Piece of the Month

Section Header Piece of the month

The Museum’s final display case shows visitors an art piece from the collection that is changed every month. The artefact usually has a bearing on the activities we carry out.

In this section you can browse the articles written every month on the selected piece of the month by the Museum’s educational department.

Ceremoniality, dance and headdresses

Table with anthropomorphic character

25cm x 12cm

Culture Jama – Coaque (500 b.C – 1530 a.C)

Dance has been, through time, a practice that concentrates joy, celebration, and ritual. Likewise, the accessories and clothing of those who are part of the ceremonies, have been changing over time and between cultures. The piece that is exhibited during the month of June shows us the details of the dance, the ritual practices, and the representation of the headdresses wore by many native peoples of America, which are still present today.

The dancer is par excellence, a fundamental character within the celebratory practices. In several cultures, ritual life is marked by celebrations, such as initiation ceremonies or specific rituals, like marriage. These celebrations mark differences between daily life and sacred times, especially in regards to special occasions such as the harvest seasons, in the case of the current societies of the Andes.

Beyond the celebration and its nature, the characters that are part of these ceremonial moments, are presented as aesthetically outstanding beings. The use of ornaments, decorations, and body accessories evoke this aesthetic strategy, which consists in highlighting the bodies of those who use ornamentations for festive or ritual purposes.

Currently, one of the characters of popular festivals that stands out by the use of striking headdresses is the “Danzante de Pujilí” (a character from the Corpus Christi celebration that occurs in the central part of the Ecuadorian Andes). Its decoration is composed of a wide structure that is placed on the head, enriched with ornaments, mirrors, toys, colored paper, textiles and more. It is not impossible to imagine that, for pre-Columbian societies, the use of headdresses and decorations could also have occurred at ceremonial moments or occasions of relevance.

Headdresses in Jama – Coaque

Jama – Coaque is a society from the central and northern coast of what is now Ecuador, between 300 before Christ and 400 after Christ. In this Jama Coaque piece, the body decorations, accessories and, of course, the headdresses mentioned above stand out.

Among the archeological figures attributed to this particular cultural group, there are several designs of headdresses, representing conches, feathers, and other animal motifs. In the case of this dancer, the representation of a laminar structure is perceived, which probably was made with some of the noble metals, worked by artisans of the past, such as silver or gold.

Additionally, this human figure with cranial and corporal decoration stands next to a table, whose use was probably related to ritual activities. Although the practices are a mystery that still persists in many archaeological research, the beauty of these cultural representations through its delicate and fine ceramic art, is undeniable.

Miguel Barreiros

Educational Mediator

Ornaments, status and power

Anthropomorphic pendant
16,4cm x 4,5cm

Culture Chorrera (1000 b.C – 300 b.C)

The ornament has always been an important element in human aesthetics. From body decorations to various types of accessories, we observe that their presence constitutes a decorative essence that has remained in multiple cultural groups throughout pre-Columbian America.

Seen form an art history an archaeological perspective, ornaments are of vital importance to contemplate and interpret the societies of the past. It is from ornaments that archaeologists have been able to build interpretations about prestige, social roles and power in the past. Indeed, human remains of a loved one may be sometimes absent, in preColumbian times, these are on occasion replaced by ornaments they wore in life as remnants of a cultural system.

Accessories and body decorations can be seen as strategies for social differentiation, status, rank, gender or age. Many of these ornamentations, and in particular those that are seen as accessories, show a two-dimensional and three-dimensional, which speaks of the way in which the transcendence of the styles and the matter that contains them is observed.

The materiality of the objects constitutes evidence of the skills and the fascinating use of the materials in the creation of exceptional pieces, very well carved and contoured by the artisans of Pre-Columbian Ecuador. The beauty of the objects can only be overcome by the time horizon they come from since some of them have been survivors of the arduous passage of time, climatic fluctuations and multiple changes in the soil strata throughout history. Materials such as rocks, precious stones, shells, bones, and metals are some of the significant materials in the constitution of pre-Columbian artifactuality.

A 3000 year old ornament

The piece of the month of May is a stylized pendant with an outstanding anthropomorphic figure of the Chorrera culture. This culture inhabited the coasts of Ecuador between 1000 to 300 before Christ. Many authors consider the style and types of artefacts constructed by Chorrera to be fundamental for later inspiration in several coastal cultures on the Pacific.

The whitish tones of the object reveal the metamorphic rock with which it was made. Depending on the angle, shadows of the human figure are projected onto its surface, creating the sensation of smooth textures, with incisions and splits that make up the anthropomorphic representation. On the back a hole is distinguished, that shows its utilitarian character, probably it was part of a necklace, or was used as a pendant; because of its size, it could have belonged to an elite person or high-ranking character, who could have used it as a status symbol.

Ornaments are a material sample of the importance of the decorative production of the past. And its use is necessarily connected to a social and ritual dimension of the pre-Columbian peoples, among which the Chorrera culture astonishes with its forms and designs.

Miguel Barreiros

Museum Educator

Human and llama bone flutes

Bone Flutes

Manteño-Huancavilca Culture (1100-1532 a.C.)

Bone

12×2 cm

 

Societies have different ways of thinking about transcendence. The passage between life and death, therefore, can be perceived and performed as a brief or slow, painful or patient process. The pre-Columbian societies of Ecuador had several fascinating funerary traditions: from the burials of those with abundant grave offerings, resulting in the archaeological heritage of present-day societies, to secondary burials that gently separated certain bones of the body to place them in highly decorated clay pots. The funeral rituals of the past lead us to think of thousands of possibilities of interaction with death. In many of these moments, sound is involved as an element of containment and synthesis of beliefs.

