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Archaeology in Ecuador

Editor's Note: The following represents a response to a recent column in Exchanges--Interamerian Dialogue. We present two letters authored by Paulina Ledergerber, Patricio Moncayo, and Jose Echeverría, and Hugo Benavides, Maria Auxiliadora Cordero, and Florencio Delgado, respectively, as Point, and Ernesto Salazar's rebuttal as Counterpoint.

First Point
Second Point


We thank Ernesto Salazar for his update on some aspects of "Archaeology in Ecuador" (SAA Bulletin 13:4). However, he has omitted several important events and distorted others in every page of the article. We would refer only to three basic facts. For example, on pages 34-35 he says: "Until the l970s, the country did not have an academic center for training archaeologists...Other research initiatives in the early 1980s include the Centro de Investigaciones Arqueológicas, no longer active after the death of its founder." The reality is that, since l972, the Center for Archaeological Investigations at the Catholic University (PUCE), in Quito, has a "Licenciado" degree and offered courses that include method and theory, fieldwork, and laboratory analysis in coordination with other PUCE departments (mainly history and anthropology). Furthermore, by the mid-1970s José Echeverría already had finished his degree in archaeology, started teaching at the center, and published papers. He and Patricio Moncayo, current director of the center, and its staff continue activities until now, after the death of its founder, Pedro Porras G.

Salazar is right to say that "attempts to establish a Society of Ecuadorian Archaeology had failed." However, he does not acknowledge his own active opposition to attempts to form such a society. For example, in 1992, when other Ecuadorian colleagues attempted to schedule a meeting to organize a society, Salazar launched a campaign to boycott it. Due to the controversy he generated, the meeting was canceled. Thanks to persistent efforts by other archeologists, the Society of Ecuadorian Archaeology was established and the bylaws unanimously approved, during the "International Symposium of Archeological Investigations of the Northern Area of South America" organized by the National Institute of Cultural Patrimony and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, in Ibarra, in September 1995. Salazar chose not to attend it.

Salazar again tries to mislead the reader by saying: "Finally, the international symposium Arqueología Sudamericana: una Reevaluación del Formativo, sponsored by the National Geographic Society and the Smithsonian Institution, took place in Cuenca in l992, inexplicably without the presence of Ecuadorian archaeologists." Since we coorganized this event, we wish to set the record straight. There were more than 30 Ecuadorian participants representing the institutions related to archaeology. He doesn't mention the two main sponsors, the Museums of Banco Central of Ecuador and the Organization of American States (see Dillehay's report, SAA Bulletin 11:3). Indeed, without the unconditional support of the primary sponsors and organizers, the Museums of the Banco Central, the meeting could not have taken place in Ecuador. The Management of the Banco Central and Mr. Rodrigo Pallares, the national director of the museums systems, granted special leave for the entire week of Jan. 13-17, l992, to its archaeology staff who wanted to attend the meeting. Salazar, at that time in the Museum of Banco Central in Quito, was one of the first archaeologists to be invited to attend; we personally did so on August l990. Again, he chose not to go, even though his own institution had sponsored the meeting. The proceedings of the symposium including the complete list of participants, papers presented, guidelines for research and resolutions, and other details will go to press this year.

Even in the 1990s economic crisis, the perseverance on research by Ecuadorian archaeologists is contributing to an increase in knowledge of Ecuadorian archaeology, as evident in recent symposiums and publications. We all agree more needs to be done. As one of Ecuador's senior archaeologists, Salazar's expertise would be useful in the joint efforts to raise the level of professional competence and public support. We hope that we can count on his collaboration in the years to come.

Paulina Ledergerber, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
Patricio Moncayo, Director, Centro de Investigaciones Arqueológicas, Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador, Quito
Jose Echeverría A., Instituto Otavaleño de Antropología, Otavalo

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We would like to comment on Ernesto Salazar's "Between Crisis and Hope: Archaeology in Ecuador." The article contains several misinterpretations, and we believe that these arise from the fact that he is writing about some issues from a very personal viewpoint.

An example of these misinterpretations is his remarks concerning the symposium "Arqueología Sudamericana: una Reevaluación del Formativo" and the attempts to organize a society of Ecuadorian archaeologists. These have been dealt with by other archaeologists more closely involved with these two events and therefore will not be explored here again.

Our main interest is in pointing to Salazar's bias in regards to the present relationship of Ecuadorian and North American archaeologists and his misinterpretations of other aspects of the archaeology in our country.

While it is true that the average citizen in Ecuador has a vague notion about archaeology, it is wrong to think that the past does not play an active role in the construction of an Ecuadorian nationhood and in the reinforcement of a national identity. What Salazar misses is the subtle ways in which the notions of the past are transmitted in everyday discourse and the fundamental role that the archaeologists play in this public dissemination of information.

