Seats of Power and Iconographies of Identity in Ecuador

Part of the One World Archaeology book series (WORLDARCH)


On the Pacific coast of Ecuador, the late precontact Manteño (800–1530 CE) culture is noted for its distinctive corpus of stone seats, stelae and other sculpture. The Manteño seats in particular have long played a key role in Ecuadorian iconographies of national identity in the face of successive waves of conquest and colonial influence – Inca, Spanish and North American. They feature variously on the sculptural frieze on the facade of the National Congress building in Quito and on wall murals in coastal cities such as Manta as an emblem of indigenous cultural achievement. This prominence reflects a charged history, including collecting practices that began with the removal and dispersal of the great majority of the seats from their sites of origin to public collections in Ecuador and abroad, and also into private hands. Their potency as vehicles of both local and national political and cultural agency was effectively diluted – a process that is now being reversed. Beginning in the 1980s, the archaeological excavation of seats in their original architectural contexts at the site of Agua Blanca involved a sustained engagement between professionals and campesinos (rural inhabitants). This in turn led to the adoption of the seat icon to express pride and identity locally and as a powerful symbol of endurance and resistance by national indigenous federations. More recently the conscious appropriation of the past has been extended by the newly elected government of President Rafael Correa, which has incorporated the seats into a reconfigured national political consciousness.

Manteño Stone Seats

From as early as the 4th millennium BC Ecuador’s Pacific coast fostered a precocious formative cultural florescence. Subsequent cultural developments maintained an essentially independent trajectory up until the Inca incursions of the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century. Nevertheless, compared to Mexico and Peru, indigenous Ecuadorian achievements have struggled to find their due place in cultural histories of the Americas as well as in the popular imagination. It is not widely appreciated, for example, that the coastal Manteño Culture (800–1530 CE) successfully forged a powerful confederation of polities known as Señorios that controlled a long-distance maritime trade in sumptuary goods using seagoing balsa rafts. Among the populous coastal towns and inland settlements of this period, two hilltop ceremonial sites in southern Manabí, known respectively as Cerro Jaboncillo and Cerro de Hojas, were an important focus of religious life. Situated on adjacent plateaux, each about 600 m high, they served as the preeminent regional cult centre and the setting for an impressive corpus of stone sculpture comprising seats, stelae and diverse anthropomorphic and zoomorphic subjects.

In this chapter, we will first address the profound dislocation among indigenous societies brought about by the Spanish Conquest, followed centuries later by early collecting practices that entailed the removal of many cultural objects from their sites of origin. We then describe the role played by archaeologists more recently in reconstructing the ceremonial and political settings in which Manteño seats were once used and their significance as indices of indigenous social hierarchy and religious power. We conclude by tracing the reappropriation of the seats by contemporary communities and national politicians alike, as potent symbols of indigenous cultural achievement and prestige.

Conquest, Collapse and the Early History of Collecting

Epidemic diseases introduced by first European contact had a devastating impact on native populations, resulting in the rapid demise of Manteño ports and towns. In 1585, the new Spanish provincial capital of Portoviejo was founded, and the collapse of indigenous social and political institutions was further hastened by forced resettlement implemented in the seventeenth century. By this time most indigenous towns lay abandoned and the hilltop ceremonial centres had long since fallen into disuse. Today little survives in the way of extant ruins to indicate the location, size and layout of the native towns and villages. Modern settlements have developed on, or adjacent to, some of the largest archaeological sites such as Jocay near Manta. As these sites were overrun by urban expansion, mounds have been levelled, terraces destroyed and the pre-Columbian wall foundations frequently ‘quarried’ for construction materials.

The early colonial accounts make scant specific mention of Manteño stone seats, which is strange considering the number of archaeological examples known to exist. From the mid-nineteenth century onwards the seats began to figure prominently among the archaeological relics and curios acquired in Ecuador by travellers and antiquarians. As readily visible portable objects they became sought-after curiosities – a process best described as ‘trophy’ collecting. Occasionally a specimen would be brought in to Manta from the hinterlands of Manabí to be gifted or sold to passing merchant seamen and passengers. In ones and twos the seats found their way into collections in Ecuador and abroad, including those in major museums in Paris, Vienna, Berlin, Copenhagen, London, Madrid, New York and Chicago as well as smaller regional museums (Fig. 11.1).
Fig. 11.1

Manteño stone seat with crouching human figure reported to have come from Cerro de Hojas, Manabí, and accessioned in 1861 (Am1861,0909.1) (By kind permission of the trustees of the British Museum)

Speculation as to their origin and function has ranged from the serious to the fanciful. The first published account of their existence in 1858 is described as follows:

Two leagues north of Montecristi there are some hills, such as the Cerro de Hojas; this is a low mountain with a flat summit; in this plain there is a circle of seats of stone, no less than thirty in number, each one is a sphinx, above which is the seat with two arms, all of stone well worked, and of a single piece which may be transported (Villavicencio 1858: 101).

