Along the Ruta del Sol is a small town with a wealth of archeology finds, Valdivia. For those that frequent archeology museums in Ecuador, the name will sound familiar. Museums in Quito, Cuenca, and Guayaquil are full of treasures from the Valdivian culture. The most famous is a simple figure of a woman, her sex made apparent by ample breasts and small pinmarks detailing hair between her legs. She is known as the Venus of Valdivia and her figure has been uncovered in many places along the coast, both small and large, but all definitely with similar cultural origins.
Valdivia boasts two small museums but we visited only one found on the right hand side of the road, as heading towards north towards Montañita. If you see the wooden church towers (set back 1 block from the main road), you will be just about there. A large sign advertising the small building is very easy to see as well. If you care to visit the second museum, it is a little further down the road on the left handside.
The museum we visited is a hodgepodge of rooms, each dedicated to a unique culture, with some treasures under plexiglass and others exposed to the elements. We saw finds from the cultures of Machalilla, Chorrera, and Guangala as well as Valdivia and the more modern Manteña. Among the broken shards and dusty exhibits, there are some fine examples to see, especially of pottery. Our guide, Juan Orrala Domínguez, was once hired to help archeologists uncover the original site and had a wealth of information to share. Spanish only, I’m afraid.
Modern day copies of ancient pieces are also on sale at this museum. The reproductions can often look very old. If you buy, make sure the reproduction is marked with a modern signature or stamp or seal so that you don’t encounter any problems leaving the country. Though it is highly unlikely someone would be silly enough to sell a real piece of history for such a low price, the customs agents are looking for real treasure hunters who claim their finds are mere copies.
Sometime this year, the government of Ecuador will break ground on a new, state-of-the-art museum in the center of Valdivia and return hundreds to thousands of ancient pieces to the townspeople. Ecuadorian culture relies strongly on ancient ties; a return of their cultural heritage will enable modern day Valdivians to claim both an economic and educative benefit while allowing the town itself to become a famous tourist destination in its own right.