Open Context


Northern Highland Archaeofaunas of Ecuador

Database of 40,313 archaeofaunal specimens recovered from the northern highland site of La Chimba (Pi-1), Pichincha Province, Ecuador

Banner image credit: Ramped pyramidal mound or tola at the Hacienda La Zuleta (Photo by Peter Stahl 2010)


Regional archaeological research in the northern highland provinces of Pichincha and Imbabura, was undertaken by J. Stephen Athens and Alan Osborn between 1972 and 1976, with subsequent excavations by Athens in 1989. Several early ceramic (Formative) period sites were identified, with archaeofaunal specimens recovered from the high elevation Pi-1 (La Chimba) site (n=40,313) on the Hacienda La Chimba, the Im-11 site (n=374) on the outskirts of Otavalo, and Tababuela (n=390) in the Chota Valley. Smaller samples of archaeofaunal specimens from the Late Period 94-1 site (n=439) and OTA-1-3 (n=63) were also studied while identification and analysis was focused on the large La Chimba assemblage. In 2010, excavations were undertaken at the Inca-Caranqui site (n=780) and surroundings (n=143) by Tamara Bray and José Echeverría in a northern sector of Ibarra.

Project Description

A project was initiated in 1994 to assemble and analyze the entire collection of archaeofaunal specimens recovered from the northern highland site of La Chimba (Pi-1), Pichincha Province, Ecuador. These archaeofaunas constitute one of the largest assemblages (n=40,313) yet excavated from one site in Ecuador. The study details, for the first time, the nature of a zooarchaeological assemblage from a high elevation area which also brackets an important 700 year temporal span in Ecuadorian prehistory. The very deep stratigraphy at La Chimba is unique for sites in the Northern Andean area; therefore, excavation strategy was geared toward acquiring extended columns from midden deposits. Smaller archaeofaunal assemblages from various other site excavations in Pichincha and Imbabura provinces were also identified.

Methodological Notes

Archaeofaunal specimens were recovered from various sites, representing early ceramic and later period Cara and Incan occupation, in the northern highland provinces of Pichincha and Imbabura, Ecuador. Depending upon ambient soil conditions, both ¼" and 1/8" screens were used. A number of the assemblages in this study include specimens that had been curated since the 1970s in the collections of the Environmental Archaeology Program of the Florida Museum of Natural History (FLMNH), and the International Archaeological Research Institute in Honolulu, Hawaii (IARII). Collections at the FLMNH were identified and tabulated there. The archaeofaunal assemblages recovered in the 1989 excavation season from Pi-1 TPs 5 and 7, Im-11, and Tababuela were shipped from IARII to the Archaeological Analytical Research Facility (AARF) in the Department of Anthropology, Binghamton University, Binghamton, New York. Zoological identifications were undertaken using the comparative collections housed in the AARF, with difficult identifications separated and cataloged with indelible ink for later consultation in the various collections of the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH). Upon completion of this study, all materials were repackaged in their original containers with recorded provenience information and returned to the IARII. Specimens were tabulated in site database files (Paradox), according to: TP#, Catalog#, zoological identification to Class, Order, and Family with associated size (S,M,L) estimates, Genus, Element, Portion, Side, Differential Preservation in quartiles of Scan Sites where applicable, Dentition Present, Fusion/Eruption, Heat Modification, Surface Modification, Breakage, Maximum Length, Maximum Width, Weight, Quantity, and Comments.

The Inca-Caranqui archaeofaunas were identified in Caranqui, Imababura Province, Ecuador and entered in non-coded, long form into Excel format: Cantidad (Quantity), Unidad (Excavation Unit), Nivel (Level), cmbd (cm Below Datum), Rasgo (Feature), ID (Identification), Tamaño (Size), Elemento (Element), Porción (Portion), Lado (Side –Left/Right), Fusión (Fusion), Quemedura (Heat Modification using codes), Notas (Comments).

Potential Applications of the Data

The associated archaeofaunas in the early ceramic assemblages can be compared and contrasted with the few known archaeofaunal assemblages like Cotacollao in the Quito Valley. Later assemblages add to the few small data bases known for later ceramic sites like Cochasquí, Cumbayá, and Socapamba.


Analysis of all recovered archaeofaunal specimens was made possible through funding awarded to Peter Stahl and J. Stephen Athens from the National Science Foundation (SBR 9421751). A Fulbright Research Fellowship enabled Athens to conduct additional test excavations in 1989. Excavations at Inca-Caranqui were supported by funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Wenner-Gren Foundation, National Geographic Society, Dumbarton Oaks, and Wayne State University, awarded to Tamara Bray.

Related Publications

Athens, J. Stephen. 1980. El Proceso Evolutivo en las Sociedades Complejas y la Ocupación del Período Tardio- Cara en Los Andes Septentrionales del Ecuador. Colección Pendoneros 2. Otavalo: Instituto Otavaleño de Antropología.

Athens, J. Stephen. 1990. Prehistoric Agricultural Expansion and Population Growth in Northern Highland Ecuador: Interim Report for 1989 Fieldwork. Honolulu: International Archaeological Research Institute, Inc.

Athens, J. Stephen. 1992. Ethnicity and Adaptation: The Late Period-Cara Occupation in Northern Highland Ecuador. In, Resources, Power, and Interregional Interaction, edited by E.M. Schortman and P.A. Urban, pp. 193-219. New York:Plenum.

