Ancient Caral Civilization

The establishment of human groups in the Andean region of South America dates back to 10,000 BC, although some investigations place their birth around four thousand years earlier. Early hunter-gatherer societies were progressing towards more complex structures on the basis of primitive agricultural activity. A milestone in regional development is the establishment of the city of Caral, the oldest known city whose structure and dimensions account for important state and religious development.

Andean Civilizations: Caral Culture

The Caral or Caral-Supe civilization, as it is also known, flourished in the north-central area of the present-day territory of Peru and came to have around 30 populated settlements. The most transcendental achievement of this culture was its architectural development, with monumental stone and clay buildings. The quality and the method used in their buildings gives a great account of the use of building techniques and the knowledge of arithmetic, geometry, and calculation. In addition, they did not neglect the aesthetics of their constructions, polishing the rocks for their best appearance and embellishing them with paintings made from stones, plants and ground flowers.

Ancient Caral civilization
Ancient Caral civilization

The Caral-Supe culture was pre-ceramist; it developed between 5,000 and 1,800 BC. (Late Archaic), and existed alongside other early civilizations such as Egypt, India and Mesopotamia. The remains rescued in Caral and other settlements of the Supe valley, such as Ápero, Miraya, Lurihuasi and Chupacigarro, as well as Vichama in the valley of Huaura, have transformed the history of Peru, by showing that in the north-central area, a civilization was formed of an antiquity comparable to those of the Old Continent.

Its most important legacy is the city of Caral, considered the oldest American city, its construction dates between 2,627 and 2,100 BC, which highlights the absence of ceramic productions. It was discovered in 1905, its full name, Caral-Supe, is derived from the sacred city that is in the valley of Supe, in Lima. Among its varied structures and plazas stands the Great Pyramid. The city of Caral consists of a group of monumental buildings, with different ceremonial and administrative functions. Chronologically, it is the oldest settlement in the Americas that has these characteristics and therefore is considered the first city of the Americas.

The Sacred City of Caral is located at the beginning of the Lower Middle Valley area of the Supe Basin, 26 km from the coast and 350 meters above sea level, occupying an area of 66 hectares, in which two zones are distinguished: nuclear and marginal. In the nuclear zone, the buildings are divided into two sectors: the upper sector, which has the largest public and residential buildings in the city: seven monumental buildings, two circular sunken plazas, two collective congregation spaces, residential units for officials, As well as an extensive residential suite of specialists and servers.

The lower sector has smaller buildings, such as the architectural complex of the Amphitheater, the Circular Altar building and a smaller residential complex. The marginal zone, located in the periphery, contains residences grouped and distributed, as an archipelago, along the alluvial terrace that borders the valley.

Each public building was built in relation to a certain deity and astral position. In them, multifunctional activities were carried out on certain dates of the annual calendar.

Greater Pyramid

Caral Pyramid
Caral Pyramid

It is the pyramidal building of great volume and size. The Great Pyramid worked as an administrative and religious center, and by its monumentality dominated the life of the whole city. As an architectural complex, its main components were the sunken circular plaza and the pyramid with staggered platforms around it. All the outer walls were stone. Its dimensions reached a length of 149 m by 170 m width. Its height varied: to the south, 19 m; To the north, 10 m more.

  • Circular square: Located in a depression of the land, it was accessed to it by means of two great stairs. There were exchanges of products such as pumpkin, beans and peppers.
  • Terraces: Located in an overlapping way, the people were concentrated in them to carry out their works.
  • Central Staircase: Main access to ceremonial facilities.
  • Atrium: It was the ceremonial space of excellence, with a central stove and staggered stools.
    Altar: In quadrangular format, it had an underground ventilation duct.
  • Venue: One of the many in which the ceremonial rites were developed. It was adorned with niches.
    West Wing: It was a complex of large terraces that were accessed by a side staircase.
  • Fogón: The altar of the Sacred Fire was in an enclosure decorated with friezes and niches. There used burnt offerings as a means of communication with the gods.

East side is the one in which more superposed terraces were concentrated, seven in total, with enclosures and stairs that connected them to each other.

Caral Society

The people of Caral usually met in the plazas and ceremonial rooms around the fireplaces of public buildings and houses, where they burned offerings, placed objects in the niches and buried horses, fragments of quartz, and other goods valued by them. Much of the recovered archaeological material has been found in the offerings, where the finding of vegetables, fragments of quartz, mussels and food conglomerates is recurrent, accommodated, buried and burned many times.

Archaeological explorations of the area teach that coastal and valley societies maintained a constant exchange of products. This is evident through the consumption of large quantities of fish and mollusks in the settlements of the valley such as Caral, Chupacigarro, Miraya and Lurihuasi, as well as the use of cotton and pumpkins, as well as squash, achira, pumpkin and guava, among others. Coastal settlement. Twines, fishing nets, clothing, and mates and floats were made with cotton. These materials improved the fishing technology and optimized its production.

It can be admitted that an agricultural-fishing economy, modulated by the exchange, supported the development of the Caral Civilization. The people of the coast caught and collected various marine species, mainly anchovy, mussels and clams; The farmers of the valley produced cotton, mates and food species such as achira, beans, sweet potatoes, squash, squash, potato, peanut, avocado, pacae, guava, maize, etc.

Caral culture
Caral culture

Music played an important role in the activities of the population; This tradition has continued as part of the cultural heritage of Andean societies through history. Three musical ensembles have been redeemed, made up of wind instruments, which ratify the collective musical practice and the complex organization of the Caral society. They were associated with snails, such as percussion instruments. The religious and social activities circumscribed musical practices that were in charge of the most skilled musicians.

Archaeological investigations indicate that the Caralinos used mates as containers, bottles, cups and plates; Also, carved wooden spoons, plates, bowls and stone mortars. The elite were distinguished by personal adornments (shell bead necklaces) and prestigious goods (cotton fabrics, utensils, among others), of distinctive use. Those responsible for political and economic management of settlements and religious services were called “Curacas”.

It is possible that Caral is a Quechua term, some linguists have proposed that it means “fiber” or “reed”. The causes of the end of the Caral culture are unknown, it seems that their gradual abandonment occurs between 2,100 and 1,800 BC, possibly due to natural events such as earthquakes and the El Niño phenomenon. The perimeter of Caral was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO on June 28, 2009.

Ancient Caral Civilization
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