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A Las Vegas culture skull excavated in Loma Atahualpa, Ecuador in 2018 is part of the oldest burials found in the country to date.

Newly Discovered 10,000 Year Old Las Vegas Culture Burials are the Oldest in Ecuador

Las Vegas doesn’t just refer to the ‘city of lights’; for archaeologists in Ecuador Las Vegas also denotes an ancient culture that once thrived on the Pacific coast. But just because a culture is known to be ancient that doesn’t mean that all artifacts related to it have been found. In fact, as we’ve seen repeatedly around the world, some of the most ancient civilizations can still surprise us with fascinating archaeological discoveries. Such is the way with the recent discovery of three burials dating as far back as 10,000 years ago. This places them among the oldest graves found in Ecuador to date.

The graves were found by a joint Russian-Ecuadorian team who are researching the development of one of the earliest settlements in Ecuador . The researchers from Far Eastern Federal University (FEFU) and Primorsky Polytechnic University in Guayaquil (ESPOL, Ecuador) were rewarded for their efforts with the discovery of three burials and stone tools at Loma Atahualpa in the Atahualpa canton.

Artifacts and artifact reconstruction, the Las Vegas culture of Ecuador. (Not Your Average American)

Artifacts and artifact reconstruction, the Las Vegas culture of Ecuador. ( Not Your Average American )

The dating of the burials places them as part of the Las Vegas culture. This culture is considered the only preceramic culture on the coast of Ecuador and also the earliest settlement in what is now called Ecuador. It has been dated to the Holocene period from 8000-4600 BC. Theirs was one of the first societies in South America to make the shift from hunting and gathering to agriculture. Some of the Las Vegas settlements may now be covered due to rising sea levels. No one knows what happened to the Las Vegas culture, but the area they lived in was deserted for 1000 years following 4600 BC. Then the Valdivia culture arose in the same location.

Artistic representation of a Las Vegas culture settlement. (Nuestra cultura)

Artistic representation of a Las Vegas culture settlement. ( Nuestra cultura )

Today, Las Vegas archaeological sites are situated in the province of Santa Elena on the Ecuadorian coast. One of the most famous archaeological finds from this cultural period is the “ Amantes de Sumpa ” (Lovers of Sumpa), which is a double burial held in a museum in La Libertad. The Amantes de Sumpa died when they were between 20-25 years old and the nature of their burial suggests that they were close to each other and important members of their society. In general, Las Vegas era burials show that this culture had specific funerary rites. They wrapped the bodies of the deceased in fabric and then buried them with grave goods, such as shell objects, beside their houses. Large rocks were placed over the burial to protect it.

Los Amantes de Sumpa – a double burial from the Las Vegas culture. (Manabi….Ecuador)

Los Amantes de Sumpa – a double burial from the Las Vegas culture. ( Manabi….Ecuador)

The researchers told reporters that they found stone tools and human remains dating to between 6,000 to 10,000 years old, but they gave few details on the nature of the burials or the artifacts. Alexander Popov, head of the FEFU expedition, said:

“The archaeological site of Loma Atahualpa is more archaic than Real Alto, its materials are transitional from the Mesolithic to the Neolithic. We excavated three burials that were probably made at different times. This will make it possible to compare their materials and retrieve the new information on the development of ancient cultures.”

Real Alto is an ancient settlement in Ecuador. Last year, the team discovered ceramics at that site and declared them 6,000 years old. The newer findings suggest that Loma Atahualpa may have been even older.

Ceramics found by FEFU at the excavation site in Real Alto, Ecuador. (Far Eastern Federal University)

Ceramics found by FEFU at the excavation site in Real Alto, Ecuador. ( Far Eastern Federal University )

Since 2014, the researchers have been exploring the coastal region of Ecuador for indications on how the earliest inhabitants adapted to environmental changes. They hope the discovery will shed more light on the development of the earliest cultures to inhabit this area.

There is a similar project going on in Asia.

Top Image: A Las Vegas culture skull excavated in Loma Atahualpa, Ecuador in 2018 is part of the oldest burials found in the country to date. Source: FEFU

By Alicia McDermott

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