La Tolita-Pampa de Oro: a treasure


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Everyone knows that something still lies under the wooden homes and plantations. Today people gather coconuts and fish… they no longer spend their days seeking out archeological pieces, once the main occupation of the inhabitants of the small island and town of La Tolita-Pampa de Oro.

The name appears in museums around the world, including the Smithsonian and the American Museum of Natural History in New York, alongside some of the most fascinating archaeological pieces of the Americas, made of clay, gold, silver, even platinum (it was one of the oldest civilizations in the world to work this metal).

La Tolita is a landmark of pre-Columbian archeology, and much of its past comes from this tiny mangrove island in northern Esmeraldas.

The silence after the pillage, like that of a “wild west” ironically wet and tropical, is profound. One has the impression that of the 300 people that make up the village, few suspect the relevance of its past. At the start of the 20thcentury, first owned by the Sánchez Isaías family, and then, since 1923, by Italian Donato Yannuzzelli, the land became a mining project that extracted archaeology made in gold.

As the legend goes, Yannuzzelli melted it all down to send to Mussolini… When Yannuzzelli died, the area’s importance was recognized by archaeologists and became property of the Ecuadorian Central Bank…

Today, a small collection is arranged on desks and chairs at a community school, but few understand the formidable wealth of pre-Hispanic vestiges that actually surrounds them. Apart from the pieces that still remain underground, there are dozens of ancestral tolas(a system of manmade mounds that supported homes and family burial sites), ancestral farming techniques known as camellones, which used the mangrove to control irrigation, and great evidence of how important this blip on the map was in pre-Columbian times as a trading center and site of passage. A heritage of sorts remains, but how can we truly unearth it.

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