8 julio, 2024

Cotocollao culture: what it was, location, society, art and ceremonies

What was the cotocollao culture?

The Cotocollao culture was a pre-Columbian civilization that lived in what is now the Quito Valley in Ecuador. They were the first inhabitants of the mountains of the country, settling there approximately 3,500 years ago and disappearing in 500 BC.

The archaeological remains left by this culture were found for the first time in 1974 by several archeology students and their professor, Óscar Efrén. The studies began in 1976, financed by the Museum of the Central Bank of Ecuador.

The inhabitants of the Cotocollao culture were sedentary, and lived mainly from agriculture. Due to the relative ease of living conditions, it was a culture of artists. They were mainly dedicated to ceramics, creating very high quality pieces for the time.

It is estimated that the Cotocollao culture developed primitive trade routes that allowed it to interact with other indigenous peoples, although the exchange and cultural influence that could result from this are not considerable, compared to other indigenous relationships in the Americas at that time.

Location of the cotocollao culture

This culture lived in the northeastern part of the Pichincha volcano, more than 2,000 meters above sea level. This location allowed them to control various resources and, also, to be an obligatory path in the communication routes for the exchange of products from the area.

It inhabited what is known as the Hoya de Quito, an inter-Andean alley in the current provinces of Pichincha, Tungurahua and Cotopaxi.

Historians think that this culture disappeared due to the eruption of the Pululahua volcano, which led to the progressive emigration of the people.

Society and food

The Cotocollao culture consisted mainly of farmers. Their main source of food was corn, quinoa and beans, taking advantage of the great fertility of the valleys of the volcano where they were settled.

To supplement their diet, they hunted some animals, such as deer, rabbits, and certain types of birds. The environment in which they lived allowed them to lead a relatively simple life: they had a pleasant climate, constant temperatures throughout the year, two lagoons from which they extracted fresh water, and very fertile soil.

Due to these characteristics of its environment, the Cotocollao culture stood out for its artistic side and for its peaceful trade with other populations. Thanks to the exchange of goods, they began to use cotton to make clothing.


On the other hand, this culture stood out for the great skill that its inhabitants showed when working with ceramics. With it, they made utensils both for domestic use and for religious acts.

The decoration of these containers is considered to be of very good quality and advanced for the time, mainly due to the innovative techniques used to work the ceramics.

It was also the only one to use polished stone as a work tool within all the pre-Columbian cultures of Ecuador.


Due to the pleasant living conditions offered by the Pichincha volcano valley, the inhabitants of the Cotocollao culture did not have to worry too much about building resistant buildings. For this reason, very few remains of its buildings have survived to this day.

Today we know that their houses were built with biodegradable materials, such as wood and straw, so it was very difficult for researchers to find evidence of their characteristics.

The remains that have been found are located in the northern area of ​​Quito, and occupy approximately one square kilometer; These are mostly holes made for the posts that supported the houses, since they were made in volcanic soil.

On the other hand, in these populations many remains of llamas and alpacas have also been found, but scientists are not sure if they were animals domesticated by the inhabitants of this culture, or if, on the contrary, they were wild animals those who hunted for food.

Relations with other cultures

During the time in which the Cotocollao culture was established on the slopes of the Pichincha volcano, what would later be known as the Formative Period in Peru took place. At this historic moment, various cultures in the country began to settle more permanently and trade with each other.

The cultures with which the cotocollao was most closely related were the machalilla and the chorrera. This relationship is explained above all by the presence of another culture, the Yumbos, who had a settlement at an intermediate point between the other three.

This privileged point allowed the Cotocollao culture to exchange various types of products with other populations on the coast. The Yumbos, who acted as intermediaries, were a peaceful culture: no traces of war or weapons have been found in their settlements.

Due to its great development, this culture created a wide network of roads, known as the «Yumbo crossings», which united all the inhabitants of the area. Some of these roads are still used today, and allowed the expansion of the Cotocollao culture.

Unfortunately, all the populations that had settled in this area became extinct after the eruption of the Pululahua volcano, including the Cotocollao culture. This eruption took place about 2,500 years ago, from which time the last remains of their settlements date.

It is believed that the survivors of the Cotocollao culture emigrated in search of a new refuge and more fertile lands, thus putting an end to their technological and artistic advances.

Religion and beliefs

Observing the archaeological remains left by the Cotocollao culture, we can know that its inhabitants had also developed certain beliefs about the afterlife. This can be seen in the presence of small cemeteries between the groups of houses, which seems to indicate a certain belief about life after death.

The cemeteries of the Cotocollao culture were mainly of two types. In the oldest, the tombs were individual, and the corpses were buried completely covered by corn leaves.

On the other hand, in the most recent, the dead rested in common graves: the corpses were placed in a disorderly manner, apparently without any specific pattern.


The groups that occupied the area of ​​Cotocollao and the rivers and mountain ranges surrounding Quito were called «yumbos».

Every year the Cotocollao Yumbada Festival is celebrated: a custom that brings together the Catholic tradition of Corpus Christi and the summer solstice every June 21, an event of the year that is especially important for the culture of the Yumbo people.

This festival has undergone many changes, since the organizers of this traditional ritual now do not have sufficient knowledge of how it was developed and in honor of what it was carried out.

The long history of Cotocollao as a pre-Columbian barter center is what attracts the attention of yumbada scholars, who want to understand the meaning and origins of the dance and support what is underlined by today’s participants, when they say that the The most legitimate and ancestral yumbada belongs to Cotocollao.

Cococollao at present

Although the original members of the Cotocollao culture inhabited the region for approximately a millennium, the following generations, although they maintained a certain ties to their past, began to be influenced by other emerging societies.

In present-day Ecuador, attempts have been made to recover the essence of these indigenous people and their traditions. When the Agrarian Reform arrived in 1963, at least 85% of the indigenous population of Cotocollao worked under various types of servitude for the parish haciendas, according to Borchart de Moreno in his book The Yumbos.

The Cotocollao region today is considered an urban area that maintains some of its most important archaeological sites, as a vestige of the civilization that once inhabited the same lands, as well as the material preservation of its practices and creations, maintaining the funerary value that was highlighted in their practices.

At present, and after the discovery of the archaeological remains (the first of which were found in 1976), most of the remains are in a museum created with the name of the culture.

Regarding the land that it previously occupied, today it is divided into 5 main neighborhoods: 25 de Mayo, Cotocollao Central, Divino Niño, Jarrín and La Delicia.


Carvalho-Neto, P.d. Dictionary of Ecuadorian folklore. Quito: House of Ecuadorian Culture.
Luciano, SOThe Original Societies of Ecuador. Quito: Libresa.

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