My name is Sarah Rowe. I am an archaeologist specializing in the ceramic traditions of prehispanic cultures of coastal Ecuador, including Valdivia. I received my Ph.D. from the University of Illinois in 2014 and am Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology & Anthropology at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.

Virtual Valdivia

Virtual Valdivia is an experimental project in the realm of open access data and scholarship. The project, through this website, provides scholars and publics from around the world the ability to make targeted searches of previously inaccessible ceramic data from archaeological sites. The project utilizes data found in grey literature, such as unpublished theses and dissertations and site reports. Currently, the project is focused on ceramics from the Late Valdivia period, specifically those recovered during my dissertation research.

This project was developed as part of the Institute on Digital Archaeology Methods & Practice sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the MATRIX Center for Digital Humanities & Social Sciences at Michigan State University. The Virtual Valdivia database is hosted by Open Context.

Valdivia Culture

The Valdivia culture dates between 4400 and 1450 BC, a period known as the Early Formative. Valdivia has drawn a lot of attention from archaeologists and the general public alike because of the early appearance of settled villages, shift to agricultural systems, and early development of ceramic technology. So-called Valdivia Venus figurines have achieved iconic status within Ecuador. Valdivia is divided into multiple phases grouped into four periods:

Phase Period Duration (years BC)
VIIIb Terminal 1600-1450
VIIIa Terminal 1800-1600
VII Late 1950-1800
VI Late 2100-1950
V Late 2250-2100
IV Late 2400-2250
III Middle 2800-2400
IIb Middle 3000-2800
IIa Early 3300-3000
Ib Early 3800-3300
Ia Early 4400-3800

Chronology from Zeidler 2003.

The florescence of Early Valdivia (Phases I-IIa, 4400-3000 BC) occupation of the Ecuadorian coast has been recorded primarily at sites located adjacent to the Santa Elena Peninsula, in modern day Santa Elena province (Marcos 2003). Circular or u-shaped villages, composed of a cleared central plaza surrounded by a ring of midden and habitation, were likely home to 50-100 inhabitants (Marcos 1978; Stahl 1984). These villages were spaced out along river bottoms, each site autonomous but interacting with other nearby sites (Damp 1984; Zeidler 1986).

In Middle Valdivia (Phases IIb-III, 3000-2400 BC), regional ceremonial sites first appear. The best studied of these sites is Real Alto, a 12.4 hectare rectangular site with central plaza and mound constructions surrounded by a residential zone that was likely home to over 1000 people (Lathrap et al. 1977). The transition from Early to Middle Valdivia is also accompanied by increasing population density adjacent to the arable land of river valleys, reflected by increased numbers of hamlets located in these valleys, each composed of a small groups of domestic structures (Damp 1984).

In Late Valdivia (Phases IV-VII, 2400-1800 BC), a population decline occurs on the Santa Elena Peninsula, resulting in an apparent dispersal of the population to other areas on the coast (Lathrap et al. 1977; Marcos 1978). Small hamlets proliferate in this region, and the known ceremonial sites such as Real Alto experience population decline, changing their functions to serve as largely empty regional ritual centers (Lathrap et al. 1977).

Terminal Valdivia (Phase VIIIa and VIIIb, 1800-1450 BC) occupation is virtually absent in the Santa Elena Peninsula region (Damp 1984; Lathrap et al. 1977; Schwarz and Raymond 1996), and instead larger sites flourish at the former peripheries (Staller 1994; Zeidler and Pearsall 1994).