This account of the alleged discovery of a circle of seats found on top of the hills gained currency over the years and was further embellished with the claim that a stone table also originally stood in the centre of the circle.

In the early 1880s, the French traveller Wiener visited Manabí noting that

there are some other broken chairs, four of which could be easily repaired, to be found on a hill eleven leagues and a half northeast of the small port of Manta (Wiener 1880: 178).

A decade later the Ecuadorean historian González Suárez reports that:

these seats are found in the Cerro de Hojas, placed in a semi-circle, in each one of the platforms on the hill. This comprises a group of broken hills, and on the summit of each one of these were a number of these seats placed around with symmetry (González Suárez 1890–1903: 256).

In the early 1900s, the George G. Heye Foundation (New York) began sponsoring archaeological collecting expeditions to selected regions of the Americas. In 1906, 1907, and again in 1908, Marshall H. Saville, then Loubat Professor of American Archaeology at Columbia University, led a series of exploratory trips to the coastal provinces of Esmeraldas, Manabí and Guayas, Ecuador. His horseback treks took him down long stretches of the coastline with occasional forays inland. On his first visit to Manta in 1906 he observed Manteño stone sculptures that had been brought in from the hills. He returned in 1907 equipped to excavate and explore the other hilltops from which the sculptures were said to have come.

Writing at the conclusion of his first field season, Saville noted the following:

Careful examination was made of the summit of Cerro de Hojas, and it will be remembered that, in the description of the ruins on the hill mention is made of the numerous house-sites locally known as corrales which are found in great numbers. It was in the rooms of these houses that the stone seats were found; and in no case were they observed occupying any regular order, or placed in any way which would indicate their having been around stone tables or in a circle. In fact no large stone slabs are found in any of the ruins, with the exception of small bas-reliefs (i.e. stelae), to be described later. In some rooms only one seat was found, in others two; and sometimes three, four or even five have been discovered in a single house. So far as the Cerro de Hojas is concerned, we must conclude that the story of the ceremonial placing of these seats is a myth (Saville 1907: 24).

Saville recorded a clear association between the seats and the buildings of different sizes that housed them, but the fact that he could detect no ‘regular order’ is hardly surprising. As portable, highly visible objects, the best intact examples were probably among the first to be removed and would have left no trace of where they once stood. Saville does, however, provide much useful information about the seats and other sculptures that he observed in situ. He then arranged for a substantial number of the seats and other stone sculptures to be removed from Cerro Jaboncillo and adjacent hilltops and shipped back to the Heye Foundation New York (now incorporated into the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution).

The Distribution of Seats at Cerro Jaboncillo

The exceptional concentration of stone sculpture recorded by Saville at Cerro Jaboncillo underlines the preeminence of this site within Manteño culture and its distinctive ceremonial character. Using information extracted from Saville’s two-volume publication Antiquities of Manabí, together with his unpublished field notes now held in Tulane University Library, it has been possible to reconstruct the location of the seats in something approximating their original topographic and architectural contexts. This is complemented by an analysis of the stelae iconography that helps explain why this hilltop site was revered and its enduring viability and elaboration as a ceremonial centre (McEwan 2004: 341–425; 2011).

Altogether Saville recorded several dozen stone seats in association with some sixteen structures and mounds on and around Cerro Jaboncillo. He observed that the seats sculpted in stone found on Cerro Jaboncillo fall into ‘two great classes’: one bearing a human figure crouching under the ‘U’ of the arms of the seat and another with a crouched feline depicted in the same position. The seats were found within, or close to, structures on the valley floor, along the ridge crests of the main spurs and in the architectural complexes on the summit plateau:

During the summer of 1907, while the work of clearing the corrales, and excavating the two large mounds on Cerro Jaboncillo, was being carried on, we visited nearly all the corrales on the hill, carefully noting the number and position of seats, and fragments of seats, to determine, if possible, whether there was any fixed arrangements or order of placing them in the corrales (Saville 1910: 88).

