The Whistling Clay Vessel of the Chorrera Culture from Ecuador
The pre-Columbian Chorrera culture developed in the years 1300 – 300 BCE in the north-western part of South America, in the region of present-day Ecuador, both on the lowlands along the Pacific as well as the Andes highlands, in the Guayas basin. The eruption of the Pululagna volcano in 467 BCE covered western Ecuador in volcanic ash, initiating the gradual fall of the culture and, finally, political and economic disorganization.
Centres of human activity connected to the Chorrera cultured were usually located along riversides, which indicate the natural path of expansion. Small settlements were common, counting approximately 100 – 200 people. The dwellers were bound by family and affinity relationships. The social structure distinguished: fishermen, farmers, priests and healers. There are no surviving residential buildings.
The basis of the Chorrera culture’s economy was agriculture. The main crops were: beans, maize, arrowroot, plants belonging to the gourd and canna families (domesticated in the Andes 2500 years ago; the rhizome is rich in starch and even today serves as nourishment for people and animals; the canna are known to us as decorative plants). The plant-based diet was supplemented with gathering fruit from wild trees, palm trees and carex. Hunting played an important part, the hunted animals: rodents, lizards, white-tailed deer, ducks, brockets (a type of deer), armadillos, peccary and frogs. The seaside regions practiced fishing, collecting crustaceans and molluscs.
The people of the Chorrera culture are attributed with having initiated mining and working metals in the region of present-day Ecuador. The produced items was mainly copper, silver and gold jewellery.
The Chorrera culture traded with neighbouring territories – with Peru, among others – using trade routes developed by earlier cultures: Machalilla (2000 – 1500 BCE) and Valdivia (4000 – 1000 BCE). Items of trade included: Spondylus shells and other oyster shells (exchanged for obsidian acquired in the Quito basin in the Andes), jewellery, decorations, instruments and gold.
Pottery in the Chorrera culture was sophisticated and exhibited a high technological level. Clay was used to make both vessels and hollow figurines alike. The hand-moulded creations usually got an anthropomorphic or zoomorphic form (depictions of forest mammals, reptiles, various types of birds and marine animals), however, some decorative motifs were also inspired by flora. The elaborate shapes were created by use of forms. The smooth, glistening surface of the ceramic, usually red, black or beige, was achieved by smoothing and polishing. Some of the vessels had a dual function of being both a container for liquids as well as being a whistle. The sound was created by blowing into the pot’s neck.
A perfect example of pottery production from the Chorrera culture is the presented artefact, gifted to the Archaeological Museum in Gdańsk by Master Mariner Rościsław Choynowski in 1971. It is an anthropomorphic vessel for liquids and simultaneously a whistle. The body was given the shape of a stout character, playing a flute-like instrument. The head is adorned with a conical hat indicating a high social standing. The long, thin neck formed at the figure’s back is connected with the hat with a band, allowing the vessel to be carried.
Curator: Elżbieta Kołosowska
Text: Elżbieta Kołosowska
Photography: Zofia Grunt
Graphic Design: Beata Müller
Translation: Paulina Markowska
The Ancient Object of the Month can be viewed in the lobby of the Naturalists’ House at Mariacka Street 25/26 in Gdańsk.
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