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Ordoñez-Araque, R.;  Ruales, J.;  Vargas-Jentzsch, P.;  Ramos-Guerrero, L.;  Romero-Bastidas, M.;  Montalvo-Puente, C.;  Serrano-Ayala, S. Food of Pre-Hispanic Inhabitants from the Quito Plateau. Encyclopedia. Available online: (accessed on 13 June 2024).
Ordoñez-Araque R,  Ruales J,  Vargas-Jentzsch P,  Ramos-Guerrero L,  Romero-Bastidas M,  Montalvo-Puente C, et al. Food of Pre-Hispanic Inhabitants from the Quito Plateau. Encyclopedia. Available at: Accessed June 13, 2024.
Ordoñez-Araque, Roberto, Jenny Ruales, Paul Vargas-Jentzsch, Luis Ramos-Guerrero, Martha Romero-Bastidas, Carlos Montalvo-Puente, Sthefano Serrano-Ayala. "Food of Pre-Hispanic Inhabitants from the Quito Plateau" Encyclopedia, (accessed June 13, 2024).
Ordoñez-Araque, R.,  Ruales, J.,  Vargas-Jentzsch, P.,  Ramos-Guerrero, L.,  Romero-Bastidas, M.,  Montalvo-Puente, C., & Serrano-Ayala, S. (2022, December 06). Food of Pre-Hispanic Inhabitants from the Quito Plateau. In Encyclopedia.
Ordoñez-Araque, Roberto, et al. "Food of Pre-Hispanic Inhabitants from the Quito Plateau." Encyclopedia. Web. 06 December, 2022.
Food of Pre-Hispanic Inhabitants from the Quito Plateau

In all of the different historical periods during its development, the pre-Hispanic inhabitants of the Quito plateau and its valleys used the flora and fauna for food and the development of their society. 

pre-Hispanic Quito ancient food ancient toxins

1. Introduction

Archeology began to be regarded as a scientific discipline in the nineteenth century, although it existed much earlier; however, with the development of stratigraphy, it changed significantly [1]. Archeologists’ understanding of past events is complemented and enhanced by other disciplines, including chemistry, biology, physics, medicine, genetics, and materials science [2][3]. In recent decades, experts in food science and technology have worked with archeologists in order to try to objectively understand the diets and the foods that were consumed by prehistoric populations. The evaluation of paleodiets not only allows us to learn about the diets of past societies, but also, by knowing what people ate, the potential benefits of different diets, the productive and the environmental features of that time (exploitation of resources), the possible causes of death or pathologies due to the ingestion of toxins, and possible nutritional problems that are related to a lack of micronutrients or macronutrients can be understood [3][4].
Archeological research has been conducted across Ecuador, providing valuable insights into the aspects of domestic life, the customs, and the dietary habits of the past inhabitants [5]. Many of these studies have provided subjective and objective paleodiet data that have deepened the qualitative and quantitative understanding of the possible consumption of certain vegetables and meats. The chemical analysis of artifacts from the past may help us to answer research questions related to the diets of the ancient inhabitants of the territories that, today, are part of Ecuador, with a special focus on the period before the arrival of the Europeans to the American continent.
Based on the investigations that were carried out by Bell (1965); Ugalde (2019); Ugalde and Dyrdahl (2021); Vásquez (1999); and Villalba (1988), it was determined that the territory that is currently occupied by the city of Quito was home to the following settlements at different times: El Inga and Rancho Bajo in the Preceramic period (11000–1500 BC), Cotocollao in the Formative period (1500–500 BC), Jardín del Este in the Regional Development period (500 BC–500 AD), La Florida, Rumipamba, Chillogallo and Chilibulu, and the Integration period (500–1500 AD) [6][7][8][9][10]. It should be noted that the chronology of these historic periods is diverse, and sometimes confusing, due to the diversity of the criteria, including different periods for each geographical region (coast, highlands, and the east). Specifically, the highlands (also known by the Spanish words Andes or Sierra) were divided into North, Central, and South (which belonged to the Northern Andes) [11][12][13]. In general, no research specifically describes the chronological periods of what is now the territory of Quito and its valleys, except for the work of Serrano (2017) [12].
In this context, concerning Ecuador, and especially Quito, there is little information that allows the understanding of the evolution of food consumption behavior and the availability of food over time. Several paleoethnobotanical studies have explored the different Andean food plant crops based on their phytoliths, allowing the understanding of some plant foods that were likely consumed in the region [14][15]. There is also evidence of the domestication of the native animals in Andean cultures; domestic animals were introduced to Ecuador through overland trade routes in the second and first millennia BC and, presumably, they were only available to the “elite” people [16]. There are only a few investigations with a chemical approach in the Ecuadorian Sierra that have focused on the analysis of the biomolecules occurring in archeological utensils that were intended for food use. Such an approach allows us to determine whether the animal and vegetable traces that have been found within these utensils were food sources or not.

