This South American city was established around 2600 BC, and remained active and inhabited until approximately 1800 BC. This is about the same time that Egyptians were building their great pyramids. Caral is a contender for the oldest city in the Americas.
Archeologists found a quipas* (knotted rope) that may have been the source of the quipu used by the Inca civilization centuries later. They also have found reed and woven carry bags that allowed them to carbon-date the site with great accuracy, so the city’s date may be pushed back even further, since items from the oldest area have not yet been dated.
Caral is located in the Supe Valley in Peru, some 120 miles north of modern Lima. It has temples, an amphitheater and residential houses that could have accommodated a population of 3,000. This doesn’t sound big in our time, but Caral spawned 19 ‘suburbs’ in Supe Valley, which would have housed 20,000 when taken altogether.
Archeologists have found no evidence of warfare in Caral. They have found a number of wind instruments, such as flutes and cornettes (more similar to a flute than to modern cornets) made from bird and animal bones. They evidently traded with the coast and inland. Depictions of monkeys have been found, so perhaps they traded with people from the Amazon.
Caral was part of the Norte Chico civilization, possibly the first example of cities and organization in the Americas. The Norte Chico also inhabited two other arid river valleys in the area and downstream on the coast. Some have suggested that the cities relied on food from the sea, but irrigation ditches have been noted, so farming was known. They grew squash, beans, lúcuma, guava, pacay, sweet potato and maize. The coast supplied anchovies and sardines, with clams and mussels in a lesser amount.
The farmers also grew cotton. Although not edible, it was necessary to make fishing nets, fabric and clothing, bags, wraps and even adornment.
Although the government in Caral is not fully understood, there is evidence that some people could and did exert power to organize workers. For instance, the two main platform mounds (step pyramids) of Caral were built in one or possibly two phases of intense construction, while other portions of the city’s monumental construction were done a little bit at a time.
The Norte Chico did not have ceramics, so cooking would have been done over an open flame; they would not have been able to boil anything. They also did not carve or paint, except for a very few depictions, so the interiors of their buildings would have been bare… unless they used their skill with cotton and grasses to produce decorative materials that have not survived.
Are you ready to visit? Perhaps you want to check out Caral’s official website. Since Caral does not sit atop a mountain, you won’t have to take a harrowing bus ride up a too-narrow cliff-side road, but… it is in the desert, so make sure you take water.
This is the kind of history I like; no battle dates or general’s names in the entire bit of information.
*Quipas – An interesting note about quipas is that some scientists now believe they were not only a form of counting, but could also be used to record a type of shorthand.