Despite Saville’s claims, precise attributions are not always given for seats discovered or acquired elsewhere on Cerro Jaboncillo, or from other sites. The number and distribution of seats he reports are necessarily incomplete, since an unknown number were spirited away before he began his fieldwork. He included photos of a few structures showing the seats that the expedition came across amidst the undergrowth in the course of working their way up the northern arm of Cerro Jaboncillo towards the summit plateau. Many structures harboured only broken fragments, but there is one where twelve seats remained in place. The main concentrations of seats were found among the three groups of structures on the summit plateau: the ‘northern’ group, ‘mound’ group and ‘southern’ group, respectively:

There was no definite arrangement, so far as we could determine, and the same holds true of the other undisturbed corrales. Where a large number of seats were grouped in a single corral, undoubtedly there may have been originally some orderly arrangement around the sides, or even in a circle, but there is no way to verify this presumption at the present time. The two large mounds had formerly a considerable number of seats on their summits, but the greater number have been removed, and we found only the fragments of perhaps a dozen medium-sized seats lying scattered around the mounds. Here there was probably some arrangement in relation to the columns and other sculptures. Seats, bas-reliefs, columns, human figures, and other sculptures are found in the same corrales, and must have been placed in some regular order in relation to each other (Saville 1910: 89).

Nearly a century later, Saville’s unpublished field notes provided the basis for reconstructing the distribution of the seats among the different architectural complexes (McEwan 2004: 221–224, 229–233, 310–315, 324; McEwan and Delgado 2008). In the meantime, the Manteño seats began to occupy an increasingly prominent role in Ecuadorian public iconographies of identity.

Seats as Symbols

Initially it appeared to Saville that the seats were restricted to a closely circumscribed area within a twenty-mile radius of Cerro Jaboncillo and Cerro de Hojas (Saville 1907: 23). This has now been expanded by modern archaeological fieldwork to embrace most of southern Manabí province and coincides with Manteño territory as indicated by early ethnohistoric accounts and the archaeological presence of Manteño pottery. Together this evidence points to an integrated polity that played an influential role far beyond the territory under its direct control (McEwan 2004: 97–104, 132–134). The Manteño were renowned seafarers and their coastal ports and anchorages such as Jocay located towards the northern limits of their territory, and Sercapez and Salango at the southern extremity, lay at the hub of a far-reaching long-distance maritime trade network that employed large balsa rafts with considerable navigational expertise (Marcos 1977–1978). In a well-known account Pizarro’s pilot Bartolome Ruiz made a careful inventory and description of the valued sumptuary goods aboard a raft that the Spaniards encountered as they approached the coast of Ecuador from the north. This trade swiftly disintegrated in the early sixteenth century as a consequence of the disruption and dislocation brought about by European contact. Apart from their immediate interest in whatever gold they could lay their hands on, other materials, such as the prized red Spondylus princeps in the form of chaquira (shell beads) that fuelled Andean trade and exchange, held little more than curiosity value for the arriving foreigners.

Some coastal products gradually found a market in the international mercantile economy, and in the course of the nineteenth century, crops such as tagua (popularly known as ‘ivory nut’) became a major export. In parallel with this, the history of informal collecting practices, briefly described above, resulted in the removal and dispersal of the great majority of the seats from their sites of origin. They were delivered to collections abroad and also to the anthropological museums of the Central Bank in both Quito and Guayaquil as well as into private hands. This had ambivalent consequences. On the one hand, the process of sundering the connection between object and place effectively diluted the seats’ potency as vehicles of political and cultural agency in Ecuador. A few have been on public display, but the majority were consigned to museum storerooms and have languished out of sight for decades. On the other hand the publication of the seats and stelae in Saville’s substantial volumes amply illustrated with photographs and line drawings, gained them a newfound visibility within the international archaeological community. They have since become a standard point of reference for all synthesising treatments of both Ecuadorian prehistory and South American archaeology in general, which all draw upon Saville’s original illustrations (Meggers 1966; Willey 1971).

