There is a place in Ecuador that can only be reached when the tide goes out. It is the ancient coastal complex at Chirije. When the tide runs low one can take a sturdy vehicle between the water and cliffs over sand and rocks into this vast archaeology complex.Separated from the world by water, jungle, and time this little know site is vastly rich in artifacts from a nearly unknown and unstudied ancient civilization. But this was not always so. For hundreds of years in the remote past, indeed perhaps for over a thousand, Chirije was known by its trade goods over an expanse reaching at least as far north as Mexico and as far South as Chile. A distance that exceeds that of the Inca Empire at its height.
Yet this archaeological treasure trove remains mostly unstudied since a brief period in the 1950’s when Ecuadorian archaeologist Emilio Estrada discovered the site and declared it to be one of the most important sites on the Ecuadorian coast. The Louvre Museum of Paris and the Smithsonian Institution would come again in the mid 90’s to reaffirm the importance of the site. But water, sand, rugged terrain, and time have all served to isolate Chirije from investigation.
Few places in the New World offer such a rich deposit of artifacts. Tiahuanaco, in Bolivia, along the shores of Lake Titicaca comes to mind—but no other. Pottery shards at Chirije lie almost everywhere. Other remains of this ancient culture lie underneath and buried in the rich loose soil. Erosion along the water’s edge only serves to add to the rich cultural deposits as artifacts literally drop down from the cliffs edges onto the rocks below smashing into pieces are lost in the sand.