Pre-Hispanic times (12,000 B.C.-1543)
The area around Valdivia may have been populated since 12,000 – 11,800 B.C according to archaeological discoveries in Monte Verde (less than 200 km south of Valdivia), which would place it about a thousand years before the Clovis culture in North America. This challenges the "Clovis First" model of Migration to the New World and it is possible that the first inhabitants of Valdivia and Chile travelled to America by watercraft and not across a land-bridge in the Bering Strait.
During at least the Middle Archaic southern Chile was populated by indigenous groups that shared a common lithic culture called the Chan-Chan Complex after the archaeological site of Chan-Chan located just some 35 km north of Valdivia along the coast.
By the time of the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores, Valdivia was inhabited by Huilliches (Mapudungun for People of the South). Huilliches and Mapuches were both referred by the Spaniards as Araucanos. Their main language was a variant of Mapudungun, the Mapuche language.
There was a large village called Ainil in present day downtown Valdivia, and the Valdivia River was called Ainilebu. Ainil seemed to have been an important trade centre due to its ease of access to the sea and the interior using the river network of the Cruces and Calle-Calle Rivers, both tributaries of the Valdivia. Ainil may be described as "a kind of little Venice" as it had large areas of wetlands and canals, most of them now drained or filled. The market in Ainil received shellfish and fish from the coast, legumes from Punucapa, and other foods from San José de la Mariquina, an agricultural zone north east of Valdivia. A remnant of this ancient trade is the modern Feria Fluvial (English: Riverside Market) on the banks of Valdivia River. The surroundings of Valdivia were described as large plains having a large population that cultivated potatoes, maize, quinoa and legumes among other crops. The