The pieces of the month of April are a set of flutes made with human and llama (south American camelids) bones by artisans of the coastal society Manteño-Huancavilca (1100-1532 AC). To elaborate these instruments, the Manteños extracted bone remains from funerary contexts, polished them on the surface and took advantage of and expanded the central medullary cavity that that overpasses the piece from top to bottom. These two processes are necessary to transform bones into tubes and instruments. These pieces contain fine ornamentation; spiral, lineal and circular patterns were carefully carved on the surface in a clear harmony between form and function.

The acoustic and instrumental quality of the bone gives it a very clean sound texture. The bones produce sharp sounds which can be varied from the arrangement of finger holes along the tubular structures. In the case of most of our pieces, we have fingering holes similar to those of the Andean flutes of the present: in a straight line and equidistant from one another. Some also have holes that come out of the linear axis and are located diagonally.

This manteño flutes confront us with different debates. They represent a taboo in their transformation of human or animal remains into objects with specific functions. The oldest bone flutes date back 60,000 years. The Neandertals, homo neanderthalencis, who did not yet have a proper language, already constructed bone-flutes, showing the mediational character of sounds.

The use of human bones as raw materials, far from signifying an absence of vehemence to death, speaks of the individual sacred characters of both death and sound. In short, the transformation of bone into sound speaks of a sacred transcendence. The same happens to llamas, their bodies, bones and hair were used daily, as a fuel source, for transportation and for the production of textiles (for wool and needles). On a ritual and sounding level, the chronicler Guaman Poma de Ayala records that, in certain Inca rituals, the sharp cry of the llamas was induced to call the rain. In present contexts, llama flutes (pinkullus) are still produced in the Bolivian highlands. The link between the high-pitched sounds of both the weeping and the flute of bone presents a sensitive and historical continuity constructed through the sound register.

 

Jimena Muhlethaler

Educational mediator

Canine Representations in Pre-Columbian South América

Whisteling-bottle

Chorrera Culture (1000-300 b.C.)

Ceramic

 

The ancient societies devoted part of their ceramic development to the creation of sound producing artifacts, many of them inspired by animals, plants and plenty of entities of nature.

In the case of the Strombus sea-snails, its use as trumpets begins around 3500 a.C. These mollusks were selected for their large size and intervened with one or more perforations that would allow the controlled entry of air. After they were transformed with these perforations, their name changes in Andean culture to that of pututos (quechua for snails). This name is used for both the natural Strombus and its ceramic replicas.

Throughout history, the pututo has been registered as a companion of celebrations and important characters. For example, in the legend of Naymlap, a mythical ruler arrives in the lands of Lambayeque-Peru (700-1300 AD) accompanied, among other characters, by Pita Zofi: a trumpeter in charge of playing and taking care of pututos and conches. Already in colonial times, it is documented by chroniclers as Guamán Poma de Ayala in relation to war, as battle sound instruments. Entering the twentieth century, photographers such as Martín Chambi register their use for the call to council meetings in Andean communities.

The piece of the month of February is a ceramic pututo from the Carchi-Pasto culture (1100-1532 d.C.), ancient inhabitants in the northern mountains of Ecuador. Nevertheless, this piece resembles a marine species, present only in ecosystems near the sea. In this piece, we can observe small bulges located over its surface in a systematic way which suggest the intention to represent a specific species: the strombus alatus. Although this species does not always have such an extensive number of bulges, it is possible that this natural form has been taken as a reason for the ornamentation of the pututo.

In terms of function, sea snails like this one create short trumpets that release a bass sound. In addition, it has two holes located in the upper and lower part which serve to make variations in the tone. The internal spiral structure allows the amplification of the sound.

The replication, both superficial (external) and structural (mechanical-internal), of the Strombus is fascinating in ceramic pututos. This is due to the fact that it accounts for barter processes between pre-Columbian societies of the coast and the highlands, in which materials, products and knowledge were the reason for barter. These processes led to the ceramic and pictorial representation of non-existent species in the receptor contexts. Additionally, this piece communicates the undeniable ceramic skills of the Carchi-Pasto potters, who knew how to mold spiral resonance chambers and the specific decorations that are necessary to model this instrument.

 

Jimena Muhlethaler

Educational mediator

Carchi-Pasto ceramic pututo

Pututo Ceramic

Carchi-Pasto (1100-1532 d.C.)

22 x 17.5 cm

Ceramic

 

The ancient societies devoted part of their ceramic development to the creation of sound producing artifacts, many of them inspired by animals, plants and plenty of entities of nature.

In the case of the Strombus sea-snails, its use as trumpets begins around 3500 a.C. These mollusks were selected for their large size and intervened with one or more perforations that would allow the controlled entry of air. After they were transformed with these perforations, their name changes in Andean culture to that of pututos (quechua for snails). This name is used for both the natural Strombus and its ceramic replicas.

Throughout history, the pututo has been registered as a companion of celebrations and important characters. For example, in the legend of Naymlap, a mythical ruler arrives in the lands of Lambayeque-Peru (700-1300 AD) accompanied, among other characters, by Pita Zofi: a trumpeter in charge of playing and taking care of pututos and conches. Already in colonial times, it is documented by chroniclers as Guamán Poma de Ayala in relation to war, as battle sound instruments. Entering the twentieth century, photographers such as Martín Chambi register their use for the call to council meetings in Andean communities.

The piece of the month of February is a ceramic pututo from the Carchi-Pasto culture (1100-1532 d.C.), ancient inhabitants in the northern mountains of Ecuador. Nevertheless, this piece resembles a marine species, present only in ecosystems near the sea. In this piece, we can observe small bulges located over its surface in a systematic way which suggest the intention to represent a specific species: the strombus alatus. Although this species does not always have such an extensive number of bulges, it is possible that this natural form has been taken as a reason for the ornamentation of the pututo.

In terms of function, sea snails like this one create short trumpets that release a bass sound. In addition, it has two holes located in the upper and lower part which serve to make variations in the tone. The internal spiral structure allows the amplification of the sound.