2. Food of the Pre-Hispanic Inhabitants from the Quito Plateau

This section presents data on the possible foods that were consumed on the Quito plateau. The archaeobotanical data were obtained mainly by identifying starches and phytoliths, while the zooarchaeological remains were obtained from middens that had faunal remains. Examples of these analyzes in Ecuador, and specifically in the Quito plateau, were carried out by archaeologists such as Pagán-Jiménez (2015), Ugalde and Dyrdahl (2021), and Zarrillo (2012) [7][17][18]. In summary, this section has been elaborated with references from zooarchaeology and paleobotanical research or studies referring to this type of research.
In the Preceramic period, it has been shown that the inhabitants of the El Inga site had a hunter–gatherer diet. Wild plants and local fauna were consumed. In the middle and late Preceramic periods, it is possible to find corn (Zea mays), chili (Capsicum annuum), amaranth (Amaranthus spp.), quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa), and pumpkins (Cucurbitaficifolia) [19]. In Rancho Bajo, the presence of corn (Zea mays), oca (Oxalis tuberosa), melloco (Ullucus tuberosus), mashwa (Tropaeolum tuberosum), and species of bean (Phaseolus sp.) has been found [9]. According to Athens et al., (2016) and Van der Hammen, Noldus, and Salazar (2003), around 5000 BC the human groups of the Preceramic period begin their processes of the domestication of plants. These data have been obtained from sites in Mullumica-Pifo (which is a parish that is located at in the northeast of the Metropolitan District of Quito) and El Lago San Pablo (a lake in the province of Imbabura-Ecuador) and would be consistent with the Inga sites since they are from periods contemporary [20][21].
In the Formative period, with the appearance of polished stone and ceramic artifacts, hand grinders (lithic tools for grinding food), mills, and utensils for storing, conserving, and transporting liquid and solid food, as well as carved stones, were in use, while the practice of hunting animals for meat continued [22]. Data from Idrovo (2002) suggest the possible diet in the Ecuadorian Sierra during the Formative period. This included corn (Zea mays), potato (Solanum tuberosum), chocho (Lupinus mutabilis), chili (Capsicum annuum), beans (Phaseolus vulgaris), oca (Oxalis tuberosa), and quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa) in the temperate highlands, and sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas), cherimoya (Annona cherimola), guaba (Inga edulis), avocado (Persea americana), and cotton (Gossypium) in the valleys [23]. In Cotocollao, there is evidence of llama (Lama glama), guinea pig (Cavia porcellus), deer (Odocoileus virginianus), guanta (Cuniculus paca), puma (Felis concolor), rabbit (Sylvilagus brasiliensis), weasels (Mustela spp.), turtles (Kinosternon spp.), and various bird and reptile species. These would all have been part of the diet of the settlers. It should be noted that the consumption of animals may have been sporadic and dependent on their availability at the time of hunting. Cultivation was very important for this culture, allowing for the efficient production of cereals, legumes, and tubers, including maize (Zea mays), beans (Phaseolus vulgaris), áchira (Canna indica), quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa), potato (Solanum tuberosum), and oca (Oxalis tuberosa), while eggs and giant snails (churos) were gathered and ichthyofauna were fished from the surrounding lagoons. The strategic location of the sites also allowed for the exchange of products with other regions, mainly obsidian and cotton, and food products such as chili (Capsicum annuum) and salt [7][22][24]. Other animals that have been identified in Cotocollao include opossum (Didelphis marsupialis), moor wolf (Dusicyon spp.), mouse (Sigmodon spp.), and turtledove (Columbina spp.). It seems that the settlements of Tababela and Toctiuco enjoyed the same diet as those of Cotocollao, but with a large number of llama (Lama glama) and guinea pigs (Cavia porcellus) remains [24].
