singular importance in ritual life—shamans, healers, chieftains, and officials who guarded their boundaries on all sides.

      Figurina Jama-Coaque sentada

      Seated Jama-Coaque figure

      This figure is connected to a whistling vase and represents a shaman adorned with visible metaphors to fertility and agriculture. He is wearing a poncho with cacao beans on the front as well as the back. Among his body adornments, beads, probably spondylus, can be seen on his arms and legs. This personage is seated on a stool made of possibly yams or chayotes (vegetable pears), linking him with the agricultural world.

      Seated anthropomorphic figure, ceramic. Jama-Coaque (350 BC – 1532 AD)

      Incensario Manteño-Huancavilca

      Manteño-Huancavilca incense burner

      This dark incense burner modeled in ceramic portrays a seated figure of a shaman or chieftain. The position of the hands with the thumbs inside the fist, suggests a state of deep meditation. The seat upon which he rests leads us to connect him with political power and decision-making in the zone.

      Seated anthropomorphic figure, ceramic. Manteño-Huancavilca (600 – 1532 AD)

    • Shamans and the Spiritual World

      Shamans and the Spiritual World


      Mapa

      How was pre-Columbian spirituality expressed? What is and what was shamanism?

      Shamans—also known as yachaks, mamas, or taitas—are human presences linking the living with the spiritual and who therefore enjoy roles of great importance within the rituality of each society. Their position is significant in community life—they know about healing, planting, predicting the future, and conducting collective ceremonies. Their practices are varied and diverse, but all have in common their access to specialized knowledge of agriculture, healing, and the most ancient technologies.

      Shamán con serpientes

      Shaman with serpents

      This figurative bottle evokes the double nature of the shaman who dialogs with both the human and the animal world. His headdress and arms are enveloped in serpents, possibly venomous, given their decoration with rhombus and cross motifs. The serene attitude of the shaman and his sitting pose with legs extended suggest the posture of trances and meditation.

      Anthropomorphic figure with serpents and headdress, ceramic. Jama-Coaque (350 BC – 1532 AD)

      Danzante Tolita

      Tolita Danzante

      Music, sound-making, singing, and dancing in sacred ceremonies were immensely important, judging from the vast numbers of dance costumes, sonorous objects, and artistic expressions that integrate these elements. The undeniable intention of movement in pieces from the La Tolita culture is especially visible in this piece of a danzante. His costume, heavily decorated with feathers and embroidery, and his posture evoke action. The mask the personage seems to be wearing could have been a way of removing himself from the character and adopting a new identity during the festival.

      Anthropomorphic figure, ceramic. La Tolita (300 BC – 600 AD)

    • The Social World: Power and the Elite

      The Social World: Power and the Elite


      Mapa

      How were pre-Columbian societies and economies managed?

      Although investigations are ongoing, in the view of many archeologists, pre-Columbian societies were structured similarly to those of today. Divisions between people may have derived from marked economic differences by accident of birth into positions of power or by practicing a particular profession. Gold craftsmen, warriors, and shamans, for example, enjoyed ready access to the circles of power. Likewise, valuable material and organic objects that accompanied the deceased in their internment now indicate disparities within the same cultural group.

      Guerrero Jama con maza

      Jama-Coaque warrior with club

      Territorial defense as well as possibly control of productive areas were important concerns in pre-Columbian life. This piece is decorated with elements associated with war, such as the club raised in attack position and the menacing facial expression. The warrior’s body is connected to an open vessel, probably to serve chicha (fermented juice) or another sacred beverage.

      Anthropomorphic figure with recipient, ceramic. Jama-Coaque (350 BC – 1532 AD)

      Corona Pasto

      Pasto Crown

      The Pasto society’s gold work was mixed with copper to facilitate the work and to achieve a special brilliance. This crown is an example of the process: delicately embossed with zoomorphic designs, possibly monkeys as suggested by their coiled tails, it was used as part of the dowry of an elite personage. Wearing an object of such rich artistry and material, whether in life or in death, signified an elevated position in the community.