We do not see a decrease in the manifestations of North American archaeological "imperialism." We strongly disagree with Salazar's assertion that Latin American Antiquity is an example of the present integration of North and Latin American professionals. For one, whatever the reasons for this, LAA publishes mostly articles by North American archaeologists and in English. It also has led to the fact that very few articles concerning Latin America get published in American Antiquity, which is still the most influential and read journal published by the SAA, leading to an unconscious discrimination against Latin American research.

Salazar's perception of the lack of specialized literature available in Ecuador is correct as is his attitude about foreign archaeologists who do not submit all of their research results back to our country. Most of the papers on Ecuadorian archaeology that circulate in meetings in the U.S., for example, never make it to Ecuador. Salazar is wrong, however, when he generalizes his case saying that "Some North American archaeologists constantly `feed' us with books..." The average archaeologist in Ecuador, usually one recently graduated, or one not working in the couple of main major institutions that deal with archaeology, and with no "foreign contacts" are not "fed" that way. This kind of personal goodwill gifts will not solve the structural problems of national archaeology and the uneven power relations that undermine the academic exchange between North American and Latin American archaeologists.

Finally, the last line of his article in regards to the lack of historical archaeology in Ecuador is simply not accurate. Two of the undersigned have participated in three different archaeological researches carried out in the context of excavation and restoration of historical monuments and those are not, by any means, the only projects that have existed.

Hugo Benavides, City University of New York
Maria Auxiliadora Cordero, University of Pittsburgh
Florencio Delgado, University of Pittsburgh

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In writing my column on Ecuadorian Archaeology (SAA Bulletin 1995, 13(4), I deliberately chose to refer to certain facts and institutions in as general a way as possible, so that the international reader could have an overview of the subject. Unfortunately, and against my will, Ledergerber et al.'s letter forces me to disclose details to place their statements in a broader perspective. Recently, I was surprised to find that Paulina Ledergerber had sent copies of my article to several Ecuadorian institutions, along with a note suggesting that I had spoken ill of them. I don't understand her intention in doing this, as all my statements regarding Ecuadorian archaeology--objected to in Ledergerber et al.'s letter--had been read in a paper given at the Congreso de Historia, held in Quito in 1993, and published a year later in my article "La Arqueología Contemporánea del Ecuador, 1970-1993" (Procesos 1994, 5:6-27). Nobody--not even the colleagues signing the letter--complained either at the Congreso, nor after its publication. Ledergerber's grudge stems from my strong position regarding her lack of professional solidarity with Ecuadorian archaeologists at the time of the symposium Arqueología Sudamericana: una Reevaluación del Formativo, held at Cuenca, Ecuador, in 1992. At the time, many of us believed we were the de facto hosts of the event, since it was held in our country. Unfortunately, to our dismay, the invitations never came. Ecuadorian archaeologists generally lack international contacts; the symposium would have been the golden opportunity to meet international peers. If invited, no one would have missed it. Although Ledergerber claims to have invited me personally in 1990, I only remember her later telling me I had not been invited because I was not a Formative specialist. Curiously, after my protest to Ledergerber, the director of the Banco Central Museum granted us leave of absence to attend the meeting. Unfortunately this came too late: the meeting had already started, and the museum archaeologists chose not to go, particularly because none of us had prepared a paper. If Ledergerber can produce a list of 30 Ecuadorian participants from archaeological institutions to the symposium, it is all the better for everyone. But I wonder why our international colleagues kept requesting our presence and why there were only two papers given by native Ecuadorian archaeologists. In consolation, I may note that the most prestigious American Ecuadorianists who have worked on the Formative were either not invited or couldn't attend. As to the "unconditional support" from the Banco Central Museum, claimed by Lederberger, I would like to clarify that the museum did not support us financially.

Shortly after this unhappy event, Lederberger and two Ecuadorian anthropology students in the U.S. sent an unsigned letter announcing a meeting to be held under her direction at the Instituto Nacional de Patrimonio Cultural (INPC) (date, hour, and location explicitly announced), to establish the Society of Ecuadorian Archaeology. The INPC knew nothing about this matter. I informed her by letter, with a copy to my colleagues, that she was the least qualified person to initiate the formation of such society. Lederberger's handling of the Formative symposium was still fresh among Ecuadorian archaeologists; nobody attended the meeting. Here Ledergerber gives me more power than I really have: I cannot prevent my colleagues from forming a society if they wish to do so. Instead of accusing me of boycotting her, Lederberger should reflect on whether her self-imposed leadership is really welcome among Ecuadorian archaeologists. The formation of a society is a matter that concerns only those of us living in the country. Our attempt in the late 1980s failed for lack of common goals, but we succeeded in 1995 (a fact not mentioned in my column because it occurred after its publication in the Bulletin), which shows that we are growing professionally, in our way.