Athens, J. Stephen and Alan J. Osborn. 1974. Archaeological Investigations in the Highlands of Northern Ecuador. Breviarios de Cultura 1. Otavalo: Instituto Otavaleño de Antropología. Bray, T., & Echeverría, J.

Athens, J. Stephen and Alan J. Osborn. 2014. Al final del Imperio: EL sitio arqueológico Inca-Caranqui en la sierra septentrional del Ecuador. Antropología Cuadernos de Investigación 13:127-150.

Stahl, Peter W. ms Analyses of the La Chimba Faunas (La Chimba.pdf)

Stahl, Peter W. and J. Stephen Athens. 2001. A High Elevation Zooarchaeological Assemblage from the Northern Andes of Ecuador. Journal of Field Archaeology 28 (1&2):161-176.

Stahl, Peter W. and J. Stephen Athens. 2004. Aprovechamiento Prehistórico de Animales y Manufactura de Utensilios de Hueso en la Parte Alta de los Andes, al Norte del Ecuador. Cuadernos de Historia y Arqueología 54-56: 115-165.

Tellkamp, Markus P. 2014. Habitat change and trade explain the bird assemblage from the La Chimba archaeological site in the northeastern Andes of Ecuador. Ibis 156:812-825.

Table Field Descriptions

1. TP Test Pit #1,2,3,4,5,7, A (exploratory 1972 1X1 test pit), WA (white ash=unknown), x (context 40)

2. CAT. La Chimba Catalog Number

3. CLASS Zoological Class amphibian aves crustacea indeterminate mammalia mollusca osteichthyes reptilia

4. S1 Size Category Large (TL >1 000 mm) Medium (TL=260- 1000 mm) Small (TL<260 mm)

5. ORDER Zoological Order anseriformes anura artiodactyla camelidae carnivora caviidae chelonia columbiformes decapoda falconiformes galiformes gastropoda iguanidae lagomorpha marsupialia (didelphimorphia) passeriformes pelecypoda (Bivalvia) perissodactyla primates rodentia sauria serpentia strigiformes tinamiformes trogoniformes xenarthra

6. S2 Size Category Large Medium Small

7. FAMILY Zoological Family accipitridae agoutidae anatidae canidae cebidea cervidae columbidae corvidae cracidae dasypodidae didelphidae erethizontidae felidae hominidae leporidae muridea mustelidae procyonidae spondylidae strigidae tapiridae tinamidae trogonidae ursidae

8. S3 Size Category Large Medium Small

9. GENUS/species

10. ELEMENT (Codes in Element Database)

11. PORTION (Codes in Portion Database)

12. SIDE Left Right Both

13.-20. SCAN SITES 1-8 (or Cranial Index) -measured in <.25, <.5, <.75,<1 increments

21.-24. DENTITION (coded for tooth bearing bones and recorded numerically where possible Incisor Canine Premolar Molar)


Column 1 Fused Partially fused Unfused Deciduous denition only Mixed dentition Secondary dentition only

Column 2 (Age in Years Estimate) 1 (< 1) 2 (1-2) 3 (3-4) 4 (mature) 5 (aged, heavy attrition)

26.-27. BURNING B1 B2 (2 Columns, recording different heat modification on the same specimen)

First Number:

1 Yellow-brown to Pink-brown (220-350 C)

2 Dark brown to black (350-400 C)

3 Dark blue-gray to light grey (400-500 C)

4 Pink-grey to white (Calcined) (500 C)

Second Number:

1 Burned over entire piece

2 Burned Proximal

3 Burned Middle

4 Burned Distal

5 Burned Prox. and Md.

6 Burned Dist. and Md.

7 Burned Prox. and Dist.

8 Burned Interior Only

9 Burned Exterior Only


articulated babraded chew/puncture digested grodent gnaw intrusive modified polished root staining weather (+ numeric stage) xcut/saw (+ description of separate sheet) ycalcium carbonate/caliche zmineral staining

31.-32. BREAKAGE Column 1 Column 2 (2 columns to record Mixed Breakage Patterns and location, e.g. HEl; LO3 etc.)

HE Helical LB Longitudinal and Oblique TR Transverse TL Transverse and Longitudinal OS Oblique, straight path SA Sagittal OP Oblique, stepped path V V-shaped ST Stepped path U Unknown R Ragged LO Longitudinal

1 Proximal 2 Distal 3 Dorsal 4 Ventral 5 Medial 6 Lateral

33. MAXIMUM LENGTH (maxl) (mm)

34. MAXIMUM WIDTH (maxw) (mm)

35. WEIGHT (wt) (0.00g) )

36. QUANTITY (qty) (n) )

38. ADD (additional text comments)

Current Disposition of the Collection

Upon completion of this study, all materials were repackaged in their original containers with recorded provenience information and returned for permanent storage to the FLMNH and IARII. Inca-Caranqui materials are stored in the site museum, Caranqui, Ecuador.

Property or Relation Value(s)
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[Standard: Dublin Core Terms]
Editorial Note

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The annotations presented above approximate some of the meaning in this contributed data record to concepts defined in shared standards. These annotations are provided to help make datasets easier to understand and use with other datasets.

Suggested Citation

Peter W Stahl. "Northern Highland Archaeofaunas of Ecuador". (2020) Peter W Stahl (Ed.) . Released: 2020-06-27. Open Context. <> DOI:

Editorial Status

Managing editor reviewed

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Public Domain Mark 1.0

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