Among the local population in and around Manta an awareness of the prominent hilltops and their past associations has always existed. This was tacitly recognised by the location of the early colonial church at the foot of Cerro Montecristi and the positioning of a large stone seat brought down from Cerro Jaboncillo, which for many years occupied pride of place in the small park in the public plaza in the centre of Montecristi (Fig. 11.2). Today the town is best known for the manufacture of ‘Panama’ hats and fosters a network of long-distance relationships and annual festivals, which draw upon and preserve discernable pre-Columbian elements. These echo the kind of annual pilgrimages that once focused on the hilltop sites.
Fig. 11.2

Manteño stone seat with crouching human figure which probably came from Cerro Jaboncillo, Manabí, and stood for many years in the plaza at Montecristi (Photo by Colin McEwan)

The Manteño seats gradually began to feature in public iconography deployed as symbols of indigenous Ecuadorian cultural achievement. Many decades after Saville’s expeditions, they are depicted in the sculptural frieze on the facade of the National Congress building in Quito created in the 1950s (Fig. 11.3). The frieze portrays a coastal Manteño ‘lord’ with a conspicuous stone seat used as a prominent visual device to signal his status and authority. He and his entourage are garbed in flowing robes that the sculptor has rendered in a ‘neo-classical’ style. They carry one style of ‘axe’ and confront an Inca ‘lord’ coming towards them bearing a different style of distinctive star-shaped Inca ‘battle-axe’. A central figure witnesses and mediates the exchange, the inference being that this was more in the nature of a ‘fraternal’ greeting rather than ‘conquest’ and submission. 
Fig. 11.3

Sculpted frieze on the facade of the National Congress building in Quito, Ecuador, showing Manteño seat with local lords and warriors ‘greeting’ an Inca lord (Photo by Maria-Isabel Silva)

By the 1960s a modern era of archaeological investigations had begun at the early formative site of Valdivia, gaining international visibility for Ecuador as the hearth of one of the earliest ceramic traditions in the Americas (Estrada 1957a, b; Evans and Meggers 1965). Later during the 1970s, the first systematic archaeological field surveys were undertaken on the Santa Elena Peninsula. Around this time in coastal cities such as Manta, Manteño seats appear prominently in murals painted on the walls of public buildings extolling Ecuador’s pre-Hispanic cultural achievements. Mural art owes its popularity as a medium for interpreting and representing political history in Latin America to the Mexican muralists such as Diego Rivera working in the 1930s. Political mural art subsequently experienced a resurgence in Central America (especially Nicaragua) in the 1980s, and this undoubtedly stimulated the creation of Ecuadorian murals created both around that time and in recent years (Fig. 11.4). These reflected a growing imperative to fashion a new narrative of national identity that acknowledged not only Ecuador’s pre-Columbian past but also recognised its rich ethnic diversity. In the 1980s, the archaeological surveys were extended to encompass much of what was once the territory of the Señorío of Salangome in southern Manabí, where the remains of a major Manteño settlement with seat fragments still visible among the ruins were located close to Comuna Agua Blanca (McEwan 2004).
Fig. 11.4

Contemporary wall mural in Manta, coastal Ecuador, showing the recreation of a Manteño scene featuring stone seats (Photo by Maria-Isabel Silva)

Archaeology and Community at Agua Blanca – Using the Past to Forge the Future

The archaeological site of Agua Blanca is located in the Buenavista Valley about eight kilometres inland at the heart of the Parque Nacional Machalilla. In pre-Columbian times, this was an important route connecting inland settlements such as Jipijapa (originally, Xipijapa) via Joa, Julcuy, with those of the Pacific coast. At the neck of the valley lie the ruins of a very large Manteño (800–1530 CE) settlement that takes its modern name from the nearby community of Agua Blanca. Around 500 years ago, this site was the nexus of an alliance of four coastal towns collectively referred to by the Spanish chroniclers as the Señorio of Salongome. In fact, the ruins seems likely to have been those of Salangome itself, the pueblo principal (leading town) described in the ethnohistoric accounts as governing the Señorio and a key political and religious centre controlling the southern approaches to Manteño territory (Silva 1983, 1984, 1985). The stone wall foundations of several hundred structures are still visible today scattered across an area of some four square kilometres. The principal architectural complexes reveal a carefully ordered hierarchy of public and residential structures serving a variety of functions. They range from large public buildings up to fifty metres long and twelve metres wide, down to smaller standard domestic dwellings. Comuna Agua Blanca itself lies directly on top of one barrio (outlying residential sector) of the archaeological site, and the Manteño wall foundations that underlie the village are clearly visible in places. Sporadic finds of Inca pottery are consistent with the accounts recorded by the Spanish chroniclers of an imperial presence on the coastal mainland complementing the Inca burials that have been found on Isla de La Plata, twenty-five kilometres offshore (McEwan and Silva 1989, 2000; McEwan and van de Guchte 1992).