For the Regional Development period, similar archeological artifacts have been found at the Jardín del Este site, as well as other settlements on the plateau. Evidence of food has also been found by some inhabitants who remained in Cumbayá and different sectors of the Quito plateau after the gradual recovery of the ecosystem, indicating that these sites were occupied by inhabitants of the same ethnic group, who used similar food utensils. Compoteras, hemispherical plates, pitchers, and vases have been found, together with elongated, globular, tripod, and zapatiformes (asymmetrical shoe-shaped) pots [10][25][26]. There is little food analysis research for the Regional Development period. According to Iturralde (2015), coca leaf (Erythroxylum coca) also has been found. Based on their research, the main crops of the inhabitants of that period were maize (Zea mays), beans (Vicia faba), and potatoes (Solanum tuberosum). In Jardín del Este (Cumbayá), the remains of guinea pig (Cavia porcellus), rabbit (Sylvilagus brasiliensis), deer (Odocoileus virginianus), dog (Canis familiaris), several birds, guanta (Cuniculus paca), skunk (Conepatus spp.), and camelids of different species (mainly llama) have been found [25].
During the Intergration period, gradually improving climatic conditions and agricultural techniques increased the number of inhabitants [27]. Molestina (2006) has stated that, in Quito, the lake areas formed small swamps, mainly in the current area of La Y, the old airport, and the Jipijapa neighborhood. These clay, silt, sand, and pumice swamps formed the ancient lagoon of Iñaquito, allowing for populations of fish, birds, and totora to grow [28]. The area was also a source of hematite and saw the beginning of agriculture in the form of camellones, which is an agricultural technique called waru waru in Quechua where earth platforms are built in parallel rows that are separated by water channels. This farming technique is considered to be the oldest in South America [29][30]. Ducks (Cairina moschata), herons (Ciconiiformes), and other birds (which were possibly hunted) have also been reported in the Iñaquito lagoon, and their eggs were used as food. Rabbits have also been found. In Rumicucho and El Quinche, the remains of llamas (Lama glama), guinea pigs (Cavia porcellus), deer (Odocoileus virginianus), and Muscovy (or creole) ducks (Cairina moschata) have been found [24]. In Rumipamba, there is evidence for the presence of corn (Zea mays), beans (Leguminoseae fabaceae), pumpkins (Cucurbitaficifolia), capulí (Prunus spp.), myrtle (Eugenia ssp.), potato (Solanum tuberosum), melloco (Ullucus tuberosus), oca (Oxalis tuberosa), mashua (Tropaeolum tuberosum), coca leaf (Erythroxylum coca), cassava (Manihot esculenta cranz, which were acquired from another region and apparently consumed as a beverage), and chili (Capsicum spp.) [31]. Based on their analysis of the settlement of La Florida, Ubelaker, Katzenberg, and Doyon (1995) suggest that both low- and high-status inhabitants had access to corn, although those with a high status had greater access. According to these authors, the greatest amount of chicha production was reserved for those of a high status [32].
There is not much food information from the Inca period in the Quito plateau and its valleys. Research from Rumicucho has found llama (Lama glama), guinea pig (Cavia porcellus), and dog (Canis familiaris) remains, and archeologists have determined that these remains belonged to hunted animals, that is to say, the animals were probably consumed as food. It is also presumed that the Incas introduced the alpaca (Lama pacos), since the wool from this animal has been found in cumbi textiles, which were reserved for the nobility [24]. The main food from vegetables in the Inca empire was corn, in different varieties and preparations. This represented a large part of the daily diet, as both a staple food and a sacred drink (chicha). There is no evidence that the Inca increased or intensified the agriculture during their occupation in the Ecuadorian Andes, and they consumed food that was produced by the local population regularly [11].
Several paleoethnobotanical studies of the different food plant crops based on phytoliths have been conducted in the Andes. This allows us to know some of the edible plants that were probably consumed in the region [14][15]. There is also evidence of the domestication of some of the native animals among Andean cultures, including alpacas (L. pacos) and llamas (Lama glama). Cuy (Cavia porcellus or C. aparea porcellus) and Muscovy ducks (Cairina moschata) were introduced to Ecuador through overland trade routes in the second and first millennia BC and were available only to the elites [16].
Table 1 presents a summary of this chronology, with the sites and the main foods that were possibly consumed by the ancient inhabitants of the Quito plateau and its valleys. This chronology was developed through research and studies that have indicated radiocarbon dating and zooarchaeological and paleobotanical analyses.
Table 1. Proposed chronology for the Quito plateau and its valleys, and the foods that were possibly consumed.


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