These sites are dated and the oldest civilizations in the americas. Unknown to many and also they existed at a similar time as the Egyptian and Indian cultures. Future research must show if these where seafaring settlers from these countries. These are the oldest meso american pyramids.
Note the circle at the base of the pyramid.
Six earth-and-rock mounds rise out of the windswept desert of the SupeValley near the coast of Peru. Dunelike and immense, they appear to be nature’s handiwork, forlorn outposts in an arid region squeezed between the Pacific Ocean and the folds of the Andean Cordillera. But looks deceive. These are human-made pyramids, and compelling new evidence indicates they are the remains of a city that flourished nearly 5,000 years ago. If true, it would be the oldest urban center in the Americas and among the most ancient in all the world.
Research developed by Peruvian archaeologist Ruth Shady Solís of San Marcos University suggests that Caral, as the 150-acre complex of pyramids, plazas and residential buildings is known, was a thriving metropolis as Egypt’s great pyramids were being built. The energetic archaeologist believes that Caral may also answer nagging questions about the long-mysterious origins of the Inca, the civilization that once stretched from modern-day Ecuador to central Chile and gave rise to such cities as Cuzco and Machu Picchu. Caral may even hold a key to the origins of civilizations everywhere.
Though discovered in 1905, Caral first drew little attention, largely because archaeologists believed the complex structures were fairly recent. But the monumental scale of the pyramids had long tantalized Shady. “When I first arrived in the valley in 1994, I was overwhelmed,” she says. “This place is somewhere between the seat of the gods and the home of man.” She began excavations two years later, braving primitive conditions on a tight budget. Fourteen miles from the coast and 120 miles north of Peru’s capital city of Lima, Caral lies in a desert region that lacks paved roads, electricity and public water. Shady, who enlisted 25 Peruvian soldiers to help with the excavations, often used her own money to advance the work.
For two months she and her crew searched for the broken remains of pots and containers, called potsherds, that most such sites contain. Not finding any only made her more excited; it meant Caral could be what archaeologists term pre-ceramic, or existing before the advent of pot-firing technology in the area. Shady eventually concluded that Caral predated Olmec settlements to the north by 1,000 years. But colleagues remained skeptical. She needed proof.
In 1996, Shady’s team began the mammoth task of excavating Pirámide Mayor, the largest of the pyramids. After carefully clearing away several millennia’s worth of rubble and sand, they unearthed staircases, circular walls covered with remnants of colored plaster, and squared brickwork. Finally, in the foundation, they found the preserved remains of reeds woven into bags, known as shicras. The original workers, she surmised, must have filled these bags with stones from a hillside quarry a mile away and laid them atop one another inside retaining walls, gradually giving rise to the city of Caral’s immense structures.
Shady knew that the reeds were ideal subjects for radiocarbon dating and could make her case. In 1999, she sent samples of them to Jonathan Haas at Chicago’s FieldMuseum and to Winifred Creamer at NorthernIllinoisUniversity. In December 2000, Shady’s suspicions were confirmed: the reeds were 4,600 years old. She took the news calmly, but Haas says he “was virtually in hysterics for three days afterward.” In the April 27, 2001, issue of the journal Science, the three archaeologists reported that Caral and the other ruins of the SupeValley are “the locus of some of the earliest population concentrations and corporate architecture in South America.” The news stunned other scientists. “It was almost unbelievable,” says Betty Meggers, an archaeologist at the Smithsonian Institution. “This data pushed back the oldest known dates for an urban center in the Americas by more than 1,000 years.”
What amazed archaeologists was not just the age but the complexity and scope of Caral. Pirámide Mayor alone covers an area nearly the size of four football fields and is 60 feet tall. A 30-foot-wide staircase rises from a sunken circular plaza at the foot of the pyramid, passing over three terraced levels until it reaches the top of the platform, which contains the remains of an atrium and a large fireplace. Thousands of manual laborers would have been needed to build such a mammoth project, not even counting the many architects, craftsmen, supervisors and other managers. Inside a ring of platform pyramids lies a large sunken amphitheater, which could have held many hundreds of people during civic or religious events. Inside the amphitheater, Shady’s team found 32 flutes made of pelican and condor bones. And, in April 2002, they uncovered 37 cornets of deer and llama bones. “Clearly, music played an important role in their society,” says Shady.