The replication, both superficial (external) and structural (mechanical-internal), of the Strombus is fascinating in ceramic pututos. This is due to the fact that it accounts for barter processes between pre-Columbian societies of the coast and the highlands, in which materials, products and knowledge were the reason for barter. These processes led to the ceramic and pictorial representation of non-existent species in the receptor contexts. Additionally, this piece communicates the undeniable ceramic skills of the Carchi-Pasto potters, who knew how to mold spiral resonance chambers and the specific decorations that are necessary to model this instrument.

 

Jimena Muhlethaler

Educational mediator

Globular antropomorphic 

figure of Cosanga

antropomorfa-globular-cosanga

Globular antropomorphic 

figure of Cosanga

Cosanga (300 a.C – 1500 d.C)

28.5 x 20.2 cm

Ceramic

Low land chiefdoms and alliances with high lands

The Cosanga culture and the Quijos chiefdom

This pre-columbian culture lived in the vicinity of the current populations of Papallacta, Cuyuja, Borja, Cosanga, and Baeza located on the E22 road to the northwestern Ecuadorian Amazon. They occupied this territories during the Regional Development (300 a.C.-400 d.C.) and Integration (400 d.C – 1600 d.C.) Periods.

Several debates on the types of Cosanga ceramics have taken place in Ecuador, aiming to understand the relationship between populations in the Andes highlands and those located in the mountain slopes towards the Amazon (Cuellar, 2010). Several important researchers of the Ecuadorian past have advanced the knowledge we have in regards to this culture in relation to the economic and political systems that were present in these societies that occupied the lowlands. An important example is that of historian Jacinto Jijon y Caamaño, who refers to the ceramic tradition with the name of “Panzaleo”, a term still in use by Ecuadorian archaeologists.

Originally described by Pedro Porras as a culture whose main subsistence activity was commerce, Contemporary archaeology has shown that there is evidence of the cultivation of different products that account for the development of a self-sustaining economy that did not necessarily depend on trade (Cuellar, 2011), as Porras had stated in previous years.

Exchange with other groups took place, but it was not necessarily the basis of the economy of this society, and that is why there are sites that show the presence of Cosanga ceramic remains in the highlands, probably exchange not only occurred around products and materials but also in relation to symbolic goods that could account for consummate alliances between cultural groups or local and highland chiefdoms.

 

Globular anthropomorphic figures

Anthropomorphic representations are and have been recurrent in many human societies throughout history. Anthropomorphic figures put an emphasis on the human experience that is shared and felt by the members of a cultural group. In the case of this artifact, the combination of whitish and reddish colors distinguish the use of techniques such as slip. This tecnics highlights the beauty of the representation and the enigmatic position that the figure holds.

The globular style, very representative in Cosanga, could be connected with representations of opulence or prestige. Cassava remains have been found inside this ceramics (Serrano, 2018), suggesting that their use may have been related to the consumption or processing of cassava chicha, another common product in Amazonian ecosystems.

 

Miguel Barreiros Padilla

Educational Mediator

Carchi-Pasto plate

with possible condor decoration

IMG_0637-2
Plate with condor decoration
Carchi-Pasto (1100 DC – 1532 DC )
Ceramic
14 cm diameter

The province of Carchi is located north of the Ecuadorian Sierra, on the border of present-day Colombia. In this region there is a great variety of ecological zones due to the presence of the Chota and Carchi river basins. This diversity implies the presence of warm zones with subtropical crops, temperate zones where gold, silver and marble mines are found and high areas with “paramos” where condors fly.

In regard to the human groups of the ancient Carchi, ethnohistorical sources mention the existence of a group known as the Pastos. It is also known that the Incas called this group Quillacingas which means “nose of the moon”, since the caciques of this culture used metal nose rings in the form of a half moon.

Pasto ceramics, material testimony of the cultural events of this society over time, three phases are recognized: Capulí, Tuza and Piartal. The archaeological pieces of this culture include representations of the biodiversity of the area, of important characters and their forms of organization, and of stars and planets visible in the Andean night sky. In addition, this style is characterized by great pictorial skill, especially in the post-cooking decorations present in plates and “compoteras” or plates with an inverted conical base. The colors that characterize Carchi ceramics respond to primary chromatic scales: duality between black and white, red and yellow, light and dark.

The piece of the month of December is a plate of the Piartal phase that has a decoration of two birds: a possible condor or bird of prey, and a smaller bird. The base decoration of the back is red, the upper face of the plate has a white or cream decoration. The figures have been generated from the technique of smoking in negative, which is to draw the desired shape with a wax on a white background or cream in this case, and expose the surface to fire and smoke. Once the smoking is finished, the wax is removed and the original shape remains. As for the animals, it can be said that those who came to be represented in pottery had a symbolic relationship with power. The birds of prey, as well as the condor (Vultur Griphus) are characteristic animals of the Andean landscape to this day. In this dish, the main bird, possibly a bird of prey, or a condor, holds another bird in its beak. This can be a representation of its meaning in the Pasto culture, and of its authority, dominion and power, both symbolic and physical, in relation to other birds.

Visit our permanent exhibition where you can find wonderful pieces of the Carchi-Pasto culture. In addition, we invite you to visit our temporary exhibition “Andean Cosmovision in the photographs of Martín Chambi” that will be open until January 13.

 

Jimena Muhlethaler
Educational mediator

 

 

The felines of Tolita

Anthropo-zoomorphic figures

Anthropo-zoomorphic figures
La Tolita- Tumaco (600 DC – 200 AD )
Ceramic
13,7 cm height x 18,8 cm width and 12,3 height x 10,2 width

The anthropo-zoomorphs

In the regional development period in the coast of the current Ecuador, several societies created a great array of ceramic figures that combined animal and human features. These representations, called antropo-zoomorphic, are not common in previous periods (Formative 5000 – 300 a.C.).

There are certain pieces from this period that can be interpreted as representations of that
human/animal fusion, for instance, the stone monoliths from Valdivia culture that can be found in the exhibition room “Mundo de los ancestros”.

