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Anomalous Architecture and Final Statement

Through many diverse births I have passedSeeking in vain the builder of the house.Ah, house framer, now I have seen thee!Never again shalt thou build me a house.I have broken thy raftersI have destroyed the king-post.My mind is detached;Desire is extinguished.

—Coomaraswamy and Nivedita, Myths of the Hindus and Buddhists, 271

Japanese Influence?

Previous chapters touched upon buildings atypical relative to their surrounding cityscapes: snail-shaped oracular temples in Peru; and in Colombia circular terraces, rock-cut shaft tombs with burial chambers carved in imitation of houses, and wood structures built with unusual carpentry techniques. This chapter examines other anomalous styles.

A Spanish chronicler's observation of the Taironas' use of "curious carpentry" in the construction of the king's dwelling and "three great log cabins" invites the question whether there might be a connection to clay house models from the Bahía culture of the Manabí and Esmeraldas provinces of coastal Ecuador. Through articles published in 1961 and 1962, Emilio Estrada, Betty Meggers, and Clifford Evans brought to the attention of archaeologists their case for contact between the Jomon culture of Japan and the Americas. The earliest proposed contact was the Valdivia culture, which overlapped the Peruvian Formative. The type site, and related ones in Panama and Peru, dates the Valdivia to approximately 2500-1800 BCE. From about 1800 to 500 [End Page 399] BCE, the following Chorrera culture expanded from the coast to the interior following river valleys. Pottery produced during this time is said to be similar to wares from both the Chavín culture of Peru and the Ocós culture of coastal Guatemala and adjacent Mexico. The third chronological period, which is dated from about 200 BCE to 500-700 CE, is called the Regional Developmental. It is characterized by dissimilar cultures, but large populations and advanced sociopolitical integration. The Bahía culture was one of these regional polities.210

Figure 36. Left: Haniwa of Yayoi house. (Drawn from a photograph in Haniwa). Right: Clay model of house of the Bahía culture, Ecuador. (Drawn from a photograph in Alfred Kidder II, "Rediscovering America")
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Figure 36.

Left: Haniwa of Yayoi house. (Drawn from a photograph in Haniwa). Right: Clay model of house of the Bahía culture, Ecuador. (Drawn from a photograph in Alfred Kidder II, "Rediscovering America")

The Manabí house model is one of several found in Ecuador pertaining to the Bahía culture, The house type with its distinctive roof structure also appears on tomb models produced by the Tumaco culture of Colombia.211 Estrada and Meggers compared the Bahía examples to Han Chinese and Yayoi Japanese tomb models exhibiting unusual roof forms, as well as to actual buildings with "saddle-shaped" roofs from Sumatra, New Guinea, and the Carolines of Micronesia, including the same two I illustrate here as figure 36.

"Saddle-shaped" roofs, as they are generally called, should be termed "boat-shaped." They were once prominent as dwellings for the elite throughout Micronesia (including in Yap, Kosrae, the Gilberts, as well as Palau) at the time of initial European contact. They are still constructed as men's houses in Melanesia. They appear to have their origin in a Southeast Asian Dong Son prototype. I am sure all are tied to the [End Page 400] belief that ancestors arrived in boats from the heavenly realm. They serve as the great clan houses on Sumatra and Sulawesi, and in Sumatra and Southeast Asia the elite were sent to the afterworld in boats or boat-shaped coffins.

Given the Valdivia-Jomon link of early contact between Japan and northern South America, looking toward a later contact between Yayoi and Tomb period Japan and Bahía is logical. Great advances were made in house construction in Japan's Late Yayoi (ca. 500 BCE-300 CE) and Tomb (ca. 250-552 CE) periods, when Japan came under heavy influence from Han dynasty China. To effect the change, Chinese-trained Korean artisans were recruited, particularly from Paekche, until the kingdom was defeated by the Silla in 663 CE.212 These artisans likely introduced plank, board, and lath construction, regular plans, and use of mats as wall coverings. Two-storied dwellings were erected, and entrances were located not only on the south gable end (note...