Volcanoes can be destructive, but they can also lead to beneficial changes in societies. The Jama-Coaque I peoples lived to the west of the Ecuadorian Andes, which includes more than 30 active volcanoes. After the eruption of Pichincha (Figure 1), one of these volcanoes, the Jama-Coaque I peoples left the Jama River Valley (Coutros 2018). However, the destructive volcanoes did not keep people away from the Jama River Valley forever. The Jama-Coaque II peoples, descendents of Jama-Coaque I, resettled the valley hundreds of years later (Coutros 2018). This cycle of settlement and abandonment of the Jama River Valley began long before the Jama-Coaque I peoples left the valley. Around 1880 B.C., Pichincha erupted and the Valdivian peoples were forced to abandon their thriving farms, and around 467 B.C., the eruption of Pululahua, another volcano in the region, led to the Chorrera peoples leaving the Jama River Valley (Coutros 2018).
The volcanic activity of the Ecuadorian Andes led to changes in the Jama-Coaque II peoples who returned to the valley. Previous inhabitants of the Jama River Valley, like the Valdivia and Chorrera cultures, relied on floodplain agriculture, which involves growing crops on river banks. When the river system was clogged by volcanic ash, their crops died. By diversifying their nutrient sources and agricultural techniques, the Jama-Coaque II peoples did not have to rely on floodplain agriculture to survive (Coutros 2018). This illustrates the importance of a society’s ability and willingness to change in order to adapt to a changing environment (O’Donnell 2017). The changes made by the Jama-Coaque II peoples led to their success in surviving in the Jama River Valley (Figure 2).
Communal storage pits, which were used to store food for more than one household, and increased warfare and raiding suggest the rise of a centralized authority in the Jama-Coaque II communities (Coutros 2018). Communal storage and increased warfare allows the Jama-Coaque II peoples to maintain and protect food reserves. While volcanic activity may have pushed communities out of the Jama River Valley for hundreds of years, it also led to the Jama-Coaque II peoples developing practices that allowed them to thrive in the valley.
Volcanic activity has importance in archaeology beyond studying how it affects various cultures. A dating method used in archaeology involves studying layers of volcanic ash deposits. Tephrochronology is the study of volcanic ash, or tephra, deposits (U.S. Geological Survey 2016). Tephrochronology is a helpful tool in areas like Iceland, where tephrochronology was utilized in a study of human impact on the environment (McGovern et al. 2007). In these situations, the layers of ash deposited by volcano eruptions can help archaeologists date artifacts.
This page explains how the Jama-Coaque culture is known for its ceramic creations and describes a Jama-Coaque sculpture: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/314183
An article about how early humans may have survived the eruption of a volcano named Toba: https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2018/03/how-ancient-humans-survived-global-volcanic-winter-massive-eruption
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U.S. Geological Survey
2016 USGS Tephrochronology (Tephra) Project. Electronic document, https://geomaps.wr.usgs.gov/tephra/index.htm, accessed November 9, 2018.
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