The Archeological Site of Real Alto

Situated in the Chanduy Valley of the Guayas Province in Ecuador, Real Alto is a fascinating archeological site that sheds light on the Valdivia culture. The site was identified by Jorge Marcos, an archeologist, in 1971 and has been investigated by a number of researchers since that time. Standing at a high point in the fertile Rio Verde valley, the site of Real Alto is considered to be one of South America’s oldest examples of an organized village.

Researchers have determined that the earliest occupants resided in the area about 6,000 years ago. These residents lived in twelve to fifteen elliptical huts that could hold a single family. The huts were arranged in a U-shape and built using bent poles and palm fronds or straw. Evidence has lead archeologists to believe that most household tasks, including the interment of the dead, were exercised just outside of the homes.

Changes took place in the village at around 2500 BCE. The Valdivia 3 phase, which took place between 2800 and 2400 BCE, saw the population grow to about 1,250 individuals. The village grew into a regional centre with almost 100 houses arranged in a rectangular pattern around the main plaza. The huts increased in size, likely to accommodate larger families, and were now made of upright walls covered in a clay and grass mix, with thatched roofs. By this time Real Alto covered 12.4 hectares and boasted two plazas and two ceremonial mounds, known as the Charnel House Mound and Fiesta House Mound. These mounds show evidence that the architecture and social aspects of the Valdivia culture had become more complex.

Further changes took place by 1800 BCE, with small hamlets developing in the outlying sections of the village. Archeologists believe that the people of Real Alto were now involved in agriculture and trade, as well as creating ceramics, manufacturing stone tools and weaving. Interestingly the site has revealed that the Valdivia culture were amongst the earliest users of maize as a chief subsistence crop.

The Real Alto Museum is well worth a visit, offering travelers insight into this ancient culture and the discoveries made at the archeological site. Also worth viewing at the museum are interesting photographs and illustrations of the culture and geological history of the area, as well as a 100 year old house built in the style used by the Valdivia culture.