Intensive Agriculture and Political Economy of the Yaguachi Chiefdom of the Guayas Basin, Coastal Ecuador

Florencio German Delgado-Espinoza

PhD Thesis 2002

This dissertation examines the relationship between intensive agriculture and the development of chiefly societies in the Lower Guayas Basin, coastal Ecuador. The Yaguachi chiefdom arose in the area at least during the Integration Period AD 700-Spanish contact. This social formation built intensive agriculture technology (raised fields) and large earth mounds. Two approaches, top-down and a bottom-up, are contrasted to identify where along a socio-political continuum the organization of the Yaguachi chiefdom lay.

The research aimed to reconstruct regional settlement patterns using the spatial distribution of sites and their relationships to raised field zones. Data gathering included methods such as aerial photogametry and subsurface testing. Excavation was conducted through shovel tests, auger probes and a limited number of excavation units. The surveyed area consisted of 428.29 km², and survey results identified 622 mounds clustered into 16 settlements located along the borders of a large zone of raised fields. These settlements form a three-tiered hierarchy with three main regional centers, sub-centers, agricultural villages and isolated households. Raised fields were found in large tracts. Sited show a strong tendency to cluster, and, for the most part, large centers had large supporting populations. Those centers are located adjacent to raised field zones. Evidence at the core of one of the sites indicates that considerable feasting activities took place.

Differences in access to resources among households correspond to their location within the three-tiered hierarchy. Raised field construction required large labor inputs, and the provided large outputs. Mound building activities, feasting and burial practices indicate a strong sense of community in the local population. This evidence leads to the conclusions that local chiefs were engaged in the management of raised field production, and that public mound building and feasting activities served to make this possible.