When the archaeological survey of the Buenavista drainage began in 1978, Agua Blanca was a village of about 50 families organised politically with an elected village president and committee. People lived principally from felling timber for construction, making and selling charcoal, herding goats and cattle plus some hunting. Upon the creation of the National Park in 1979, most of these activities were banned; however, no practical alternatives were offered, resulting in continuous friction between the park authorities and the Comuna. Throughout the recent history of archaeological investigations, Comuna Agua Blanca has played a key role. From its inception, the project employed people in the comuna who gained excavation skills and experience in archaeological survey and topographic mapping, as well as in post-excavation processing of finds (Fig. 11.5). As the project developed, all the main strategic decisions were made after consultation and discussion between the archaeological team and the village committee. In the course of excavations in the late 1980s, many fragments of broken Manteño seats were found both in their original architectural contexts under the debris of collapsed walls (Figs. 11.6 and 11.7) and on the surface amidst the ruins of other outlying structures. These finds represented a vital step in restoring the link between object and setting that enabled us to address where the seats were placed within the overall settlement plan and what they can tell us about Manteño social organisation.
Fig. 11.5

Author Maria-Isabel Silva instructing the archaeological team at Agua Blanca in archaeological excavation techniques (Photo by Colin McEwan)

Fig. 11.6

General view of the excavated wall foundations of a Manteño structure at the site of Agua Blanca with the remains of stone seats in situ along one wall and Comuna Agua Blanca in the background (Photo by Colin McEwan)

Fig. 11.7

Close-up of a stone seat in situ at the site of Agua Blanca with the excavated wall foundations of a Manteño structure behind (Photo by Colin McEwan)

The accidental discovery in 1985 of an intact Manteño stone seat at Agua Blanca galvanised everyone’s thinking about the possibility of an archaeological display in the comuna. The seat was initially sold by the finder to a local merchant who, having bought it, then realised that everyone in Agua Blanca was united in demanding that it be restored to its rightful place in the community. He subsequently returned the seat voluntarily and without being recompensed. This pivotal moment provided the impetus for securing funding to support the creation of a small Casa Comunal (village hall) display and served as a catalyst by engaging villagers’ awareness of the significance of cultural resources for practical ends (see McEwan et al. 2007 for a fuller account; see also Ballesteros 2009 for a broader ethnography of Agua Blanca situating the archaeological project within the life of the community). It stimulated donations of artefacts for display and led to using local labour to create a visitor path around the archaeological site, making it far more accessible. Members of the archaeological team visited other sites and museums, and talks were given in the village hall by visiting archaeologists and others. The archaeological project also helped find support for alternative subsistence activities, including irrigation for family horticultural plots, a tree nursery and a pig project, and one or two villagers found employment as park rangers.

By 1988 plans were made to create a full-fledged site museum, envisaged as a place where visitors could rest before and after visiting the site and learn more about the objects and their cultural context. A museum designer was asked to develop ideas for a building with the active participation of the community. Financial support was sought from the Community Development programme run by the State Oil Corporation (CEPE), which at that time was preparing to lay a pipeline across the valley. Together we decided to promote the use of traditional materials and design, which are more practically and aesthetically suited to the local environment. Tagua palm thatch was used for the roof and the technique of applying ‘quincha’ (daub) employed to surface the split-bamboo lime-washed walls. Funds were administered by the village president. The bulk of the work was carried out by carpenters from the village and only louvered windows, glass for showcases and photographic work were sourced from outside. The finished building is well suited to assure comfort in the tropical climate, standing on ‘stilts’ with a steep roof pitch for rain runoff, light and ventilation grills, open porch and external staircases. The entrance porch with a small shop accommodates both local needs and those of visitors. The building was quickly baptised the ‘Centro Cultural’ and also provided office, storage and accommodation for the archaeological project. The exhibition, which consists of simple glass cube showcases with both excavated and donated artefacts, is organised thematically. It includes an interactive touch table and establishes clear visual links with life in the community today. The seat was adopted as a symbol to represent community pride and identity. This is reinforced by specially made T-shirts bearing the logo ‘Rescuing what is ours’ with images of natural and cultural heritage. The Casa Cultural opening celebration was timed to coincide with the annual ‘encuentro cultural’ (cultural festival) in 1990 in which members of communities from all over Ecuador come for 2 days of talks, music, guided tours of the site, eating and drinking (Fig. 11.8) (Silva and McEwan 1989, 2000; McEwan and Silva 1993; McEwan et al. 1994).
Fig. 11.8

The opening celebrations for the inauguration of the Centro Cultural and Site Museum at Agua Blanca in 1990 (Photo by Colin McEwan)

