Caral: the oldest civilization of the Americas

Caral, Supe. Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, the Lost City of the Incas

 

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Explore Peru's 5000-year-old city, Caral

Monday, October 16, 2006: Associated Press by Leslie Josephs

CARAL, Peru - A sudden wind gust blows eerily down from rocky Andean foothills, kicking up a cinnamon-colored cloud over the moonscape of ruins that is the oldest city in the Americas. The sky is a crisp blue. All around in the Supe River Valley are lush fields of onion and corn. We are in Caral, three hours and nearly 5,000 years from contemporary Lima, Peru's bustling capital, and we've spent the last half-hour or so on a bumpy drive from the coast, along a dirt road blocked periodically by bleating herds of goats and sheep. Caral made headlines in 2001 when researchers carbon-dated material from the city back to 2627 B.C. It is a must-see for archaelogy enthusiasts.

 

Even though the ruins in the dusty, wind-swept Supe River Valley don't approximate in majesty the mountains that surround the famed Inca ruins at Machu Picchu, they are an unforgettable sight under the glow of a fiery sunset.

Dotted with pyramid temples, sunken plazas, housing complexes and an amphitheater, Caral is one of 20 sites attributed to the ancient Caral-Supe culture that run almost linearly from Peru's central coast inland up the Andes.

The ruins changed history when researchers proved that a complex urban center in the Americas thrived as a contemporary to ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt — 1,500 years earlier than previously believed.

But much remains to be discovered about Caral and the Caral-Supe culture that flourished here for more than a thousand years.

Ruth Shady, a Peruvian archaeologist from San Marcos University, discovered Caral in 1994, and was stunned by its size and complexity.

"Caral combined size with construction volume, but also it was a planned city," she says.

Shady and her team continue working at Caral but she also dedicates her time to promoting the project with Peru's National Culture Institute as a tourist and educational destination.

Caral received some 21,000 visitors in 2005, up from about 7,000 in 2003, the Commission for the Promotion of Peru says.

The ruins offer a front-row seat to archaeology in action, as scientists dust off piles of rock or supervise the reconstruction of a crumbling pyramid wall that thousands of years ago gleamed red, yellow or white.

The ancient society comes to life with the help of these archeologists, who make up about half of the site's tour guides along with locals whom they have trained.

The 163-acre city was the administrative center for a complex civilization.

While only crudely reconstructed, the society's clear class distinctions are evident in the wide variety of home sizes and neighborhoods.

One complex thought to have housed farmers was partly excavated on the outskirts of Caral, on a dry and inhospitable patch of land, while a spacious home for wealthy families was built beside the important and impressive Huanca Pyramid, with its steep staircases that narrow as they reach the structure's flat top.

Caral's largest social class was dedicated to agricultural production, Shady says. Farmers, using irrigation canals, nourished their crops of pumpkin, squash, sweet potatoes, corn, chili peppers and cotton with the waters from the Supe River.

Musicians played flutes crafted from pelican and condor skeletons and horns made from llama or alpaca bones in the city's amphitheater.

Shady has also uncovered evidence of extensive trading. Shrimp and mollusks from Peru's coast have been found at Caral.

Caral-Supe residents capitalized on the various climate zones they inhabited by growing a wide variety of foods. The region's agriculture and fishing industries complemented each other.

"They managed an economy that articulated the productivity" of the various regions, Shady says.

Painstaking detective work and reconstruction is necessary, as these archeologists, little by little, uncover a lost world.

The Caral-Supe ruins are far from intact, unlike many of Peru's famed Inca ruins that date back half a millennium and are scattered throughout Peru's Sacred Valley in the Andean state of Cuzco.

Machu Picchu in nearby Cuzco is, of course, the country's top tourist destination. Aspero, another major Caral-Supe site on Peru's central coast, 16 miles from Caral, was discovered in 1905 but its pyramids were thought to be naturally formed hills. A garbage dump was built on top of it, and as Shady's team excavates, trash needs to be cleared away.

