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Land of winds > The land > History | Issue 05. May.-Jun.2011
By Edgardo Civallero | Sara Plaza


Pre-hispanic Peruvian culture Caral-Supe
The history of Peru stretches back 14 thousand of years and includes the most important Andean civilizations (see previous article). The oldest in both Peru and the entire continent of America was the Caral-Supe civilization. Also known as the Caral or Norte Chico Civilization, it is believed to be the earliest complex society to emerge in the Americas. Up to present moment, thirty archaeological sites have been documented. Caral is regarded as one of the most important and gives its name to the whole society. Located in the valley of Supe, about 150 to 200 km north of Lima (a region known as the “Norte Chico”), Caral was discovered by Ruth Shandy Solís in the ‘90s.
The culture flourished during the pre-ceramic period, from the 3000 to the 1800 BC. Caral emerged a millennium after the blooming of the Sumerian civilization, was a contemporary of the Egyptian pyramids and preceded the Olmecs of Mesoamerica by almost two millennia. It is regarded as one of the six places in the world where early civilization emerged independently. The Caral-Supe territory extended from the Casma valley in the north central coast of Peru to the Lurín valley in the south, including the valleys of Huaura, Supe, Pativilca and Fortaleza.
Neither ceramics nor other cultural expressions (paintings, sculptures, engravings...) have been found at the sites. However, their ancient architecture is pretty breathtaking including ground-mounted platforms (the bottom part of supposed scaled pyramids) and circular sunken squares. Evidence found suggests the use of both textile technology and quipus (sometimes called “talking knots”, were recording devices used in the Inca Empire and its predecessors societies, which consisted of coloured strings containing numeric and other valued encoded by knots).
According to archaeological remains, Caral people would have grown squash, beans, lúcuma (subtropical fruit), guava (tropical fruit), pacay (commonly known as ice-cream bean, is a legume) and camote (sweet potato) and would have completed their diet mostly with clams, mussels, anchovies and sardines above all other edible products from the sea. In addition, they would have used complex irrigation systems to water the cotton needed to make nets, textile products and the quipus, and would also have exchange Spondylus shells with the coastal peoples of Ecuador, dyes with the Altiplano communities and hallucinogenic drugs with the cultures of the Amazon region.
Since the population density was very high for such small spaces it has been suggested the possibility of an intensive exploitation of natural resources to maintain urban dwellers. No signs of fortifications or organized violence have been found and the presence of ceremonial structures may indicate a theocracy. Wide areas of celebration suggest that there would have been musical performances (pelican bone flutes were found by Dr. Ruth Shandy at Caral) as well as alcohol and hallucinogens consumption.
Despite ongoing research there is still much unknown about this culture. The only true thing is that a millennium was needed for another important civilization (Chavín) to occupy the space left by the disappearance of the Caral-Supe amazing civilization.


Caral civilization, in Wikipedia.
La ciudad sagrada de Caral-Supe en los albores de la civilización en el Perú (The sacred city of Caral-Supe at the dawn of civilization in Peru), by Ruth Shady Solís [es].
Sacred city of Caral-Supe, in UNESCO.
UNESCO declares Caral World Heritage Site.

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Video 01. Caral-Supe, the oldest civilization in the American continent, part 01.
Video 02. Caral-Supe, the oldest civilization in the American continent, part 02.
Video 03. Caral-Supe, 3.000 BC.
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