The perimeter of Caral holds a series of smaller mounds, various buildings and residential complexes. Shady discovered a hierarchy in living arrangements: large, well-kept rooms atop the pyramids for the elite, ground-level complexes for craftsmen, and shabbier outlying shantytowns for workers.
But why had Caral been built in the first place? More important, why would people living comfortably in small communities perched on the Pacific Ocean with easy access to abundant marine food choose to move inland to an inhospitable desert? If she could answer this question, Shady believed she might begin to unravel one of the knottiest questions in the field of anthropology today: What causes civilizations to arise? And what was it about the desert landscape of Peru’s SupeValley that caused a complex, hierarchical society to flourish there?
Her excavations convinced Shady that Caral had served as a major trade center for the region, ranging from the rain forests of the Amazon to the high forests of the Andes. She found fragments of the fruit of the achiote, a plant still used today in the rain forest as an aphrodisiac. And she found necklaces of snails and the seeds of the coca plant, neither of which was native to Caral. This rich trading environment, Shady believes, gave rise to an elite group that did not take part in the production of food, allowing them to become priests and planners, builders and designers. Thus, the class distinctions elemental to an urban society emerged.
But what sustained such a trading center and drew travelers to it? Was it food? Shady and her team found the remains of sardines and anchovies, which must have come from the coast 14 miles to the west, in the excavations. But they also found evidence that the Caral people ate squash, sweet potatoes and beans. Shady theorized that Caral’s early farmers diverted area rivers into trenches and canals, which still crisscross the SupeValley today, to irrigate their fields. But because she found no traces of maize (corn) or other grains, which can be traded or stored and used to tide a population over in difficult times, she concluded that Caral’s trade leverage was not based on stockpiling food supplies.
It was evidence of another crop in the excavations that gave Shady the best clue to the mystery of Caral’s success. In nearly every excavated building, her team discovered great quantities of cotton seeds, fibers and textiles. Her theory fell into place when a large fishing net, unearthed at an unrelated dig on Peru’s coast, turned out to be as old as Caral. “The farmers of Caral grew the cotton that the fishermen needed to make the nets,” Shady speculates. “And the fishermen gave them shellfish and dried fish in exchange for these nets.” In essence, the people of Caral enabled fishermen to work with larger and more effective nets, which made the resources of the sea more readily available. The Caral people probably used dried squash as flotation devices for nets and also as containers, thus obviating any need for ceramics.
Eventually Caral would spawn 17 other pyramid complexes scattered across the 35-square-mile area of the SupeValley. Then, around 1600 B.C., for reasons that may never be answered, the Caral civilization toppled, though it didn’t disappear overnight. “They had time to protect some of their architectural structures, burying them discreetly,” says Shady. Other nearby areas, such as Chupacigarro, Lurihuasi and Miraya, became centers of power. But based on Caral’s size and scope, Shady believes that it is indeed the mother city of the Incan civilization.
She plans to continue excavating Caral and says she would someday like to build a museum on the site. “So many questions still remain,” she says. “Who were these people? How did they control the other populations? What was their main god?”
Era de Pando
Ruth Shady already explore the ruins in 2000, and name them “Era de Pando”. Note the circle at the base of the pyramid, just like in caral.
