Excavations at Cerro de Hojas-Jaboncillo, an archaeological site discovered by American explorer Marshall Saville in 1906, are now housed in a storeroom of a Washington museum. The site in the damp coastal region of the country covers some 3,500 hectares and is one of the largest in Ecuador. The pre-Columbian inhabitants of the site belonged to the Manteño culture (which had its era of splendor between the 9th and 14th centuries, roughly parallel to the rise of the Incas in Peru). Here they practiced intensive agriculture, and excavated subterranean silos for crop storage. The treasure includes monumental stone stelae and "seats of power," stone chairs used by hierarchs of the Manteño culture, and only three seats of this kind remain in Ecuador.The finds of the 1906 excavations were removed legally.
Now there are calls from the government in Quito for the US museum to actually display the more than 3000 finds they hold in storage so people can have a better appreciation of Ecuador's history.
"This is the largest collection of Manteño culture" in existence, the Cerro de Hojas-Jaboncillo project director Jorge Marcos told Efe. [...] "We were familiar with the scholarly papers about the pieces and we knew that the National Museum of the American Indian had an important Ecuadorian archaeological collection, but we didn't know how much or what its value was," Heritage Minister Maria Fernanda Espinosa said in a press conference Monday. Knowledge of these works was limited to published references and the reports of a handful of Ecuadorian archaeologists who were able to see them including Marcos, who examined them in their original boxes in a New York warehouse in 1971 when he was studying at the University of Illinois. Last week he saw them again together with Espinosa in the conservation rooms of the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington.
"What we found there is of the very finest quality," the minister said, adding that some of the pieces are absolutely unique and of greater value than any in Ecuador.[...] For now, Ecuador has chosen to cooperate with the U.S. museum, though Espinosa did not rule out that in the future her country might ask for "part of that collection."