Chorrera Culture: Characteristics, Economy And Ceramics

The Chorrera culture  was a pre-Hispanic civilization of Ecuador that existed between 1200 and 500 BC. His art in ceramics is very rich and vast, considering himself a unique style and a role model.

According to Quinatoa (2013), “Chorrerian societies spread throughout the coastal region, both on the shores of the ocean and in the coastal mountain range and in small valleys. Its ceramics are found even in the valleys of the Ecuadorian Sierra, which is why it has been considered as the culture that spread throughout the Ecuadorian territory.

It can be deduced that the societies of this culture by the geographical extension where they were, generated an influence in vast regions of Ecuador and thanks to archeology, ceramic works with the characteristics of each area have been found.

Unfortunately little is known about the so-called Chorrera culture (1,300 BC – 550 BC, Late Formative), a place located near the Babahoyo River, in the Guayas province. Iridescent painting and negative decoration attract attention among his decorative techniques (Borchart, 1997).


The Chorrera culture was located on the Ecuadorian coast. Studies indicate that this population settled at the height of the Guayas River, located in front of the city of Guayaquil and that it represents a highly influential tributary for the population of Ecuador.

At the time of the Chorrera culture, it was also a privileged location, since other smaller rivers flowed into the Guayas River. This context generated a prosperous environment, which allowed them to obtain provisions and, in addition, an easy movement through the region.

The current provinces of Manabí, Guayas, Esmeraldas, Santo Domingo de los Colorados, Los Ríos and the Jubones river valley comprise the territory that was formerly occupied by the exponents of the Chorrera culture.

Even scholars of this millenary culture indicate that its location was not limited to the coast of Ecuador, but evidence of the existence of the Chorrera culture has been found in some areas of the Ecuadorian highlands.

Some of the areas of the mountains occupied by this culture are the current Pichincha, Cañar, Chimborazo, Azuay and some areas near Quito, the capital of Ecuador. The large extension of territory occupied by the Chorrera culture is evidence of the breadth and scope that it achieved at the time of its heyday.

General characteristics


Archaeological findings have shown that the Chorrera culture had a fairly strict hierarchy. It is known that there were priests or healers, who historically have always been part of the highest castes of the societies that make up.

In addition, it is estimated that some ceramic pieces that reflect human figures with large earrings in their ears refer to the representatives of those higher strata in the social sphere.


Although there is not much data on this area of ​​the Chorrera culture, it has been clearly shown that there were healers or priests, who exercised healing practices based on the consumption of medicinal herbs.

Rituals are believed to be common; however, to date no trace of temples or related structures has been found.

There is also evidence that these healers often used hallucinogenic plants, under the effect of which it is assumed that they were able to communicate with other worlds.


The Chorrera culture has been characterized by the production of different artistic pieces, but the most characteristic element of this is, without a doubt, ceramics.

The ceramic produced by the members of the Chorrera culture is characterized by having an extremely smooth surface, very well polished and with an excellent finish. The characteristic colors of his pieces were black, red and white with yellow tones.

Scholars affirm that the Chorrera culture had a high aesthetic level and a fairly advanced technique, so that the artistic pieces they produced had a marked influence on the surrounding regions, and even on later generations.

Through ceramics they reflected the everyday aspects of their existence, such as the fauna that surrounded them and the crops in which they worked.

In addition to these inanimate elements, the Chorrera culture also reflected in its ceramic pieces the typical and emblematic characters of its daily life; in this way it is possible to find representations of musicians, priests, dancers and even acrobats.

Marked occupational specialization

By archaeological evidence, it is known that the members of the Chorrera culture were characterized by being clearly specialized according to the activities that each one carried out.

Then, it has been possible to verify that within the community there were fishermen, hunters, artists, healers, farmers, etc., and each member became an expert in their area.

Just observing the neatness of the artistic pieces suggests that those who created them had a wide knowledge of the applied techniques; the same happened in the other areas developed by this culture.

This specialization explains how the Chorrera culture obtained such a rapid and profound development in different areas: social, economic and artistic.

Oval houses

A characteristic of the Chorrera culture is that the houses where its members lived had the peculiarity that their ceilings were quite high, so the structure as such was oval in shape.

In addition, the base on which the house was built was a mound of earth made by themselves, artificially, called tola.

Tropical environment

The Ecuadorian coast, a scene in which the Chorrera culture predominated, is characterized by having a humid tropical environment that was quite beneficial for the development of this culture.

Thanks to this environment, it was possible for the members of the Chorrera culture to develop agriculture and fishing, two of the most important economic activities for them.


Agricultural production

The main economic activity of the Chorrera culture was agriculture. It is known that within this culture corn was grown abundantly.

Thanks to the artistic pieces found, it can be deduced that the members of this culture also harvested squash or gourds, as well as pineapples and the guaba plant, whose leaves were used for medicinal purposes and the roots were available for consumption as part of your diet.

Marine exploitation

Being so close to the sea, on the Ecuadorian coasts, the Chorrera culture was characterized by including marine fauna in its diet.

They were characterized by practicing the harvesting of shellfish, and archaeological evidence has been able to deduce that they even used reed boats, nets, canoes made with wood and hooks to fish. This suggests that they achieved a not inconsiderable specialization in the field of fishing.


The artistic production and other archaeological finds have also allowed us to affirm that the Chorrera culture practiced hunting different types of land animals . Snakes, monkeys and anteaters, among other animals, are represented in many ceramic pieces.