Subsequent Experience

The creation of the Casa Cultural at Agua Blanca was a signal step in transforming the Comuna’s fortunes. The number of visitors to the archaeological site rapidly increased along with income from the sale of food, drink, and handcraft goods as well as through guiding, providing accommodation and renting out trail horses. Soon after the site museum and cultural centre opened, a bar and café was built nearby, and later a craft centre was created next to the museum. The annual cultural encounters continued as Dia de laRaza, which roughly translates as Day of Indigenous Pride, and represents a ‘grass roots’ alternative to the conventional National Columbus Day holiday on October 12, originally conceived to celebrate the Spanish arrival in the Americas.

In 2005 the cultural centre was refurbished with support from the British Museum, enabling new showcases to be built with bilingual captions and lighting. By 2006, 70% of households in the Comuna were engaged to a greater or lesser extent in ‘Community Tourism,’ which provided an estimated 25% of overall income. In the same year 25 women made and sold craft products. The Archaeology Committee that manages the maintenance and guiding around the site comprised 29 men. In 2008, Comuna Agua Blanca was awarded the inaugural Hernan Crespo Toral prize for the ‘conservation, protection, development and dissemination of Ecuadorian heritage.’

All these achievements are positive manifestations of the village’s ability to preserve and manage its cultural resources and have increased its confidence and commitment to future improvements. The villagers’ newfound expertise is recognised by the National Park administration, which now understands that the human population within the park can be a positive rather than a negative asset. Along with the alternative economic activities, vegetation and bird life are recovering and the Park is now building structures with local materials.

Collectively much has been learned from these experiences: it is vital to work from needs expressed by the community rather than impose unwanted projects; people knowledgeable and proud of their past are less likely to part with objects that represent it; the long-term advantages of preserving and managing cultural resources outweigh short-term gains made by huaqueros’ (looters) sales; community engagement can make an essential and very positive contribution to heritage management and conservation projects. This modest experience has encouraged the local community to develop responsible attitudes to the conservation of their cultural resources and has contributed to substantial improvements in village life. Moreover the Encuentros Culturales (cultural festivals) have helped forge intercultural ties between indigenous peoples from the highlands and the coast.

Reconstituting Identity – Symbols of Cultural Identity and Resistance

The central symbol chosen for Ecuador’s national flag is the distinctive snowcapped profile of Mount Chimborazo – an extinct volcano south of Quito whose massive bulk broods over the surrounding landscape. Chimborazo, for a time thought to be the highest peak in the world, had been projected into international visibility and fame through the illustrated accounts of the travels made by the Prussian naturalist Alexander von Humboldt. Above the mountain on the flag perches a condor; however, any reference to Ecuador’s indigenous cultural heritage is conspicuously absent. In truth, few appropriate cultural symbols exist. Most of the best-known archaeological sites in the highlands such as Ingapirca or Rumicucho were built by the Incas. The pre-Inca tolas at Cochasqui were eventually accorded due recognition as a manifestation of indigenous cultural prowess (Benavides 2004). The Museos of the Banco Central del Ecuador also adopted a pre-Columbian gold ‘sun mask’ as an iconic symbol, notwithstanding the confusion generated by the divergent claims concerning its cultural attribution.

The evolving process described in this chapter has proven instrumental in investing the Manteño seats with renewed significance. An indispensable part of the process of recovering meaning has been to restore the link between the objects, their original setting and the people who live there today (c.f. Lumbreras 1974). Seat imagery has been appropriated anew by local communities seeking to define their own vision, values and realities and also adopted by national indigenous federations as a symbol of resurgent indigenous identity and resistance in the face of successive waves of colonisation – Inca, Spanish and North American.

Additional chapters in the individual and collective object histories of the seats continue to unfold. This involves not only the original seats themselves but also a whole new tradition of producing sculpted facsimiles. Both are now effectively being deployed as ‘chess-pieces’ in a reconfigured national iconography revolving around the figure of the liberal commander and later president, General Eloy Alfaro Delgado. In the late nineteenth century, he led opposition to the entrenched power of church and state, and by the late twentieth century, had become an inspirational figure for the Ecuadorian ‘left’. In 2005, a popular poll declared Alfaro to be the most illustrious Ecuadorian of all times. A new mausoleum and civic centre was inaugurated in November 2007 in his birthplace Montecristi. The original stone seat that had occupied pride of place for many years in the central plaza of the town was moved to the Centro Civico Ciudad Alfaro and placed by the mausoleum sarcophagus and statue along with a dozen modern replicas (Fig. 11.9). In the new constitution of 2008, Ecuador was declared a plurinational state, and the following year Cerro de Hojas and Cerro Jaboncillo were officially recognised by President Rafael Correa as ‘Patrimonio Nacional’ (National Cultural Heritage Sites) and funds allocated for research and development of these sites.
Fig. 11.9

