The Civilization in the Backyard

He also suggests that as the only brother who has picked up a book on archaeology, he is the only one who values the history of the plateau, which he named Wariman, or “Morning Star”—Gualiman in official documentation—after a shaman said he had a vision of a star above the Sun Temple one morning.

From above, the plateau resembles a long and empty trough, a rare geological formation with steep drops on all sides. The largest pyramid is the one the family calls the Sun Temple. Dozens of pyramids, tombs, and houses surround it, some sitting on platforms cut into the hard rock, most concentrated on the back side of the Sun Temple toward the west. Romel notes that they all face the rising sun.

Unlike the pyramids of Mexico or Peru, the structures were constructed of volcanic clay, sensitive to the sun and the rain. The passing centuries have packed the ruins with dirt and lush greenery, converting them into bumps in the smooth landscape. Similar shapes, but more dispersed, populate all of Intag.

The Sun Temple has a cavity across nearly half of its top from the first known expedition to Wariman. Jacinto Jijón y Caamaño, considered the father of Ecuadorian archaeology, dug in the 1930s, but his findings and writings on Wariman were lost, according to Romel.

The next study came half a century later. Concerned that Telmo might be gifting too many artifacts to his friends, Colombia del Carmen called the National Institute of Cultural Heritage, asking them to conduct an inventory and date the site. They estimated 1500 B.C.—likely 2,000 years off the actual date, later research would find.

Then a couple of years later, in 1984, two American anthropologists—including Stephen Athens, a rising star in the archaeology of Ecuador’s northern sierra—showed up. They brought with them the most advanced methods and tools of the time and stayed six months. Before leaving, Athens told the family that Wariman was probably built around 600 by the Caranquis, who…

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