The clear notion of the anatomy of these beings implies that there was an approach to these prey, and that they ended up being part of the diet of the members of the Chorrera culture.

Ceramics in the Chorrera culture

The information of the Chorrera culture is scarce at the level of historical documents, only the ceramic works are known, in which the firing techniques and opaque colors were used.

Animal-themed whistle bottles were a major theme in culture with elongated necks AND handles on the ends.  In the following image, you can see the whistle bottle, with a round base and a long neck. The ceramics were used in ceremonial events and had an almost transparent (iridescent) paint on their surface.

«To finish with the Costa region, we have the Chorrera culture that was developed in what today comprise the province of Esmeralda, Manabí and Guayas, managing to be transported not only by land; They also did it by sea, taking the example of the Machalilla culture, which developed the means of communication through the waters ”( Iza , 2014).

You can see the way in which pre-Hispanic civilizations, such as La Chorrera, had land and sea means of communication for their exchange with other cultures in the largest provinces of the Pacific coast of Ecuador.

Sibalto bottles

«In the Costa region we find a great representative of ceramics such as the Chorrera culture, revolutionizing with the magnificent diversity of whistle bottles, with red, smoky black and yellowish white colors with highly polished surfaces, which was used for funeral events» (Iza , 2014).

The originality is seen in the way in which the artists of the Chorrera culture designed communication instruments such as whistles. In the following image you can see a typical whistle, which has a source through which the sound passes to the 2 extensions:

The combination of geometric figures in the design of the whistle bottles with objects and living beings, may present the degree of development that was experienced in the areas where this culture was present and its areas of influence. They were used to store and / or reproduce sound.

The whistle bottles were also used as musical instruments and prey hunting tools. The following image shows the whistle bottle shaped like a pelican:

For the replication of the painting of the Chorrera culture, the cooking process has been imitated by means of which the ceramic is heated over low heat, the iron oxide paint (hematite) is placed on it and later the vessel is placed in a large pot stuffy. There are bottles, whistles, plates, vessels, medallions and other ceramic objects.

The Chorrera culture is the starting point of the other cultures that developed from its influence on the design and elaboration of ceramic works, the use of colors and the use of materials such as water, earth, air and fire.

Frequent topics

In the Chorrera culture there are aspects to consider such as the symmetrical forms of their works, the materials used in their elaboration and the color used in the decoration.

The human figure, fauna and nature were the themes on which the shapes, clay and the chosen colors were based.

The color was used according to the type of clay and range of colors with which the figures were molded. It is unknown when this period began and ended, but this technique was improved until a significant polishing result was obtained. 

The potters represent archetypal characters out of nature who embody the cosmic regulatory forces of the world. The figures take on a delicate realism that can be equally stylized in linear abstractions of mythological meanings (Guamán, 2015).

Mythology gave him inspiration on the subject of perfecting the technique of making pottery. Evidence of polytheism is seen in the representation of nature, due to the belief in divine beings capable of managing daily activities.

Prominent figures

There is little allusion to the female figure and emphasis is placed on the upright and solemn male figure, at the top it seems to have a helmet, as shown in the following image:

The ceramic containers, following the symmetry in the design, were used to make preparations of plants used for cooking, remedies and religious ceremonies, as detailed in the following illustration:

In the following image there is a figure called a matron, which can be understood as the representation of a human or animal. You can appreciate tranquility by the expression of the closed eyes and the way she is sitting. The beige color symbolizes the earth.

The bridge handle whistle bottle hints at the birds in their nest. It has 2 cavities connected by a bridge and has holes to be used as a container for liquids and a whistle.

If the container has no liquid, the sound is different and more projected. It served as a musical instrument, which is supposed to have generated songs for various moments. Its color is reddish with hints of brown. The following image shows the mentioned bottle:

It is a type of ceramic that, unlike the Venus of Valdivia , seems to have lost its functionality as a sexual talisman. Chorrera ceramics go on to represent a milestone in Ecuadorian art and the first great manifestation of the artistic powers of the Ecuadorian man »(Guamán, 2015).


In agriculture there is the presence of corn cultivation, in addition to its representations in ceramics, the collection of fruits such as pineapple, squash, guaba, among others, can be identified (Zhañay, 2013).


  1. Aguirre, M. (2012). History of the Music of Ecuador. Recovered from:
  2. Borchart, C. (1997). UNM Lobovault: Indiana Chronicle of Ancient Ecuador. Recovered from:
  3. Guamán, O. (2015). UTMACH Digital Repository: Origins and History of Pre-Columbian Art in Ecuador. Recovered from:
  4. Iza, M. (2014). Digital Repository of the Central University of Ecuador: The Lost Memory of Yasuní. Recovered from:
  5. Klump, K. (2013). Universidad San Francisco de Quito: Replication of the Iridescent Chorrera Painting. Recovered from:
  6. Polanco, M. (2013). Achalai Project. Quito, Ibarra.
  7. Quinatoa, E. (2013). Equinoctial Technological University: Ecuadorian Ancestral Cultures. Recovered from:
  8. Artífices del Barro Selection, Chilean Museum of Pre-Columbian Art. Recovered from:
  9. Zhañay, M. (2013). Institutional Repository of the University of Cuenca: Design of medallions with pre-Columbian characteristics of the Chorrera Culture. Recovered from:

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