One of the earliest groups in Peru to be studied were the Huaca Prieta people, who lived at the site of that name around 3500 BC to 2300 BC. These hunter and gatherers began simple agriculture, growing cotton and varieties of bean and pepper, but corn, now a national staple, was unheard of. Finds of simple nets and hooks indicate that they primarily ate seafood. Homes were single-room shacks half buried in the ground, and most of what is known about these folks has been deduced from their middens, or garbage piles. It seems that they were a Stone Age people who didn’t use jewelry, but had developed netting and weaving. At their most artistic, they decorated dried gourds with simple carvings; similarly decorated gourds are produced today as a Peruvian handicraft. Hot stones may have been dropped into these gourds to cook food.
Huaca Prieta is a very old site in the Chicama Valley along the coast of the Pacific Ocean. It is believed the people were both fishermen and farmers
At Huaca Prieta are monumental ceremonial mounds, built around 2500 B.C., with numerous residential mounds, stairways, plazas, a ceremonial center and crops. Highly skilled twined cotton weaving was found, as well as gourds carved with stylized geometric motifs. Here again are found architecture, platforms, where no ceramics have been found, like Las Haldas, El Paraido and Chuquintanta, located on the central Peruvian coast. All have various residential complexes of clay and stone constructed by building rooms and terraces one on top of another, much the same as in the Pueblo towns of the southwestern United States. Another important Pre-Ceramic site is Kotosh in the northern highlands of Peru. At Kotosh, terraced temples were made of fieldstone set in earth and decorated with clay reliefs of crossed hands, and also the Pre-Ceramic sites of Chavín de Huántar and Paracas (see previous posts of this series).
All of these cultures and sites have at least one thing in common—the building of monumental structures before they seem to have had or developed ceramics.
The site of Huaca Prieta, also called Chicama, in northern coastal Peru, located at the mouth of the Chicama River
Excavations of Huaca Prieta, a large complex stone and earth platform mound, built in several stages, replete with a massive access ramp and numerous burials, have revealed subterranean pit dwellings, and that the people grew squash chilies, and cotton as well as caught fish, and wove baskets and numerous cloth. The impressive mound measures 453 feet by 203 feet, and 105 feet high (10 stories). There are stone-faced terrace rooms on the eastern and western slopes, with a large sunken plaza 82 feet in diameter, with stone-faced stepped platforms and small masonry rooms.
A ramp 130 feet by 115 feet was constructed leading up to the summit of the mound from the northeast slope. 75 feet of mound is above the present-day ground surface, the recent excavations have established that 30 feet of mound building exists below the present surface, suggesting an increase in height of the surface level of some thirty feet.
Top: Junius Bouton Bird excavating Huaca Prieto for ten months in 1946-1947; Bottom: Junius and wife Peggy Bird (center right), along with Bob Bird (background) and Elvira Sanchez (left) sorting material from sifters during the original field work at Huaca Prieta 1946-1947
Early excavations conducted by pioneer archaeologist Julius Bird in the 1940s, made this the first pre-ceramic site excavated. The findings indicated that the site’s builders were sedentary people living in pit-houses, who cultivated crops as a supplement to marine fishing. The builders used a broad range of technology, including stone, bone and wood tools, bottle gourds, basketry and textiles. Cotton weaving and netting were used with some textiles involved iconographic styles with intricate designs.
As Bird himself wrote of the 4000 cotton fabrics and 2000 fragments he found: “The fact that some of the textiles rank high among the finest fabrics ever produced should lead us in all humility to seek not only a knowledge of their origin and development, but also a better understanding of what they actually represent in terms of human accomplishment.”
Within twelve miles of the mound, 38 small pre-ceramic domestic residential sites have been found that were occupied between the shoreline and he backwater wetlands during the mound construction period. These cobblestone mounds form small hamlets or communities comprised of several households and an open plaza-like area, and contained domestic hearths, food preparation areas, middens (refuse heaps) and residential structures—but do not contain the black soot and ash found at Huaca Prieta. Evidently, the mound at Huaca Prieta was built and maintained by people living at these sites located on both the coastal and inland sides of the estuarine wetlands.