      Gold crown, Pasto (700-1500 AD)

    • Miniatures

      Miniatures


      Mapa

      Miniatures, another recurrent practice in esthetic production, attract the eye and document the fine skills of pre-Columbian artisans. Many of these small objects were employed in group ceremonies, routinely carried, or accompanied the deceased in their journey to another world. Their material was special—it was always marine in origin or of volcanic or sedimentary stone. These objects have been marked by countless hands and places. They embody the past but their sensations persist, in many cases. They are animated objects, little amulets both commonplace and extraordinary.

      Pelotera

      Chorrera ball players

      This pair of figurines from the Chorrera culture is unique in size, as the format rarely permits such detailed work. The delicacy of the modeling of their bodies as well as their facial expressions, with eyes open and half-opened mouths, may be associated with performance or public roles. This supposition is reinforced by the fact that both hold little spheres in their hands that may well be linked to ball games.

      Anthropomorphic figure, ceramic. Chorrera (1000-100 BC)

      Silbato Zarigüeya

      Possum head whistle

      This miniature whistle, despite the size of its structure, can produce an extensive range of sounds through its intricate structure of internal channels. It was modeled to represent a possum hanging by its tail. Its incised decoration gives it details that vary from one side to the other.

      Zoomorphic figure, ceramic. Manteño-Huancavilca (600-1532 AD)

    • Gallery: Icons of the Collection

      Gallery: Icons of the Collection


      Mapa

      This luminous room encompasses a selection of the collection’s most emblematic pieces. They were chosen and displayed especially for their esthetic value expressed in color and form, their uniqueness before the aggregate of artistic works from the past, or their extraordinary symbolism. The gallery is punctuated by four imposing eucalyptus columns, and its backdrop is the first vertical garden designed in the city. The space welcomes the predilections of its visitors to wander through admiring in detail the extraordinary artistic quality of the objects.

      Ánfora con cabeza de pájaro

      Amphora with bird head

      The first piece in the Museum’s collection is this beautiful vase with open edging. It is simply decorated with red and cream slips. In the center, a small but expressive stone owl head, probably jadeite, is implanted.

      Recipient, ceramic, Chorrera (1000-100 BC)

      Hombre tolita en movimiento

      Tolita man in motion

      This large-scale piece from the Tolita culture was apparently connected to a large vessel or pedestal. It is simple, without extravagant ornamentation, and the person appears to be in motion, perhaps ready to leap forward with outstretched arms. His face is realistic with hooded eyelids and the mouth half open. In comparison with all other human depictions in our collection, it is exceptional in its distinctiveness from the figurative tendencies of ancient ceramic stylizing.

      Anthropomorphic figure, La Tolita (300 BC – 600 AD)

    • Materials and Techniques

      Materials and Techniques


      Mapa

      What techniques and materials were used to fabricate the objects in the collection?

      The skill and expertise of the artisans of the past rendered crude materials into artifacts that shaped and defined their societies. Stone, ceramic, metals, wood, bone, and shell are exhibited in this room after their transformation into tools.

      The processes and technologies to fabricate each piece were developed over centuries. Many of them were exchanged and enhanced down the length of the Andes range. Diverse materials were employed for specific uses and meanings.

      Pendiente spondylus

      Spondylus pendant

      This finely carved spondylus shell pendant in the shape of a crested bird may have served as a shuttle hook, an arrow support for aiming with precision. Such a function links it with hunting and the importance of that activity as livelihood.

      Ornithomorphic pendant in spondylus. Jama-Coaque (350 BC – 1532 AD)

      Nariguera

      Tolita nose ring

      An interesting example of the symbolic fusion of materials can be observed in this nose ring made half in gold and half in platinum. The colors of platinum and gold are complementary as an opposing duality—fundamental in the pre-Columbian world—comparable to the sun and the moon, the masculine and the feminine, and so forth.

      Gold and platinum nose ring. La Tolita (300 BC – 600 AD)

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