Sacred City of Caral-Supe, Peru
Almost five thousand years ago, humankind came together in a way never seen before. We began to turn our backs on the traditional hunter gatherer form of survival. Tribal communities based around families began to form into larger hierarchical systems. The techniques to build permanent structures were developed. And the worship of deities was taken to a new level.
Civilisations were being born.
I find it a bit strange the way this happened almost simultaneously (in the grand scheme of human history) around the world – but just in a few select places. Experts debate whether this happened independently or whether the idea spread across the world. Regardless, it was the dawn of a new era for mankind.
In the Americas, it was on the coast of what is now Peru that the first cradle of civilisation emerged in about 2600BC. On a site called Caral, these ancient people with bountiful food on hand in the rich ocean, rose at around the same time as five other major civilisations.
Caral was eerily similar to some of the other great cultures growing at the same time. They built stone pyramids here, for instance, at exactly the same time that the Egyptians were building their much more famous counterparts.
But there were also differences. No artwork adorned the structures of Caral. Unlike in Egypt or Mesopotamia, the people of Caral did not seem to have the same aesthetic tastes (or knowledge). There is no evidence they made or used ceramics, another key utensil and form of artwork in other civilisations. But they did have textiles.
In fact, the textiles were for more than just clothing and decoration. It’s believed the people of Caral also used textiles as their form of writing. Strings of different lengths with knots in various places is one way they could have communicated.
If this new advanced culture was not famous for art or ceramics, it was its architecture that was its strength. The same grand pyramids and temples of worship that are still partly standing around me on the day I visit.
Getting to Caral, Peru
It’s worth pointing out at this point that it is not simple to get to Caral. For a World Heritage Site and a place that is officially the oldest city in the Americas, there is little infrastructure to help visits for independent travellers.
I had to take an obscure bus company from Lima for about three hours to a city called Barranca. I then had to find a collectivo in a garage in a small street far from the centre. A collectivo is essentially a shared taxi so I then waited for about 40 minutes until all the seats were full and the boot was packed with deliveries before we set out on the 45 minute drive.
And when I got to the site, I discovered that a tour was mandatory but was only available in Spanish. I still had to pay my share of the tour and wait another 30 minutes until there were enough people to make it worthwhile starting.
The whole process was extremely annoying and I think I will write another post soon about countries that make such an effort to have their sites included on the World Heritage List but then do nothing to assist in visit to those sites. But that’s for another day.
For today, let’s go back to Caral and the significance of these structures. The pyramids are not as large as the famous Egyptian ones at Giza but clearly as much relative skill went into building them, considering this was almost 5000 years ago.
They haven’t been as well preserved and were, in fact, only discovered in 1948. But you can still see enough of the impressive structures to imagine how they would have dominated this plain at a time when there was nothing else on this continent like it.
The tour takes about an hour and as we walk from pyramid to pyramid, I understand just a few words of the guide’s Spanish explanations. What I comprehend better is the layout of Caral and how this was more than just a few structures haphazardly raised by simple people.
These were quite literally the building blocks of a civilisation still in its cradle but about to inspire millennia of cultures in one of the most fascinating countries on this planet.