The Mausoleum and Civic Centre dedicated to General Eloy Alfaro Delgado in Montecristi encircled by replica stone seats (Photo by Maria-Isabel Silva)

Concluding Remarks

In this chapter, we have described how ‘packing’ and ‘unpacking’ the collection has been shaped by paradigmatic shifts in perceptions, attitudes and practices towards the past and to archaeological objects. The initial phase of collecting was a semi-casual, haphazard pursuit leading to the dispersal of Manteño seats to diverse collections in Ecuador and abroad. The subsequent application of scientific method in the early twentieth century witnessed the systematic recording of contextual information but was also used to justify the wholesale removal of objects to foreign institutions. By the end of the century a new community-based approach to archaeological investigation began to be implemented. This, in turn, has combined archival and collections research with a discerning field strategy adapted to local circumstances and actively seeking to reaffirm the connection between object, people and place. This has been instrumental in effecting the seats’ metamorphosis from abstract icons of a remote past to potent signifiers of social agency and empowerment.



Comuna Agua Blanca; Museo Antropológico del Banco Central del Ecuador (Guayaquil); Instituto Nacional de Patrimonio Cultural, Ecuador; Corporación Estatal Petrolífera Ecuatoriano; Servicio Forestal Nacional; Parque Nacional Machalilla; Museo Arqueológico del Banco del Pacífico; Programa de Antropología para el Ecuador; Fundacion Natura; University of Illinois; UCL Institute of Archaeology; The British Council; The British Museum.