Top: The first excavation into a mound of dirt at Huata Prieta suspected of being manmade; Bottom: Soon the structure, steps and pyramid begins to take shape
East of the domestic sites were discovered several raised agricultural platforms, which were built in the wetlands where beans, squash and chili peppers were grown. Instead of ceramics, workers have found over 10,000 fragments of cut and carved bottle gourds—most were bowls with incurving rims, jars with constricted mouths, small spherical containers, dippers and ladles. The bowls were decorated with incisions and engravings, including geometric cross-hatching and stylized faces.
The fishermen used bottle gourds as floats and to balance the net lines, and animals recovered at the site included llamas, dogs, and deer. There were also remains of pre-ceramic maize, coca, peanut, cherimoya, sweet potato, quinoa, avocado, yuca, manioc and pacae, as well as various tubers.
These first people of Huaca Prieto lived in simple dwellings—rooms lined with stone and roofs made of wood and whalebone—grew crops and fished, and were highly skilled with cotton textiles—growing long-stranded high qualify cotton, and produced dyes of over 100 different shades of color in their cloth, weaving figures of men, sea creatures, and animals into the multi-colored yarn. They and those that followed, developed such a high quality cotton industry that by the time the Spanish arrived, the newcomers mistook the cloth for silk.
They also had fireplaces, chimneys, storage pits, dumpsters, food packaging and other indicators of domestic occupation, all showing a high social complexity.
While they did not make earthenware (at least none has been found at their sites), they made vessels out of gourds that they incised with elaborate geometric designs, as well as depictions of human beings, condors, snakes, and crabs, making them the earliest dated examples of graphic art in the Americas.
According to Margaret A. Towle (The Ethnobotany of Pre-Columbian Peru), these sites along the north coastal area of Peru “resemble one another and fit into a large uninterrupted cultural sequence which extends from the pre-ceramic early agricultural epoch, in which maize is lacking, into a later ceramic epoch in which maize occurs.” And recent chronological data reported in Antiquity in 2012 suggests that the complexity of the mound construction is singular, with no direct antecedents (meaning it was the first occupation of the area and those inhabitants started off with building the complex mound).
This means, contrary to most archaeological assumptions, that nothing existed at Huaca Prieto before the mound (pyramid) was built. There was no earlier diffusion found, no previous period of development or human occupation. The people who first settled Huaca Prieto were an advanced pre-ceramic culture who evidently had not developed or made earthenware. By comparison, when the Jaredites settled in the promised land, they were an advanced culture; when the Nephites settled in the Land of Promise, they were an advanced culture.
The Nazca capital
Cahuachi, in Peru, was a major ceremonial center of the Nazca culture, based from 1 AD to about 500 AD in the coastal area of the Central Andes. It overlooked some of the Nazca lines. The Italian archaeologist Giuseppe Orefici has been excavating at the site for the past few decades. The site contains over 40 mounds topped with adobe structures. The huge architectural complex covers 0.6 sq. miles (1.5 km2).The American archeologist Helaine Silverman has also conducted long term, multi-stage research and written about the full context of Nazca society at Cahuachi, published in a lengthy study in 1993. The past several years long time researcher Omar Faizi has conducted in depth study of the Nazca lines with startling conclusions to his study.
Scholars once thought the site was the capital of the Nazca state but have determined that the permanent population was quite small. They believe that it was a pilgrimage center, whose population increased greatly in relation to major ceremonial events. New research has suggested that 40 of the mounds were natural hills modified to appear as artificial constructions. Support for the pilgrimage theory comes from archaeological evidence of sparse population at Cahuachi, the spatial patterning of the site, and ethnographic evidence from the Virgin of Yauca pilgrimage in the nearby Ica Valley.
Batán Grande – Bosque de Pomac
This incredible place is as interesting as it is beautiful. Baked in hot sun, cut in half by a river that floods the area in the rainy season and dotted with ancient pyramids, this dry forest of trees on the old grounds of the Batán Grande suger-cane hacienda was the highlight of my time in Lambayeque.