In several pre-Hispanic societies of the Ecuadorian coast, the jaguar was one of the most represented characters, especially in anthropo-zoomorphic compositions. Probably because the jaguar is the biggest feline of the tropical rainforests, and one of its principal predators.

In the ceramic iconography of La Tolita-Tumaco (600 BC-400 AD) culture, there is an enormous amount of
jaguar representations and it is always shown with human elements, therefore, it has been interpreted as a highly admired animal and the most important spiritual image in the culture.
The pieces of the month represent anthropo-zoomorphic figures of La Tolita-Tumaco, their posture, fangs and claws evidence the strength and power of the jaguar.

 

The Jaguar

A source of information about the relationship that certain antique societies shared with this animal, is the analysis of the chronicles collected in the early colonial time.

The chronicler Cieza de León (16´th century) narrated that, in the ceremonies of Colonche, current parish in the province of Santa Elena, people worshiped idols with the representation of felines and wore rattles and tiger (jaguar) clothing while dancing.

There is a strong bond between the jaguar, ritual practices and the shamans of the societies in the Ecuadorian coastal region in this period.  That bond is evidenced by the feline´s representation on objects dedicated to the
consumption of medicinal and sacred substances, as well as in the metallic ornaments of La Tolita, wore by the spiritual leaders.

Nowadays, the jaguar is still perceived as a sacred animal to indigenous cultures that inhabit the Amazonas. For the Mai Humna culture of the high amazon region of Peru, the jaguar and the toe (substance to expand consciousness) share a single identity; and the shamans can turn into this mighty cat while alive or after their death. The Waorani nationality of the Ecuadorian amazon jungle, has an important myth that tells the story of the first man that turned into a jaguar, and explains that some people become jaguars after passing. To the Waorani, this feline is considered and ancestor.

 

Saralhue Acevedo Gómez de la Torre
Educational mediator

 

 

Di-Capua, C. (2002). De la imagen al ícono, estudios de arqueología e historia del Ecuador. Quito: Abya Ayala.

Gutiérrez Usillos, A. (2002). Dioses, Símbolos y Alimentación de los Andes. Quito: Abya Ayala.

Hocquenghem, A. M. (1997). Los colmillos y las serpientes, la autoridad absoluta de los ancestros. En S. E. Marco Vinicio Rueda, Cosmos, hombre y sacralidad (pág. 264). Quito: Abya- Ayala.

Nenquino, I. F. (s.f.). El origen de los Waorani, los cuatro dioses de los Waorani y el hijo del sol. Ministerio del Ambiente, PRAS, MDGIF.

Ugalde, M. F. (2009). Iconografía de la cultura Tolita. Bonn: Reichert Verlag Wiesbaden.

Ornitomorphic whistling-vessel from Jama-Coaque

Ornitomorphic whistling-vessel 
Jama Coaque (350 BC – 1532 AD)
Ceramic
21,1 cm height x 17,8 cm diameter 

So few has been explored about the pre-Columbian sonority. However, the ancient world was full of exuberant sounds and melodies manifested in pleasant textures. Archeological pieces that produce sound through ingenious mechanisms are abundant. Whistles, ocarinas and ceramic bottles, metal knee-bracelets and drums son parte de creative tradition de of sound artifacts.

The whistling bottles are, undoubtedly, one of the most attractive sound artifacts created in the ancient Ecuador. They represent a link between rituality, the art of ceramic and technology. It is possible to suggest, by the contexts where these pieces have been found and multiple evidences, that their use was ceremonial and, in many cases, funerary. The structure of the whistling bottle is usually based on one or more containers that connect with the whistle(s) throughout channels. Its operation requires pouring water inside the container and move it, to make it flow through its internal cavities. The water in motion pushes the air and produces a high-pitched sound. The sounds produced by the whistling bottles have a stable melody that usually explores 1 to 2 notes per channel.

The first whistling bottles correspond to the Chorrera culture (1000-300 BC) and would have been created in the 1000 BC approximately. Later, its use and creation was inherited to cultures adopted this technology in their ceramic traditions. Among them we can recall societies from the Ecuadorian coast like Jama-Coaque and Bahia, and cultures of Perú such as Moche, Nasca and Chimú. This expansion across the territory allowed the creation of technologically alike but iconographically diverse whistling-bottles. Therefore, each society ornamented the bottles with sacred animals, native plants and characteristic specific  characters corresponding to their cultural symbols.

The piece of the month of October is a whistling-vessel ornamented with ornithomorphic figures that corresponds to the Jama-Coaque society (350 BC-1532 AD). It is fascinating to notice that the ceramic development of this culture turned the bottle into a vessel and, in certain cases, a cup-shaped container. This vessel counts with four cavities that allow the water to flow and conduct the air towards the whistles.

Birds have been widely represented in sound artifacts, possibly due to the diversity of sounds they make. The various sounds produced by this whistling-vessel evokes the tunes of birds’ singings. In addition, its four small whistles amplify the sound in four directions. This multi-directionality of sound refers us to quadripartition, a fundamental concept of the Andean philosophy that refers to the understanding of the cosmos through four natural phenomenons (solstices and equinoxes), four cardinal points and four elements present in nature.

There’s a lot yet to be explored about pre-colombian sound. On this porpuse, we invite you to visit our permanent exhibition where you will find several sound pieces created by pre-Columbian societies that inhabited the ancient Ecuador.

 

Jimena Muhlethaler

Educational mediator

Scientific Input of a Napo Urn

Funerary Urn
Napo (900 – 1480 años AD)
Ceramic
50 cm height x 23,8 cm diameter 

Over a year ago I wrote an article in this same magazine about the funerary rituals of Napo, a pre-Columbian culture that inhabited principally the Napo province in the Amazon of what today is Ecuador, around the 900 to 1480 AD.

