The Valdivia Culture is one of the oldest settled cultures recorded in the Americas. It emerged from the earlier Las Vegas culture and thrived on the Santa Elena peninsula near the modern-day town of Valdivia, Ecuador between 3500 BC and 1800 BC.The Valdivia culture was discovered in 1956 by the Ecuadorian archeologist Emilio Estrada. Based on comparison of archeological remains and pottery styles (specifically, the similarity between the Valdivian pottery and the ancient Jōmon culture on the island of Kyūshū, Japan) Estrada, along with the American archaeologist Betty Meggers suggested that a relationship between the people of Ecuador and the people of Japan existed in ancient times. Part of the theory was that the Japanese had conducted trans-Pacific trade. This theory was controversial, for no evidence of contact between the two populations had previously been suggested, and it remains unsupported within the archaeological community.
The Valdivia lived in a community that built its houses in a circle or oval around a central plaza and were sedentary people that lived off farming and fishing, though occasionally they went hunting for deer. From the remains that have been found, it has been determined that Valdivians cultivated maize, kidney beans, squash, cassava, hot peppers and cotton plants, the latter of which was used to make clothing.
Valdivian pottery initially was rough and practical, but it became splendid, delicate and large over time. They generally used red and gray colors; and the polished dark red pottery is characteristic of the Valdivia period. In their ceramics and stone works, the Valdivia culture shows a progression from the most simple to much more complicated works.
The trademark Valdivia piece is the "Venus" of Valdivia: feminine ceramic figures which were likely used in a variety of unknown rituals of fertility. The "Venus" of Valdivia likely represented actual people, as each figurine is individual and unique, as can be seen by the hairstyles. They were made joining two rolls of clay, leaving the lower portion separated as legs and making the body and head from the top portion. The arms were usually very short, in most cases were bent towards the chest, holding the breasts or under the chin.
There is a display of Valdivian artifacts in Guayaquil, Ecuador at UEES