With regard to the Centro de Investigaciones Arqueológicas, her letter is consciously misleading. I can absolve Ledergerber on this matter because she doesn't live in this country, but I cannot excuse Moncayo and Echeverría, who have long been associated with this inefficient Centro. Since its foundation by Father Porras, the Centro has been oddly annexed to the Education Department (Facultad de Pedagogía), which trains students as elementary and high school teachers. Both Moncayo and Echeverría received their degrees from the Education Department, because by law, the Centro cannot grant degrees, give courses, or enroll students. Porras and Moncayo have taught Ecuadorian archaeology and the prehistory of America primarily in the Education and History departments, and the students who worked for Porras came mostly from the Education Department. The 20 theses they boast of have been written by education and history students who never dreamed of becoming archaeologists, and--during my 15 years at the Universidad Católica--I have never seen "visiting professors from abroad" teaching courses at the Centro. Anthropological and archaeological theory and related courses are taught at the Department of Anthropology, which has recently started training archaeologists. After Porras's death, the Centro was orphaned with no research program whatsoever. Moncayo has been in charge of the Centro, although officially he is not the director. Echeverría appears to belong to the Centro, and actually holds an office there, although he signs the letter as a member of the Instituto Otavaleño de Antropología, which he quit a couple of years ago. At any rate, the Centro now functions as a small museum, receiving students who study the Willbauer collection housed there. Curiously, neither Moncayo nor Echeverría has ever conducted even lab research on this pre-Columbian collection. They work privately as field guides, field workers, and lab assistants for foreign archaeologists, among them Paulina Ledergerber. Given this context, I can understand why Moncayo and Echeverría have sided with Ledergerber instead of with a faculty colleague and--supposedly--a friend. Recently the chairpersons from the History and Anthropology Departments and the dean of the Social Science Department, have decided to reorganize the Centro and convert it into a true research organization.

I have given proof of my commitment to the development of archaeology in Ecuador; and Ledergerber, Moncayo, and Echeverría can count on my determination to continue my efforts in the future. I hope they can come to terms with themselves and realize that petty quarrels do not benefit anybody; they only divide the small community of Ecuadorian archaeologists.

Benavides et al.'s letter is of a different kind, and I welcome the opportunity to discuss issues rather than personal complaints. The construction of our national identity must be rooted in the Ecuadorian assimilation of the heritage left by our pre-Columbian ancestors. However, I don't see our past playing any "active role" on this issue, not even in "subtle ways" as Benavides et al. claim. Archaeological notions simply do not permeate through "everyday discourse." I see pre-Columbian motifs on t-shirts, hotels and condominiums with "archaeological" names, but they are usually devoid of content because the average Ecuadorian--for lack of education--hasn't established the link between these words and a past he should be proud of. I agree that archaeologists should play a fundamental role in creating this identity, but we still haven't done enough.

The decline of North American archaeological "imperialism" can be seen in several instances. There is a growing number of Latin American and Ecuadorian students attending American schools through scholarships, often sponsored by American archaeologists and through convenios between universities. The Worldnet television program has broadcast several editions on archaeological subjects, with the participation of Latin American scholars. I know of several American archaeologists helping to prevent the traffic of antiquities from Latin America to U.S. private collections and museums. The effort that SAA has made to produce a journal devoted to Latin American archaeology cannot be overlooked. The fact that mostly American archaeologists publish in this journal does not mean that it is a forum closed to Latin Americans. One has only to look at the table of contents of published issues to realize that Mexicans, Chileans, Peruvians, and Venezuelans have taken advantage of it. As for Ecuadorians, we just have to write good papers and submit them to Latin American Antiquity. The Bulletin column--aptly named Exchanges-Interamerican Dialogue--with contributions explicitly written by native Latin American scholars, is an example of growing interest by American archaeologists to establish a thorough linking of the archaeological community of the Americas. Unless all these facts are part of an obscure plot of the empire to subtly exploit us by being nicer, I see them as a manifestation of a positive attitude not very common before the 1980s. I was not generalizing my case when I said that American colleagues feed us constantly with archaeological literature. The Smithsonian Institution sends books regularly to the Centro de Investigaciones Arqueológicas, and I know that Betty Meggers does so with a number of institutions and colleagues throughout Latin America. And of course, other Ecuadorian colleagues do benefit from scholarly exchange, not only with the U.S. but from other countries as well. I remember being a student, when nobody sent me anything at all.

As for the absence of historical archaeology in Ecuador, I should point out that research in this field is carried out in the context of restoration of historical monuments. The INPC has regulated that all work on historical monuments must include an archaeological component to check for previous constructions. Unfortunately, the usual procedure is for the project architect to indicate to the archaeologist the area (usually adjacent to the walls of the building) to be excavated, and only a few test pits are excavated to comply with the regulation. I always decline to conduct this kind of study because to me, that is not archaeology. I know of at least two large-scale excavations of historical buildings in Quito, but so far only the convent of Santo Domingo has a published report. With data from test pits and excavations, we should know more of the recent past of the capital city. Unfortunately we haven't learned anything yet, and I can justify saying that we really don't have historical archaeology in Ecuador.

Ernesto Salazar, Universidad Católica del Ecuador, Quito

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