The principal source of information for that text was a Spanish chronicle by Francisco Figueroa (17th century) about the rituals of passing of the Cocamas, possible decedents of the Napo people. The Cocamas left the bodies of the deceased outdoors, allowing nature to decompose the flesh. After a while, some of the big bones were collected and placed in ceramic urns, which were kept inside the homes for an undetermined period and finally buried near the houses.

There have only been a few archaeological excavations of small scale in the Napo zone which provided random data about the pre-Columbian culture. But non funerary site as such has been dug yet, and there were no formal studies of the urns or the bones inside them, mainly because of the fortuitous extraction of these pieces in which the vast majority were cleaned up and stripped of the inner material.

The piece of the month is one of a kind, a Napo urn that preserved the human remains inside. This year for the first time in Ecuador Alejandra Sánchez Polo, the current curator of the Museum and Nicole Jastremski from the Central Washington University, had these bones tested and analyzed scientifically.

According to the dating test, the individual inside this urn was an adult and dyed between the 1021 and the 1152 AD. By the state of the femur, is appears this person crossed long distances daily in a wild natural environment.

The bones presented holes that are usually caused by thermites. The pelvic bone and skull are the most appealing to these insects. According to the testimonies about urn extractions in the Napo River, those specific bones are missing most of the time. It remains unknown if the Napo decided not to place them for a reason of cosmovision or if the insects devoured them from inside the urn or from the corpse, if it was left for decomposing.

If the bones missing were eaten by the insects from the body (which we have not been able to proof yet), maybe the Napo did left the death outdoors for biodegradation as a first step of a complex funerary process.
This study has help to reinforce the hypothesis that the funerary ritual of Napo proposed in the last article, had a similar process to the one of the Cocamas described by Figueroa.

Scientific research, to contribute in the knowledge of pre-Hispanic cultures, is one of the most important tasks of the Casa Del Alabado pre-Columbian Art Museum.
Visit us and find out about more discoveries from the past.

 

Saralhue Acevedo Gómez de la Torre
Educational mediator

 

Polo, A. S. (2018). Pigmentos y brillos en la costa del Ecuador precolombino. En A. Sánchez, L. López Luján, G. Prieto, R. Burger, M. Romero Bastidas, M. Mármol Villarroel, & F. Espinoza Rueda, Pigmentos y brillos en la costa del Ecuador precolombino (págs. 20 – 31). Quito: Museo de Arte Precolombino Casa del Alabado.

Metallic ornaments

Manteño-Huancavilca Culture

Spiral ornament and zoomorphic pin
Manteño-Huancavilca (500 – 1532 AD)
Brass
10,1 x 3,4 cm & 2,7 x 1,8 cm

The use of metallic ornaments was common in pre-Columbian societies of Ecuador and continues to this day. However, the aesthetic implications, preservation techniques, symbols and meanings anchored to these decorations, have changed over time.

Nowadays, people are very concerned about the maintenance of their gold, silver or copper objects, and worry that they do not rust due to the effects of humidity, sunlight or the passage of time. The metallic rustless shine seems to be the right way to appreciate these objects because we have been culturally taught to conserve and value them in that way.

In pre-Columbian societies, could metal oxidation have been perceived as positive or desirable? The decorative pieces we have chosen, two copper decorations of the Manteño-Huancavilca culture (500-1532 d.C), will refer to the metallic shine and the rituality manifested in its possible transformations.

The pre-Columbian world and its rites were filled with natural materials that shined in brightness and color. Shells, stones and metals of red, black and green iridescence abounded in funerary ornaments. According to Alejandra Sánchez-Polo, curator of the Casa del Alabado Museum, bright materials expressed qualities of transcendence in pre-Columbian America and, therefore, were considered suprahuman entities.

The first object shows spiral motifs in red, this color was obtained through a restoration process that eliminated the oxides in order to restore the original tonality. The second piece, shaped like a bird in copper, turned to green due to natural oxidation. This set allows us to appreciate a before and after in pieces of the same material.

The curator maintains that the change from red to green in copper pieces, due to the natural oxidation process, was a desirable transformation because of the sacred qualities related to the green. Therefore, it is accurate to think that goldsmiths of the Manteño-Huancavilca culture procure the oxidation of certain metals such as copper, instead of preventing it. Many of these pieces were located in funeral contexts.

These type of reflections are widely reviewed in our exhibition “Pigments and sheens on the coast of pre-Columbian Ecuador”, where you will find wonderful pieces that are related to sacred shine. Our temporary exhibition will be open until September 2.

 

Jimena Muhlethaler
Educational mediator

 

Polo, A. S. (2018). Pigmentos y brillos en la costa del Ecuador precolombino. En A. Sánchez, L. López Luján, G. Prieto, R. Burger, M. Romero Bastidas, M. Mármol Villarroel, & F. Espinoza Rueda, Pigmentos y brillos en la costa del Ecuador precolombino (págs. 20 – 31). Quito: Museo de Arte Precolombino Casa del Alabado.