They have discovered that fishermen from Aspero provided sardines, anchovies, and other fish for the sprawling culture.

"We're going to be able to learn about the social system, the economic and political organization, the ideology," Shady said of the excavations throughout the Supe Valley.

"It's very important because it's the oldest civilization in America. And for that reason, native peoples see it as a symbol that in America there had been the same capacity to create civilizations as ancient as in the Old World."
 

Tourism increasing to ancient city in Peru

Friday, September 01, 2006. Source: The Vancouver Sun, Canadian Press

Tourism is increasing to the ancient Sacred City of Caral, Peru, which was discovered in 1994 and is located two hours from Lima.

Archeologists have been working to preserve and restore the site, and that work will continue.

The city is more than 5,000 years old and is considered to be the oldest city in the Americas. Located in the Supe Valley, it is easily accessible by the Pan-American Highway. Machu Picchu, located in Cuzco, is probably the country's best-known ancient site, but Caral predates the Incan ruins by several thousand years.

The structures at Caral include housing, pyramids, plazas, temples and altars. Farming, engineering, textiles and trade were all part of life there.

About 7,000 visitors saw Caral in 2003, a number which rose to 15,000 in 2004 and 21,000 in 2005.
After years of painstaking restoration work, Peru's Caral ruins are to be opened to tourists who are now being invited to visit the oldest city in the Americas.

 

Peru opens Caral ruins to tourists

Hundreds of years before the Incas built Machu Picchu, the Caral civilization was at work on the Sacred City of Caral. Now Peru's Proyecto Especial Arqueologico Caral-Supe (Caral-Supe Special Archeological Project) is busily restoring this archaeological treasure, and it is inviting tourists who visit Lima to come and have a look. Located in the Supe Valley, the historic site is about two hours north of Lima and easily accessible by the Pan-American Highway.

Lima, June 21: After years of painstaking restoration work, Peru's Caral ruins are to be opened to tourists who are now being invited to visit the oldest city in the Americas.

This ancient archaeological site in the Supe valley, just under 200 kilometers north of Lima, was settled some 5,000 years ago by one of the continent's oldest civilizations.

First stumbled upon in 1994, the site was painstakingly restored by archaeologists led by Ruth Shady, whose work revealed an ancient, majestic city replete with pyramids, temples and plazas.

This ancient civilization lived off farming and fishing, and were believed to have a barter system in place. According to Shady, the Caral civilization was the foundation which led to the development of the Inca empire 4,400 years later.

"Here in America human beings also had the same ability as in the old world to create civilizations as ancient as in the old continent and regarding Peru, as we have already shown, this is the mother civilization because it gave rise to a cultural process that went on to be evidenced in Machu Picchu and the Incan empire 4,400 years later," she said.

According to Shady, the discovery of the city Caral has had a huge impact on studies of urban development and ancient civilizations. "Caral has changed the knowledge that we had about the urban development that existed in the world," she said.

Now the Peruvian government is keen to promote its newly-discovered tourist treasure, and Minister for Foreign Trade and Tourism Alfredo Ferrero visited the site as part of the strategy.

"What we have come to do today with archaeologist Ruth Shady, who has been working on this project since 1994, is to start promoting it as a tourist destination for Peru and for the world. This is the most ancient civilization in America. Only Egypt and Mesopotamia come before it in terms of antiquity, and we believe this makes it worthwhile, when visiting Peru, to have a day to visit this, just three hours from Lima, and can be done in a round trip," said the Minister.

Visitors are already starting to flock to the area, with some 43,000 tourists arriving last year alone. But there is still work to be done to improve infrastructure in the area and step up security around the site to protect it against looting.

The new government campaign is also hoping to distribute leaflets and video footage at some of the world's biggest international tourism fairs to start spreading the word about this ancient spot.

The Peruvian authorities are also hoping that the National Cultural Institute will declare Caral a National Heritage Site.

