Contextual evidence for shaft tombs and related mortuary practices in the highlands of Ecuador and southern Colombia is presented. Emphasis is given to the practical aspects of construction in light of changing settlement patterns (ca. A.D. 1–1500). Shaft tombs not only conformed to geophysical restraints and the demands of subsistence agriculture, they also exploited the ideological potentials of the landscape and its seasonal changes. Shaft tomb cemeteries are consistently located in relation to peculiar topographical, geological, hydrological, and cultural features that were modified where possible and necessary. With the added perspective of ethnographically and ethnohistorically documented native attitudes toward the landscape, the passage of time, and the place of the dead in both, 1 interpret the seemingly disparate contextual features of shaft tombs and related mortuary monuments as historically interrelated developments in hierarchical societies established and maintained fundamentally through appeal to ancestries both real and fictive.