Early Regional Polities of Coastal Ecuador

  • Maria A. Masucci

A complex mosaic of regional cultural styles observed within the coastal plain and inland basins of western Ecuador beginning at approximately 500 BC are one expression of extensive cultural transformations following the earlier widespread Late Formative Period Chorrera style (see Chapter 24 in this volume). These transformations are the basis for the definition of a period of regionalization or the “Regional Developmental Period” (500 BC –AD 500) in the cultural historic sequence for Ecuador (Evans and Meggers 1961). This rise of diverse regional cultural styles exhibiting elaborate ceramic figurine art adorned with symbols of authority and power, production and display of luxury goods including gold and silver objects, and urban centers with earthen platforms was initially linked to environment and interaction as central factors affecting sociocultural change (Meggers 1966). The differences in sociopolitical complexity among the cultural phases were attributed to differences in environmental potential and access to outside influences (Meggers 1966:69–70). This model carries overtones of a stage scheme, which is strongly evolutionary. Marcos (1986: 37–38) offers an alternative to an environmentally focused model for Regional Developmental Period developments. His model is based on trade, competition, and conflict. According to Marcos, the appearance of the cultural phases of the period is due to a network of exchange based in traffic of Spondylus, which served to create a series of chiefdoms and kin groups or clans. These groups, or the named cultural styles, were in competition to control or expand control of a sphere of influence in the network of long distance trade centered on the exchange of Spondylus.

As more regional studies and local sequences have become available, however, it is apparent that environmental boundaries do not match cultural style divisions and evidence for maritime trade and increasing complexity are not uniform either in time or across space. Also, as observed in other areas of the Northern Andes and Central America, horizontal circulation of wealth and power within systems of shifting alliances were just as often a strategy for regional societies as were hierarchical structures and institutionalization of hierarchy, wealth and power (Drennan 1996). Therefore, although regional Ecuadorian pre-Hispanic sequences are still incomplete and many of the possible urban centers and burial complexes have been heavily looted, a series of research programs in coastal Ecuador offer systematic regional data for evaluating and remodeling the Regional Developmental Period and the rise of early regional polities in pre-Hispanic Ecuador.


Luxury Good Cultural Style Ceremonial Center Adobe Wall Sociopolitical Complexity 
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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Maria A. Masucci
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyDrew UniversityMadisonUSA

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