35km north of Chiclayo, in Ferreñafe-Pitipo, is the green valley of the Río Leche. Green because it is covered in almost 6000 hectares of forest. It’s not often you get to see a forest on Peru’s desert coast, less often one with dozens of bird species and coastal foxes.
It’s not only a beautiful place that can be hiked around or driven around, its also a huge archaeological site. It was here that the Sicán developed, flourished and then destroyed everything they created for reasons unknown.
Some way into the grounds of the reserve is a large hill with a lookout point. Only by climbing this can you appreciate where you are. You see another hill poking out of the trees. And another, another and another. You may wonder why they are all pyramid shaped… perhaps its because these are gigantic man-made monuments.
Like all the adobe constructions in northern Peru, rains have all but completely wiped out the splendour of these monuments that now appear as if they have been melted. With a bit of imagination though, all is not lost. Remember, these where perfectly formed and decorated stepped pyramids, flattened a little from the peak so that buildings could be placed on top. Huge wide ramps that used more mud bricks than the pyramids themselves led up to them and in some cases even connected some of them together.
More damage has been caused to these structures that just by rain. The foresthad been part of an old hacienda, one that had existed since colonial times. The owner of the land decided instead of paying the peasants who lived there to grow his sugar cane he would be better off paying them to destroy the pyramids to look for gold. Many now have huge sections dug out of them. Locals tell me, from what they heard, this made the land owner very rich, so lots of gold artefacts must have been found and destroyed. The area has since been turned into a national park and protected.
Sicán iconography is dominated by the Sican Deity It decorates all artistic media of the Sicán, including ceramics, metal works, and textiles. The icon is most commonly represented with a mask face and upturned eyes. Sometimes it may be shown with avian features, such as beaks, wings, and talons, which are evident in Early Sicán ceramics. These avian features are related to Naylamp, the key figure in Sicán mythology. The name “Naylamp” was first mentioned by the Spanish chronicler Miguel Cabello Valboa, who referred to the Moche figure “Naymlap” in his 1586 Miscelánea Antártica. Later authors believe the form is Mochica Ñañlap, of which the first part is ñañ “waterfowl”; a connexion has been made between the Moche and Chimú cultures and the empire of Chimor and the Mochica language.
Naylamp was said to be the founder of the first dynasty of prehistoric kings in La Leche and Lambayeque valleys. In The Legend of Naylamp, first recorded in the 16th century by the Spanish chronicler Miguel Cabello de Balboa, Naylamp is said to have traveled on a balsa raft by sea to the Lambayeque shores. (!!) He founded a large city, and the 12 sons of his eldest son each founded a new city in the Lambayeque region.
These stories were put to test by Thor Heyerdale with his Kontiki expedition and the recent tangaroa expedition.
When Naylamp died, he sprouted wings and flew off to another world (Nickle Arts Museum 2006, p. 18 and 65).
In 1978, Japanese Izumi Shimada, archaeologist and anthropologist began to study the area. It wasn’t until 1992 though that his team discovered a tomb of an elite member of Sicán society.
From this grave, 1.2 tonnes of precious metals in the form of jewellery and religious artefacts were removed, now stored in the National Sicán Museum.
Since, more tombs have been found, two either side of the Huaca Loro. At another pyramid 30m (100ft) long, Shimada’s team found the bones of a woman in her early 20s surrounded by figurines of Sicán gods, ceramics and objects in copper and gold. Another set of bones, clearly from a person of some stature, were found in a seated position accompanied by a metallic crown, shells, and ceramics.
The park entrance is just off the road that continues on to the town of Batangrande, you’ll see a big sign on the left. There you will find a building used by archaeologists, and official guides of the project – trained locals. Very few tourists make it here, despite it being the best attraction Lambayeque has in my opinion.
Ancient Settlement in Lima Region, Peru
One of the towns of the Caral-Supe culture (3000-1800 BCE) on the left bank of the Rio Supe.
They are building new settlements on this site