Up the mangrove-banked Rio Santiago you will find small, impoverished riverside village of La Tolita which has is a small museum
and an archaeological site
. More than 2,000 years ago shamans and chieftains of the Tolita culture were buried here in tolitas
], and people from far away came to worship and trade. Few travelers make this journey despite the Tolita culture’s notoriety, mostly because of the extraordinary Tolita gold and platinum jewelry found at this site, some of which can be seen in the Museo Nacional del Banco Central del Ecuador
in Quito. The magnificent Sun God mask that is the bank’s logo was found at La Tolita. Seeing these exhibits make you realize that the advanced gold and platinum working techniques used by craftsmen in the mangrove swamps of Tolita two millennia ago were not discovered in the western hemisphere until the 19th century.
Regrettably, there’s not much to be seen in La Tolita except for the one-room museum attached to the school, where there are a number of burial jars. The bones of the dead were broken so the bodies could be squeezed into these less-than-life-size urns. When excavated, some of the urns also contained gold and platinum jewelry, serpent figures and figurines representing supernatural spirits to help the dead in afterlife. No gold artifacts are displayed at La Tolita because most of them have drifted away to big museums or private collections. One of the villagers, Antonio, can show you pits where archaeologists have been digging but when I was there they were full of rainwater. Antonio has his own collection of Tolita figurines that he sells to visitors.
||Article contributed by Dominic Hamilton|||