Bureau Report

Above: Archeologists in Peru have found a "quipu" on the site of the oldest city in the Americas, indicating the device, a sophisticated arrangement of knots and strings used to convey detailed information, was in use thousands of years earlier than previously believed.

 

Ruins contemporary with ancient Egypt


Caral made headlines in 2001 when researchers carbon-dated material from the city back to 2627 B.C. It is a must-see for archaelogy enthusiasts.

Even though the ruins in the dusty, wind-swept Supe River Valley don't approximate in majesty the mountains that surround the famed Inca ruins at Machu Picchu, they are an unforgettable sight under the glow of a fiery sunset.

Dotted with pyramid temples, sunken plazas, housing complexes and an amphitheater, Caral is one of 20 sites attributed to the ancient Caral-Supe culture that run almost linearly from Peru's central coast inland up the Andes.

The ruins changed history when researchers proved that a complex urban center in the Americas thrived as a contemporary to ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt — 1,500 years earlier than previously believed.

But much remains to be discovered about Caral and the Caral-Supe culture that flourished here for more than a thousand years.

 

A planned city


Ruth Shady, a Peruvian archaeologist from San Marcos University, discovered Caral in 1994, and was stunned by its size and complexity.

"Caral combined size with construction volume, but also it was a planned city," she says.

Shady and her team continue working at Caral but she also dedicates her time to promoting the project with Peru's National Culture Institute as a tourist and educational destination.

Caral received some 21,000 visitors in 2005, up from about 7,000 in 2003, the Commission for the Promotion of Peru says.

The ruins offer a front-row seat to archaeology in action, as scientists dust off piles of rock or supervise the reconstruction of a crumbling pyramid wall that thousands of years ago gleamed red, yellow or white.

The ancient society comes to life with the help of these archeologists, who make up about half of the site's tour guides along with locals whom they have trained.

 

Complex culture


The 163-acre city was the administrative center for a complex civilization.

While only crudely reconstructed, the society's clear class distinctions are evident in the wide variety of home sizes and neighborhoods.

One complex thought to have housed farmers was partly excavated on the outskirts of Caral, on a dry and inhospitable patch of land, while a spacious home for wealthy families was built beside the important and impressive Huanca Pyramid, with its steep staircases that narrow as they reach the structure's flat top.

Caral's largest social class was dedicated to agricultural production, Shady says. Farmers, using irrigation canals, nourished their crops of pumpkin, squash, sweet potatoes, corn, chili peppers and cotton with the waters from the Supe River.

Musicians played flutes crafted from pelican and condor skeletons and horns made from llama or alpaca bones in the city's amphitheater.

Shady has also uncovered evidence of extensive trading. Shrimp and mollusks from Peru's coast have been found at Caral.

Caral-Supe residents capitalized on the various climate zones they inhabited by growing a wide variety of foods. The region's agriculture and fishing industries complemented each other.

"They managed an economy that articulated the productivity" of the various regions, Shady says.

 

Oldest civilization in America


Painstaking detective work and reconstruction is necessary, as these archeologists, little by little, uncover a lost world.

The Caral-Supe ruins are far from intact, unlike many of Peru's famed Inca ruins that date back half a millennium and are scattered throughout Peru's Sacred Valley in the Andean state of Cuzco.

Machu Picchu in nearby Cuzco is, of course, the country's top tourist destination.Aspero, another major Caral-Supe site on Peru's central coast, 16 miles from Caral, was discovered in 1905 but its pyramids were thought to be naturally formed hills. A garbage dump was built on top of it, and as Shady's team excavates, trash needs to be cleared away.

They have discovered that fishermen from Aspero provided sardines, anchovies, and other fish for the sprawling culture.

"We're going to be able to learn about the social system, the economic and political organization, the ideology," Shady said of the excavations throughout the Supe Valley.

"It's very important because it's the oldest civilization in America. And for that reason, native peoples see it as a symbol that in America there had been the same capacity to create civilizations as ancient as in the Old World."

 


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Last updated: July 13, 2010