  1. Ballesteros, Esteban Ruiz 2009 Agua Blanca – Comunidad y turismo en el Pacifico ecuatorial. Ediciones Abya-Yala. Quito, EcuadorGoogle Scholar
  2. Benavides, Oswaldo Hugo 2004 Making Ecuadorian Histories: Four Centuries of Defining Power. University of Texas Press, Austin.Google Scholar
  3. Estrada, Emilio 1957a Prehistoria de Manabi. Publicacion del Museo V.E. Estrada, 2, Guayaquil.Google Scholar
  4. Estrada, Emilio 1957b Arqueologia de Manabi Central. Publicacion del Museo V.E. Estrada, 7, Guayaquil.Google Scholar
  5. Evans, Clifford, and Betty J. Meggers 1965 Early Formative Period of Coastal Ecuador: The Valdivia and Machalilla Phases. Smithsonian Contributions to Anthropology 1. Smithsonian Institute, Washington, DC.Google Scholar
  6. González Suárez, Federico 1890–1903 Historia General de la Republica del Ecuador. Imprenta del Clero, Quito.Google Scholar
  7. Lumbreras, Luis Guillermo 1974 La Arqueologia Como Ciencia Social. Ediciones Histar, Lima.Google Scholar
  8. Marcos, Jorge G. 1977–1978 Cruising to Acapulco and back with the thorny oyster set. Journal of the Steward Anthropological Society 9 (1–2): 99–132. University of Illinois, Urbana.Google Scholar
  9. McEwan, Colin 2004 And the Sun Sits in His Seat: Creating Social Order in Andean Culture. Unpublished PhD Dissertation. University of Illinois, Urbana.Google Scholar
  10. McEwan, Colin 2011 On Being and Becoming: Ruminations on the Genesis, Evolution and Maintenance of the Cerro Jaboncillo Ceremonial Center, Ecuador. In Enduring Motives: Religious Traditions of the Americas, edited by L. Sundstrom and Warren de Boer. University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa.Google Scholar
  11. McEwan, Colin, Chris Hudson, and Maria-Isabel Silva 1994 Archaeology and Community: A Village Cultural Center and Museum in Agua Blanca, Ecuador. Practicing Anthropology 16 (1): 3–7. (A condensed version of this article appeared in Museum (UNESCO) 178 (45): 42–45).Google Scholar
  12. McEwan, Colin, and Maria-Isabel Silva 1989 Que fueron a hacer los Incas en la costa central del Ecuador? In Relaciones Interculturales en el Área Ecuatorial del Pácifico durante la Época Precolombina, edited by J. F. Bouchard and M. Guinea, pp. 83–95. British Archaeological Reports International Series No. 503. (Reprinted in: Compendio de Investigacions en el Parque Nacional Machalilla, 2000).Google Scholar
  13. McEwan, Colin, and Maria-Isabel Silva 1993 Arqueología y Comunidad: Un Centro Cultural y Museo en la Comuna de Agua Blanca, Ecuador Case Study. In Interpretación ambiental: Una Guida Practica para Gente con Grandes Ideas y Presupuestos Pequeños, edited by S. H. Ham, pp. 228–235. Fulcrum Publishing, Colorado.Google Scholar
  14. McEwan, Colin, and Maria-Isabel Silva 2000 La presencia Inca en la costa central de Ecuador y en la Isla de la Plata. In Compendio de Investigaciones en el Parque Nacional Machalilla, edited by M. Iturralde and C. Josse, pp. 66–73. Corporación CDC and Fundacion Natura, Quito, Ecuador.Google Scholar
  15. McEwan, Colin, and Florencio Delgado-Espinoza, 2008 The Late Pre-Hispanic Polities of Coastal Ecuador. In The Handbook of South Amercian Archaeology, edited by Helaine Silverman and William H. Isbell, p. 1xx. Springer, New York, NY.Google Scholar
  16. McEwan, Colin, Maria-Isabel Silva, and Chris Hudson 2007 The Genesis of the Community Site Museum at Agua Blanca. In Ecuador in Archaeological Site Museums in Latin America, edited by Helaine Silverman, pp. 187–214. University of Florida Press, Gainesville.Google Scholar
  17. McEwan, Colin, and Marten van de Guchte 1992 Ancestral Time and Sacred Space in Inca State Ritual. In The Ancient Americas: Art from Sacred Landscapes, edited by R. F. Townsend and E. P. Benson, pp. 359–371. The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL.Google Scholar
  18. Meggers, Betty J. 1966 Ecuador. Thames and Hudson, London.Google Scholar
  19. Saville, Marshall H. 1907 The Antiquities of Manabi, Ecuador. Preliminary Report. Heye Foundation Contributions to South American Archaeology, Vol. 1. Irving Press, New York, NY.Google Scholar
  20. Saville, Marshall H. 1910 The Antiquities of Manabi, Ecuador. Final Report. Heye Foundation Contributions to South American Archaeology, Vol. 2. Irving Press, New York, NY.Google Scholar
  21. Silva, Maria-Isabel 1983 Toponymic Reconstruction as a Basis for Analysing Social, Economic and Political Relationships Among Contact Period Settlements on the Central Coast of Ecuador. Paper Presented at the XI Annual Midwest Conference on Andean and Amazonian Archaeology and Ethnohistory, Bloomington.Google Scholar
  22. Silva, Maria-Isabel 1984 Pescadores y Agricultures de la Costa Central del Ecuador: Un Modelo Socio-economico de Asentamientos Precolombinos. Unpublished MA Thesis. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.Google Scholar
  23. Silva, Maria-Isabel 1985 Dual Division Quadripatition and Hierarchical Organization Among the Manteno Polities of late Pre-Columbian Coastal Ecuador. Paper Presented at the International Congress of Americanists, Bogota, July 1985.Google Scholar
  24. Silva, Maria-Isabel, and Colin McEwan 1989 Machalilla: El Camino de la Integración. Colibrí, Revista de la Fundación Natura. Año II No. 5, pp. 71–75. Quito, Ecuador.Google Scholar
  25. Silva, Maria-Isabel and Colin McEwan 2000 Arqueologia y comunidad en el Parque Nacional Machalilla: breve historia y reflexiones. In Compendio de Investigaciones en el Parque Nacional Machalilla, edited by M. Iturralde and C. Josse, pp. 66–74. Corporacion CDC and Fundacion Natura, Quito, Ecuador.Google Scholar
  26. Villavicencio, Manuel 1858 Geografia de la Republica del Ecuador. R. Craighead, New York, NY.Google Scholar
  27. Wiener, Charles 1880 Pérou et Bolivie. Récit de voyage suivi d’études archéologiques et ethnographiques. Hachette, Paris.Google Scholar
  28. Willey, Gordon 1971 An Introduction to American Archaeology, Vol 2: South America. Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Africa, Oceania and the AmericasThe British MuseumLondonUK
  2. 2.Museum Centro Civico Ciudad AlfaroMontecristiEcuador

Personalised recommendations