The production of clay figurines and small statues was a long pre-Colombian tradition that began 5 thousand years ago on the coast of Ecuador. This tradition is represented in this region throughout the entire pre-hispanic cultural sequence. The styles and the roles they fulfilled in the community changed over time, as the societies became more sophisticated.

The first figurines were made by potters from the Valdivia culture. The most naturalistic ones faithfully reproduce the features of a fertile, young woman. Two thousand years later masculine and feminine figurines from Guangala and Bahía are less naturalistic and appear to be decorated with nose rings and body paint. Apparently they were associated with mortuary and fertility rites.

In La Tolita and, later, in Manta, the pieces grew in size and, thanks to the use of models, in quantity as well. These figurines, many of them richly decorated, allude to social situations and to the individual’s place in the society.