From earth to art

Zoomorphic whistling bottle
Chorrera (1000 – 100 BC)
Ceramic
18,0 x 16,0 cm

When we approach pre-Hispanic pieces, we are told various theories about their dating, representation, use or symbology, but it is not common to study their materiality and manufacture process.
Most of the collection of the Casa del Alabado Museum is constituted by ceramic objects of the societies that inhabited what today is Ecuador. Many of these pieces belong to Chorrera (1000 – 400 BCE), a culture of the coastal region, that had an interesting development in the pottery field.
The piece of the month is a whistling- bottle, sound artifact first created by Chorrera that works with air and water, with the representation of a monkey. It´s brightness and colors were achieved through a highly elaborated manufacturing process.
The people of Chorrera (1000 – 400 BCE), colored the ceramics utilizing techniques inherited from previous cultures, but also developed more shining finishes than other coastal societies.
The process to obtain a ceramic usually begun with the technique of degreasing, in which the clay was mixed with several substances like shells and ceramics, volcanic ashes or vegetal fibers. This materials were mashed up and turned into a dust that provided cohesion and prepared the piece to endure the baking (Heras y Martinez, C.M., 1992). Afterwards the clay was hand-shaped or molded according to the figure they wanted to create.
Coloring was accomplished by applying many layers of a diluted solution of clays with different colorations in the surface of the object. The solution was rapidly absorbed and became a part of the piece. In the case of Chorrera the most utilized colors were red, cream tones or light browns.
Burnishing came before baking, and was the most important technique to bring shine to the object. It consisted in rubbing the damp clay with a smooth element such as eroded sherds or pebbles, to sand off the material and close the pores.
Baking turns the clay into ceramic and allows a final polishing, done by scrubbing the surface with a piece of fabric or a thin tree bark.
Material culture of pre-Columbian societies represent a challenge to researchers. In this field of investigation, we proudly present the temporary exhibition “Pigments and sheens on the coast of pre-Columbian Ecuador” that approaches the color and radiance of the past from a scientific and symbolic perspective.
Visit us and reveal the sources and significances of the chromatics that gave life to the ancient heritage.

Saralhue Acevedo Gómez de la Torre
Educational mediator

Heras y Martinez, C.M. (1992). Glosario terminológico para el estudio de las cerámicas arqueológicas. Revista Española de Antropología Americana, 9-34.

Woman and Man of Jama Coaque

Anthrophomorphic characters
Jama Coaque (350 BC-1532 AD)
Ceramic
7,5 x 9,5 cm and 16,5 x 10,7 cm

Color is an intrinsic property of all the substances of the universe. The history of color is the history of human vision. Thus, social life is full of chromatic elements that serve the communication of individuals.

The pre-Columbian world, like the contemporary, was filled with colors and meanings. These societies invented an extensive chromatic that was manifested, among other things, in pigments and clays. It’s not unusual to think of archaeological pieces as colorless and faded objects. That’s why imagining their original colors represents a challenge. It is possible tos ay that every aspect of the pre-hispanic ritual life had its own color.

The Jama Coaque culture will serve to illustrate the conditions written above. Their color palette was conformed by: black, yellow, white, red and green. Observing their colorful anthropo- and zoomorphic figures allows to notice that the pigments used by the Jama Coaque craftsmen were not randomly applied. Some investigations assume that there is a tendency to link color with gender and, in certain cases, age.

Beyond the differences that physical atributes provide, women and men were separated by some pigments that were frecquently applied in ceramics. In these practices, the body served as a canvas to express events, rites and functions of the person. According to Andrés Gutiérrez Usillos (2011), there is a tendency, in the ceramics of this culture, which consists in using yellow to color representations of women and black to decorate men. Our pieces of the month review the chromatic qualities of Jama-Coaque through ceramics.

In the first piece, we observe a woman seated with a colorful headdress that mixes the aforementioned palette. The hands, arms and legs are colored yellow, in the same way that happens in many other female Jama Coaque pieces. This aesthetic decision may link yellow with femininity, fertility and the rites of passage between one cycle and another in the life of a woman. This may have represented a shared practice with some mesoamerican societies. The náhuatl women, for example, decorated their faces and teeth with yellow pigments extracted from an insect called cochineal.

In the second case, we see a man with his body decorated with a black pigment and his face painted white, yellow and red, with black details. Ethnographic research refers to the pre-Columbian tendency to color the black male body as it happens with the black shamans who are in charge of connecting with underground regions.

These superficial examples document the ability of colors to send transcendent messages over time. We invite you to visit the temporary exhibition ” Pigments and sheens on the coast of pre-Columbian Ecuador ” which will be open from June 2 to August 31.

 

Jimena Muhlethaler

Educational Mediator

The Andean Huacas

Stone Spheres
Manteño- Huancavilca (700 AD-1532 AD)
Various stones
Several sizes

In the northern Andean Region of Ecuador at the current province of Imbabura, there is a legend of the popular culture, starring two great mountains: Mama Cotacachi and Taita Imbabura. The story is never told in the same way, so for now I will share the version I know.

They have loved each other since a long time ago, when the two of them were just hills and played together. When adults, another young mountain with a white snow cloak named Cayambe came to scene and attracted the attention of Mama Cotacachi. To this, Taita Imbabura filled with rage erupted and launched rocks at Cayambe, who witnessing such a power decided to step back.

A stone hole can still be seen in the southern profile of the Taita, previously filled with his heart, lost in the mentioned battled.

At last, Mama Cotacachi remember her heart had always belong to Taita Imbabura. The people of the surrounding areas say that they had a child together, the small hill Yananurco, which appears slightly cover in snow at the sunrise, whenever his parents are reunited. It is also said that the strong wind blowing throw the night are the kisses of the Mama and the Taita given to each other.

This legend reveals to us that certain mountains have ages, consciousness, feelings, and the ability to communicate and be reciprocal, names and stories, like if they were people. In the world views of many Andean communities, since the pre-Columbian time and until today, this qualities are attributed to different beings of nature. Mountains, lagoons, waterfalls o even elements such as stones can be considered “huacas”.  

Huaca, it’s a term from kichwa language that currently possesses many different meanings like crying, or it is also use to name archaeological “treasures” from fine metal pieces to ceramic objects that belonged to the past.

But it is the first of this meanings, as a “being with consciousness” that calls our attention, since it is a concept poorly explored in the field of museums. For that reason the Casa del Alabado Pre-Columbian Art Museum has put to scene the temporary exhibition THE HUACA: Spirit or Matter? Which through three voices – indigenous, mestizo and spanish- speaks about the huacas and explores the different ways to see the world at the begging of the VXII century in the Andean region.

