About the Book “Indian Designs from Ancient Ecuador”

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From the introduction to the book “Indian Designs from Ancient Ecuador” by Frederick W. Shaffer

Indigenous Artwork from Ancient EcuadorThis is a sourcebook, a representative selection of designs taken from spindle whorls and decorative beads in the author’s own collection. These intriguing objects were created by artist-craftsmen who plied their craft along Ecuador’s central coast, principally in Manabf and Guayas Provinces, during the thousand-year period from 500 until 1500 A.D. While much is now known of the peoples of ancient Ecuador and some archeological probes in that country have established the presence of civilizations there at least ten thousand years ago, studies of these early peoples and their cultures remain incomplete.

The Objects and the Designs

Indigenous Artwork from Ancient EcuadorSpindle whorls, or weights, and decorative beads, probably for personal adornment, are the sources of the designs on the following pages. The whorls were attached to the spindles used by spinners of yarn and thread to serve as a kind of balance wheel to sustain the spinning action required to twist plant and animal fibers into yarn and thread.

The designs were scratched, or otherwise deeply incised, into the shaped surfaces of these objects while the clay from which they were made was still damp. When decorated, the whorls and beads were placed in wood-fired kilns similar to those still used today by the native potters of Ecuador.

Indigenous Artwork from Ancient EcuadorSince little or no heat control was maintained during the firing process, the fired clay objects varied considerably in color. In the illustration captions the coloration of each piece shown has been given as either black, raw umber, burnt umper, terra-cotta or dark terra-cotta.

Once the whorls or beads were taken from the kiln and allowed to cool, color was worked into the surface designs, thus creating a two-color object. A white substance, possibly lime, and colored clays were employed in completing the decoration of these miniatures.

Indigenous Artwork from Ancient EcuadorIn the creation of the designs that cover the surfaces of the whorls and beads, the artists exercised amazing originality, made excellent use of very small spaces and displayed a great sense of design. In applying the decoration the very crudest of tools were used. The basic scraping, cutting and scribing were no doubt accomplished with such things as cactus thorns, reed stems, wood and bone scribes and gouges, and a variety of bird leg-bones of different sizes and diameters. Cut laterally, the leg-bones produced neat, small circles; cut diagonally, ovals. Crude but efficient.