Hidden in the vast Peruvian desert lies the potential ‘mother’ to most of the Andean cultures in Peru. Caral, considered the Oldest Civilization of the Americas, has intrigued many archeologists and impressed each and every one of its visitors due to its architectural authenticity and history.
While looking back at the origin of the different societies that marked our extensive country, there was one that went unnoticed for years, and it wasn’t until the year 2000 that the investigations carried out by a Peruvian archeologist gave a significant turn to the history of mankind.
The Citadel of Caral marks the beginning of an era in the Peruvian territory; and though the information collected throughout the years may uncover a few details of this ancient civilization, now we can understand even more about the development of the most recent pre-Columbian settlements in Peru.
According to specialists, Caral is over 5,000 years old, making it the first documented organized civilization in the Americas, and one of the firsts in the entire world, contemporary to the Egyptian, Chinese, Indian, and Sumer people.
During that time, civilizations were being born, and we are proud to say that as isolated our lands could have been throughout that period, our ancestors managed to structure a hierarchical system from the ground up.
The enigmatic culture was developed between the 3000 and 1800 B.C. For that reason, the Sacred City of Caral is considered the first city of the Americas since there is no other civilization that may have preceded them (or at least that have been documented).
The site is located 184 km from Lima in a geographical location called Norte Chico. Due to its remote location, not even the renowned german archeologist Max Uhle got to meet the archeological site.
However, it wasn’t until 1949 that Paul Kosok encountered the site and later documented it in his book ‘Life, Land and Water in Ancient Peru’ in 1965. Since then, many archeologists have visited the area to explore and carry out excavations on the place.
Nonetheless, they never came to the conclusion that caral could have been a pre-ceramic settlement. Instead, they believed that the culture had been developed during the height of the pot-firing technology though they didn’t have the knowledge to use it.
In 1994, Ruth Shady, a Peruvian archeologist, found 18 structures with the distinctive features of the other sites. She continued to investigate the area and concluded that the Archeological Site of Caral was indeed a pre-ceramic construction, though many of her colleagues thought otherwise.
Five years later, she sent samples of the findings to the Chicago’s Field Museum and to Northern Illinois University that confirmed her theory in December 2000.
Undoubtedly, it was a major discovery since it pushed back the oldest known dates for an urban center in the americas by more than 1,000 years. For that reason, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2009.
Thanks to the excavations and studies carried out on the site, now we can understand more of the cultural and administrative development of this civilization.
During the height of the City of Caral, it was considered an important economic center since they established an impressive trading network between the coastal side settlements and their lands.
Archeologists have found several fishing nets along the Peruvian coast that were traced back to 5,000 years ago. Therefore, it is believed that the farmers in Caral grew cotton that the fishermen needed to make the nets. In exchange, they received shellfish and dried fish for these materials.
It was a rich trading environment that was later replicated by other cultures, including the Incas. They also seemed to have astronomical knowledge as it was portrayed in one of the structures within the citadel.
Apparently, the religion imposed by the governors was the main activity that allowed control over the entire population, as well as for the production and distribution of food and other products.
Another particular fact about Caral is that they had a peaceful period that could have lasted from 500 to 1,000 years since archeologists couldn’t find any evidence of a military organization or signals of a war.
Impressively, Caral was an economic capital dedicated to the trading of their agricultural products with the inhabitants of the Peruvian coastal side and other parts of the region.
The archeological complex has an extension of 66 hectares and holds over 50 structures, which scholars assume could have served as residential, administrative and ceremonial areas. Likewise, the site is divided into a peripheral and central zone:
- The Central Zone is distributed in two halves. The first one is called Caral Alto and comprehends several public and residential structures, including seven monumental buildings, several residential units, and about four plazas.
The second half is denominated Caral Bajo and it’s composed of an amphitheater, the Circular Altar building and a residential complex.
- The Peripheral Zone contains housing complexes distributed like islets, bordering the valley.
However, it is worth mentioning that the residential areas weren’t entirely used for domestic purposes but also as workshops.
As aforementioned, Caral is located a few kilometers away north of Lima since it is only a 4-hour drive from the city. Therefore, you can visit the site by taking a full day trip to this historical monument.
Currently, the Archeological Site of Caral remains as a paid tourist attraction, and you can easily visit it from Lima. However, if you wish to see this historical monument, you must take a guided tour since it is mandatory for exploring the site.
The famous Citadel of the Americas comprehends many mysteries and details that you certainly can’t miss. Luckily for you, we have a special guided tour to Caral, where you’ll get to uncover the enigma of the 5,000-year-old citadel and much more!
- Operating Hours: Monday to Friday - From 09:00h to 18:00h
- Entrance: Adults S/. 11.00.
The Citadel of Caral isn't the only full-day excursion to take from the capital of Peru, we want you to have the best alternatives, which is why we have gathered the best day trips from Lima so you can make the most of your experience.
Would you like to know more about the civilizations that marked our country? Dare to uncover the mysteries of our lands with Viagens Machu Picchu and explore Lima like a real expert!