The pieces of the month are rocks from the culture Manteño- Huancavilca (700 – 1532 AD), that had gone throw meticulous manufacture process to reach the shape of perfect spheres of various sizes and colors.  This makes us think that maybe they stood out from other stones and were considered to be special, qualities that go along with “The Huaca”.

Find out the multiple meanings carried by the pieces of the Museum and visit our temporary exhibition throughout this month of May.

 

Saralhue Acevedo Gómez de la Torre

Educational Mediator

 

Bray, T. (2009). An Archeological Perspective on the Andean Concept of Camaquen. Cambridge Archaeological Journal, 19 (3): 357-366.

Barter in the pre-Columbian world

Ear stretchers, Cerro Narrío (2000 – 400 BC), 3,6 cm x 1,7 cm, Spóndylus shell.

Mirror: 0,4 cm x 3 cm. Knife: 9,3 cm x 1,7 cm. Carved blades: 7,2 cm x 6,2 cm. Tolita – Tumaco (600 BC – 400 AD), Obsidian.

Barter in the pre-Columbian world was a differentiated, multidirectional and extensive task that served for physical, cultural and ritual contact between politically isolated societies. They reacted to environmental diversity by creating interconnected and reciprocate exchange networks.

The exchange and the exchangers of products were relevant to pre-Columbian societies. Mindalae is a quichua word that describes people that used to exchange products from one region to another. They enjoyed recognition for this task, as they were responsible of leading the trading expeditions by land and sea. Exchange missions across the land required a sharped sense of orientation in a complex territory, and those carried out by sea led to the development of navigation technology.

The barter was extensive. Some products were used generically in multiple cultures, regardless of whether they were from the Coastal region or the highlands. The Spondylus shell and the obsidian are useful examples that may illustrate this reciprocate exchange.

The Spondylus is a shell that reaches the Pacific coast along with the warm marine flow of El Niño. Spondylus Princeps, an appreciated type of this shell, was very abundant on the Ecuadorian coast, where it was used for ritual purposes for the first time. In the pre-Columbian world, it represented a source of announcement of the rainy season. This ritual device carried a strong symbolic value since it was considered “a symbol of fertility because it is associated with femininity and rain, both necessary elements for the reproduction of human beings and plants” (Ontaneda, 2010, page 43). The exchange of this natural matter began in the Formative Period (4000-1000 B.C) and, thanks to its ritual features; it was exchanged from the Coastal region to the Highlands.

Obsidian is a volcanic crystal that can be polished or carved to manufacture different utensils. It was used to make sharp artifacts like arrows, knives and weapons, and it was also used to make “mirrors” that, when used for ritual purposes, were related to the symbolic aptitude of seeing beyond. The obsidian was exchanged from the Highlands to the Coast. The presence of obsidian on the coast proves the importance of interregional long-distance exchange in the integration of the pre-Hispanic cultures of the Andes.

Exchanging Spondylus for obsidian and vice versa could have been a common barter, that was made between coastal and highlander cultures. It is interesting to review these exchange strategies since it allows us to trace the nature of the connections between territories and societies. The worth of products was not precisely related to the simple satisfaction of material needs; there were ritual purposes that pre-Columbian societies sought to satisfy with urgency, and both obsidian and Spondylus intermediate to barter ideas.  

 

Jimena Muhlethaler
Educational Mediator

 

Marcos, J. (1980). Intercambio a larga distancia en américa: el caso del Spondylus. ______Boletín de antropología latinoamericana, No. 1 (Junio 1980), 124-129.

Ontaneda, S. (2010). Las antiguas sociedades precolombinas del Ecuador. Un recorrido    ______por la Sala de Arqueología del Museo Nacional. Quito: Banco Central del Ecuador.

The Caiman of Tolita

Zoomorphic figure
Tolita – Tumaco (600 BC-400 AD)
Ceramic
4,9 x 5,8 cm

The pre-Columbian culture Tolita-Tumaco inhabited the current province of Esmeraldas, at the northern territory of the coastal region of Ecuador and the south of the pacific shores of Colombia in the 600 years BCE to the 400 CE. The environment that surrounded them was a deep subtropical rain forest full of animal species, similar to the ones that can be found at the Amazon region of our country: the jaguar and the ocelot, various types of amphibians and off course, reptiles such as the mighty caiman.

The caiman was one of the most feared and imposing predators of this complex ecosystem, which possibly turned it into and important and mythological creature for Tolita-Tumaco, given that it has been abundantly represented in clay and metal pieces of this culture.

Donald Lathrap (1973) proposes that the caimans were perceived by several Indo-American cultures as dual and androgynous deities that mediated between strengths such us feminine and masculine, day and night or earth and heaven. In Tolita-Tumaco we have found two–headed representations of the caiman that could be relatable to this theory, however the archaeologist María Fernanda Ugalde (2009)  believes that even though the caiman wasn´t always perceived as a masculine character for the culture, there is not enough iconographical evidence to link it to Lathrap´s hypothesis.

The ceramic representations of Tolita-Tumaco tend to show the caiman in pieces of big dimensions (30 x 50 cm) with four eyes accompanied by large eye lashes, one pair at each side of the head. We have also noticed some anthropo- zoomorphic figures in which the legs of a person are replaced by the head of the caiman, that is half person half caiman. Many of the last, appear with the eye sockets empty, which has generated the premise that they could be representing dead.

In many cultures amongst the American continent, there are several myths that link the caiman with the origin of the universe. It is known that in Middle-America, many myths narrate the story of the dismemberment of the caiman from which different elements of the world emerged, its tale became the Mayan sacred tree of Cieba, and its great jaws opened the entrance to the underworld  (Gutiérrez Usillos, 2002).

The piece of the month is a Tolita-Tumaco ceramic representation of the two-headed caiman. Visit us and find out more about this pre-Columbian culture and its amazing reptiles. 

Saralhue Acevedo Gómez de la Torre
Educational mediator

 

Gutiérrez Usillos, A. (2002). Dioses, Símbolos y Alimentación de los Andes. Quito: Abya Ayala.

