Pottery Fragments Found In Ecuador May Offer Clues To An As-Yet-Unknown Ancient Culture

Credit: FEFU press office

Newly discovered sherds of pottery found at the Real Alto site in Ecuador add more weight to the idea that an as-yet-unknown culture existed in the area 6,500 years ago. The findings have been published in the journal Antiquity.

A team of international archaeologists found more than 40 sherds from several vessels, which have been radiocarbon dated to 4640-4460 BCE. The team says this timing borders or coincides with the very earliest stages of Valdivia culture (circa. 4400 –1600 BCE) – a prehistoric community known for their carved stone figurines, which are believed to be fertility figures. 

However, the coloring and style of the pottery is distinctive from that of Valdivian pottery, which tends to be red-slipped and burnished and is more often decorated with deliberate, smooth-sided incisions. Instead, the newly discovered shards are black or black-and-brown in color and are made from grog and stone temper. 

The archaeologists say that while they may not resemble Validivian property, they do have a lot in common with fragments collected from Real Alto and elsewhere in the 1970s and 1980s, which (so far) haven't been ascribed to any one culture. This suggests the sherds add more evidence to the hypotheses that there was another archaeological culture at that time, who existed alongside the Valdivia on Ecuador's Pacific coast.

The team now hope to find more relics that can be linked to this new culture, and possibly pottery from even more ancient times. This, they say, could help them find out whether or not pottery was discovered in South America at the same time as it was being discovered in other parts of the world, or if it was being imported.

"The mass emergence of pottery was a kind of technical breakthrough associated with many aspects of human life and the level of economic development in different parts of the globe," Alexander Popov – Head of the Russian archaeological expedition to Ecuador, Director of the Educational and Scientific Museum at the Far Eastern Federal University, Russia – said in a statement.

"Ceramic vessels belonging to different cultures which developed simultaneously confirm that our ancestors had evolved in terms of cultural diversity. It is curious that, despite the different vectors of human development, in the technological sense we were moving in the same direction."

Indeed, by 4640 BCE, neolithic humans in Europe had been using ceramic and pottery to store boozy beverages for centuries.

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