The Museum of Ethnography acquired a remarkable and exceptional Latin American archaeological collection in 2005. Both the exhibition presenting this collection, completed with some earlier purchased items of the museum and the accompanying catalogue have been assembled less than six months after the purchase of the collection. This collection, containing a total of some 300 items, was originally the property of a German private collector. Assembled piece by piece with loving care and expertise over countless years, the collection offers visitors a unique insight into the fascinating art of Ecuador before the Inca conquest through the finds of twelve different archaeological cultures.
The earliest piece, a figurine of the Machalilla culture from southern Ecuador, evoking masterpieces of modern art, is roughly 4600 years old, but even the latest piece is over 600 years old. The objects in the collection range from an abundance of vessels, figurines, and musical instruments made of clay to delicately engraved shells no more than a few centimetres long and mortars in the shape of animals carved from serpentinite. One unusual feature of this collection is that about one-half of the ceramic objects have been submitted to thermoluminescence (TL) dating, a method yielding more accurate and reliable dates than traditional ones based on stylistic traits, which can at best date objects within broad time brackets spanning hundreds of years. The fact that a significant portion of the collection has been submitted to TL dating unquestionably enhances the entire collection’s value, for it enables specialists to analyse not only the collection’s artistic qualities, but to explore its many other aspects.
The first chapter of the catalogue apart from the description of the objects gives an overview of the relations of the ancient Ecuadorian cultures with many Mesoamerican and Andean cultures emphasizing the role of Spondylus, other marine mollusks, and money axes in these relations and illustrating them with drawings and photos of finds of different periods and cultures. The next chapter of the catalogue shows the incredibly rich legacy of ceramic objects, vessels, figurines of all sizes and musical instruments and the broad variety of techniques of manufacture and decoration considering that the 85 per cent of the collection is composed of clay vessel or figurine. This chapter contains the list of the ceramic objects with thermoluminescence dating (91 of a total of 222 ceramic vessels and figurines) apart from their age also giving the provenance of the items, if it is known. The second part of the catalogue describes the three main periods of the Pre-Hispanic era of Ecuador presenting each archaeological culture of the collection (Valdivia, Machalilla, Chorrera, Carro Narrio, Guangala, Bahia, Jama-Coaque, La Tolita, Carchi, Tuncahuán, Cuasmal, Manta).
The catalogue includes at least one large-size colour photo of each exhibited object in many cases with drawings showing the details of their engraved or painted decoration.