Lathrap, D. (1973). Gifts of the Caiman. En D. D. Lathrap, Variations of Anthropology: Essays in honor of Jhon H. MacGregor (págs. 91-105). Illinois: Urbana: Illinois Archaeological Survey. .

Ugalde, M. F. (2009). Iconografía de la cultura Tolita. Wiesbaden: Reichert Verlag.

Stamps, the emblems of Jama Coaque

Stamps
Jama Coaque (350 BC-1532 AD)
Ceramic
Several sizes

Stamps and seals are one of the most appealing categories of objects of the Casa del Alabado Museum collection. These pieces were used by several pre-Hispanic cultures that inhabited the coast of Ecuador as utensils to print on textiles and mark the skin and other surfaces such as clay. There are two types of stamps: flat and cylindrical.

Jama-Coaque culture (350 BCE – 1532 CE) developed an enormous range of representation on stamps: from naturalistic zoomorphic figures and geometric shapes, to abstract anthropo-zoomorphic silhouettes, which express their complex sense imagination and understanding about the universe.

The fact that these stamps were used to leave marks on the skin, brings us to the question: are these patterns and shapes just elements of decoration? Or do they transmit a message of a deeper meaning?

It is possible that the stamps worked as emblems of identity, to show belonging to specific groups of society. They could have been indicators of the different roles that a person had to accomplish within the social organization, or the hierarchy rank that she/he possessed. Some authors believe that cylindrical stamps also served as ornaments (Fernandez-Salvador, 2014) since Jama Coaque has ceramic figures representing women wearing these artifacts as pendants. Another theory states that they could

If women worn stamps on their clothing, is it possible to think that they were in charge of marking other people? Andrés Gutierrez Usillos (2011) proposes that animals represented in some stamps stand for mythical ancestors that characterize family clans, and that if women provided these emblems of belonging to other people, then they were probably the ones who transmitted the blood line in parentage. This hypothesis is also related with the fact that tattoos, which we cannot affirm that are stamp marks or scarifications, are shown only over female figures.

A different alternative, is that women carrying stamps were part of a determinate category of shamans, probably in charge of printing symbols and emblems of divinities, linked to the myths and beliefs of Jama Coaque people, as a part of a specific ceremony.

It is important to mention that beyond the interpretations and hypothesis, coming from our contemporary analysis and research of the symbology of the pieces, there is a knowledge in the past that we are far from understanding.

The pieces of the month are a cylindrical stamp with geometric patterns and flat one with the representation of an anthropo-zoomorphic figure. 

Visit us and delight yourself with the variety and beauty of more Jama Coaque stamps.

 

Saralhue Acevedo
Educational Mediator

 

Fernandez-Salvador, C. (2014). El ornamento: entre la imitación y la abstracción. En J. G. Carmen Fernandez Salvador, El Ornamento. Belleza y Poder en el Ecuador Antiguo (pág. 15). Quito: Universidad San Francisco de Quito/Museo de Arte Precolombino Casa del Albado.

Gutierrez Usillos, A. (2011). El eje del Universo. Chamanes, sacerdotes y religiosidad en la cultura Jama Coaque del Ecuador prehispánico. Madrid: Ministerio de Cultura.

The Dancers of Jama Coaque

Jama Coaque Dancer
Jama Coaque (350 BC-1532 AD)
Ceramic
25 x 19 cm

Throughout history, dance has been one of the most appealing expressions to manifest human’s spirituality. However, the ritual of dance can vary from culture to culture, obtain diverse significances, and also be performed in different ways.

To Jama Coaque (350 BC – 1532 AD), which inhabited the current provinces of Manabí, Esmeraldas and Santo Domingo de los Tsáchilas; dance was probably a way to worship their divinities whose influences lied upon the climatic and agriculture variations, or was a practice related to the set of believes that constituted the cosmovision of the culture (Gutierrez Usillos, A, 2011).

According to iconographical studies, there were several roles amongst the people of Jama Coaque: caciques or political leaders, shamans or spiritual leaders, dancers, warriors, among others. Yet, certain dancers present bezotes or chin pins, ornaments iconographically considered as attributes correspondent to a female or male spiritual leader of the culture, in other words, to a shaman. Due to this, we believe there was flexibility between the different roles, for example: certain shamans were probably able to perform diverse kinds of rituals in which they might have had to dance, which does not mean that every dancer was a shaman.

Probably, there were several kinds of ceremonies among the world of dance in Jama Coaque culture, since the dancers are represented with varied dress, and performing actions of different nature. Representations of dancers have also been found in some artifacts utilized for the consumption of substances, therefore, we think that maybe certain ritual dances were accompanied by the use of sacred plants.

Some dancers wear suits that evoke figures of animals such as different species of felines and owls. Others are shown with a special head dress that can be manipulated with two cords which hang to the sides of the head, to close and open during the dance. The third type of dancers, carry a particular small cloak on their backs which is held by the wrists, like the figure in the image.

The piece of the month is a tablet, possibly used as a utensil to inhale the seeds of the wilca, plant (anadanthera colubrina), which properties allow consciousness expansion. In the front part of the piece there is a representation of a dancer, in his ankles and calves, he wears ornaments that probably had sound properties, and like many others, he is playing a whistle, held by a cord around the head, leaving the arms free to be a part of the dance. An evidence of the bond between sound and dance in Jama Coaque.

The Pre-Columbian Art Museum Casa del Alabado, invites you to explore the different ritual manifestations of the ancestral cultures of Ecuador, through the observation and analysis of their legacy.

 

 

Saralhue Acevedo Gómez de la Torre
Educational mediator

 

Gutierrez Usillos, A. (2011). El eje del Universo. Chamanes, sacerdotes y religiosidad en la cultura Jama Coaque del Ecuador prehispánico. Madrid: Ministerio de Cultura.