A Conceptual Analysis Of Ancient Ecuadorian Faces Carved In Spondylus Shells

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Javier Burgos, Carolina Sierra, Alonso Restrepo de León, Hugo Sotomayor

Subject: Arts & Humanities, Anthropology & Ethnography Keywords: Spondylus shells; archaeomalacology; archaeozoology; pre-Hispanic Ecuador; knowledge representation; formal concept analysis.

Shells, probably like no other product of nature, have played an important role in the history of mankind. The pre-Hispanic civilizations of Ibero-America also used certain type of shells profusely in their religious ceremonies, in particular, in Ecuador there were two species of main importance, the Spondylus princeps and the Spondylus calcifer broadly employed to manufacture ornaments that possess a strong symbolic, religious and social meaning and that were almost exclusively used by ruling classes. Among these ornaments, the faces carved on the Spondylus shells are little known. In the present study, we chose a total of fifteen (15) pieces from the Pastor Restrepo Lince´s archaeomalacology collection to understand the possible uses of these objects, through the interpretation of the gestures represented on the faces, their dimensions, and their geographical distribution in pre-Hispanic Ecuador. To achieve the proposed objective, we approach the present investigation from the perspective of the formal analysis of concepts, which is a mathematical theory of representation of knowledge, finding that these faces carved in Spondylus, were used daily or in special ceremonial occasions and that its use was common in all the regional cultures of ancient Ecuador, from the oldest such as Valdivia, and for more than 2000 years, indicating a long tradition of the use of Spondylus as an object of great symbolic and economic value until the arrival of the Spanish