Public Release: 

Human settlements already existed in the Amazon Basin (Equador) 4000 years ago

Institut de recherche pour le développement

This release is also available in French.

The eastern slopes of the Andean Cordillera, in the Equador province of Zamora-Chinchipe, bordering Peru, form part of the Amazon piedmont. This region of undulating topography, situated between 500 and 2000 m altitude, had not up to now been the focus of any systematic archaeological research. This area was occupied in historical times (from the end of the first millenium) by groups belonging to the Jivaro linguistic family, the Bracamoros, who were probably the inhabitants the Spanish conquistadors encountered in the XVIth century.

The monumental structures brought to light at the Santa Ana Florida site, in the high valley of the Rio Palanda, testify to complex construction techniques used for funerary or ceremonia purposes. 14C dating figures obtained during excavation yielded a probable date of around 2450 B. C., which means that the supposed age of the first developed agricultural societies of the western Amazon Basin is more ancient than thought.

The site's main feature, which greatly enhances its importance, is the presence, in emplacements which have not yet been dated, of offertory accumulations including finely polished stone recipients decorated with carvings in animal forms (feline shapes, condors, snakes). These figures and representation modes show many points in common with the later Peruvian Chavín and Cupisnique cultural traditions.

This discovery yields clear evidence of the presence of ideological elements which were part and parcel of the first great Andean civilizations in a tropical environment where they had not up to now been known to exist.

Many tropical regions suffer from a reputation as inhospitable places and therefore destined for chronic underdevelopment because of the harshness of their environment. This view is essentially founded on their geography and on analysis of the effects of colonization. Long-term studies on pre-European settlements in many different tropical zones (Cameroon forests, the valleys of southern Sumatra, Australasian islands, mangroves and tropical forests of Equador) conducted by IRD's research unit "Human adaptation to tropical environments during the Holocene" helps put this viewpoint into better perspective. The sociocultural developments which have taken place over the past few millenia in the regions studied reveal the nature of geographical constraints, as well as the weight of cultural heritage, which are, even in the present day, decisive factors of development

In Equador, this research is the subject of two partnership agreements, signed in 2001 and 2002, with the National Institute of Cultural Heritage and the culture department of the Equador Central Bank. The field work focuses on two distinctive areas, situated in the northern and the southern extremities of the country (in the provinces of Esmeraldas and Zamora-Chinchipe).


For further details, refer to scientific news sheet n°177 :

The announcement of this discovery was made at a press conference in Quito on 1st July 2003.

More of the research unit's results will be announced at a symposium organized by Francisco Valdez to be held from 7 to 11 July entitled " Prehispanic agricultural systems on billons with drainage " in Quito - Equador.

Illustrations are available from : Claire Lissalde, 33-0-1-48-03-78-99,

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