Category Archives: SOUTH AMERICA

Six thousand-year-old tombs found in northwest Argentina

Six thousand-year-old tombs found in northwest Argentina

Radio Cadena Agramonte reports that 12 graves dated between 6,000 and 1,300 years ago were unearthed in northwestern Argentina by a team of researchers from the University of Buenos Aires–National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET), during investigations over the past 15 years.

Six thousand-year-old tombs found in northwest Argentina
A group of Argentine researchers found in the province of Catamarca 12 graves with more than six thousand years old, reported the scientific outreach agency CTyS, of the University of La Matanza.

According to the source, most were found fortuitously by residents of the area who, upon finding the remains, alerted the archaeological team that has been studying pre-Hispanic burial practices in northwestern Argentina for years.

The doctor in Archeology, Leticia Cortés, a specialist in burial methodologies in pre-Hispanic populations that inhabited the Valle del Cajón area, explained that when these practices are compared with current ones, they may seem strange.

“Knowing these customs, we can reconstruct the cultural practices of the past and put into perspective our own traditions, which are part of a cultural construction,” said Cortés, a researcher at the Institute of Cultures.

The search of this type began more than 15 years ago, with a research team dependent on the National Council for Scientific and Technical Research, led by María Cristina Scattolin and dedicated to excavation and analysis tasks in the town of Valle del Cajón.

This practice of burials before the arrival of the Spanish was far from what is customary today on the basis of the Judeo-Christian model.

Cortés pointed out that this type of find usually occurs after the rainy season, in summer, which is uncovered and the bones are exposed.

“There was a great variability of burial methods, in individual or collective graves, and also in the posture of the bodies. 

Some are hyperflexed, like squatting, with the shoulders touching the knees, others extended and disjointed and mixed, ”explained the specialist.

Cortés pointed out that many times people lived with their dead on a daily basis, buried them in the same patio where they cooked, made pots or carved stones. It is an interesting thing to see the different conceptions that were had about life and death, he said.

According to archaeology, they continue working and have found necklaces and pendants that would be associated with the deceased, as non-transferable objects that are buried next to the body and remain there.

The Oldest City in The Americas Is an Archeological Wonder, And It’s Under Invasion

The Oldest City in The Americas Is an Archeological Wonder, And It’s Under Invasion

The oldest archaeological site in the Americas, having survived for 5,000 years, is under threat from squatters that claim that the coronavirus pandemic has left them with no other option but to occupy the sacred city.

The government wants to take all of the items found from archaeological sites for national security. Because of this, Ruth Shady, who archives the items before, and after she is done, she has been threatened with death.

Archaeologists told an AFP team visiting Caral that squatter invasions and destruction began in March when the pandemic forced a nationwide lockdown.

An agricultural area that has invaded the protected site.

“There are people who come and invade this site, which is state property, and they use it to plant,” archaeologist Daniel Mayta told AFP.

“It’s hugely harmful because they’re destroying 5,000-year-old cultural evidence.”

Caral is situated in the valley of the Supe river some 182 kilometres (110 miles) north of the capital Lima and 20km from the Pacific Ocean to the west.

Developed between 3,000 and 1,800 BCE in an arid desert, Caral is the cradle of civilization in the Americas. Its people were contemporaries of Pharaonic Egypt and the great Mesopotamian civilizations. It pre-dates the far better known Inca empire by 45 centuries.

None of that mattered to the squatters, though, who took advantage of the minimal police surveillance during 107 days of lockdown to take over 10 hectares of the Chupacigarro archaeological site and plant avocados, fruit trees, and lima beans.

“The families don’t want to leave,” said Mayta, 36.

“We explained to them that this site is a (UNESCO) World Heritage site and what they’re doing is serious and could see them go to jail.”

Death threats

Shady is the director of the Caral archaeological zone and has been managing the investigations since 1996 when excavations began. She says that land traffickers – who occupy state or protected land illegally to sell it for private gain – are behind the invasions.

“We’re receiving threats from people who are taking advantage of the pandemic conditions to occupy archaeological sites and invade them to establish huts and till the land with machinery … they destroy everything they come across,” said Shady.

“One day they called the lawyer who works with us and told him they were going to kill him with me and bury us five meters underground” if the archaeological work continued at the site.

Shady, 74, has spent the last quarter of a century in Caral trying to bring back to life the social history and legacy of the civilization, such as how the construction techniques they used resisted earthquakes.

“These structures up to five thousand years old have remained stable up to the present and structural engineers from Peru and Japan will apply that technology,” said Shady.

The Caral inhabitants understood that they lived in the seismic territory. Their structures had baskets filled with stones at the base that cushioned the movement of the ground and prevented the construction from collapsing. The threats have forced Shady to live in Lima under protection. She was given the Order of Merit by the government last week for services to the nation.

“We’re doing what we can to ensure that neither your health nor your life is at risk due to the effects of the threats you’re receiving,” Peru’s President Francisco Sagasti told her at the ceremony.

Police arrests

Caral was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2009. It spans 66 hectares and is dominated by seven stone pyramids that appear to light up when the sun’s rays fall on them. The civilization is believed to have been peaceful and used neither weapons nor ramparts.

Closed due to the pandemic, Caral reopened to tourists in October and costs just US$3 to visit. During the lockdown, several archaeological pieces were looted in the area and in July police arrested two people for partially destroying a site containing mummies and ceramics.

An unusual pre-Hispanic chimú burial was discovered in Peru

An unusual pre-Hispanic chimú burial was discovered in Peru

In an archaeological discovery in Peru, a pre-Hispanic burial belonging to the Chimu Culture was discovered on Wednesday by government workers who carried out domestic gas connection works very close to an urban area in the city of Chimbote, in the Ancash district.

Juan Lopez Marchena, head of the Decentralized Culture Directorate (DDC) of Chimbote, clarified that the skeletal remains belonged to an individual who was found in a flexed ventral ulna position along with three vessels.

“Following the studies and analyses, we will be able to know part of the pre-Hispanic history of the people at that time, the gender of the individual, the diet, the occupation, as well as information about the vessels associated with the find,” he told Andina news agency.

According to Lopez, the vessels were apparently destined for domestic use, and —on the inside— there was evidence of the presence of piruros, which the Chimu women used to spin wool.

“The vessels feature characteristic circles of the Chimu Culture, which settled mainly in Casma,” he mentioned.

Rich and millenary peoples

The discovery occurred in the shantytown of Bolivar. Before that —also while gas installation works were being carried out— a burial of the Moche Culture was found in the shantytown of San Pedro. 

These discoveries are important for this reason, he said, because “we are building a cultural sequence.”

“Two finds have been reported, and they are very important because they indicate how rich and millenary different peoples in Chimbote can be,” he stressed.

The remains will be taken to the Max Uhle Museum, located in the city of Casma. They will be analyzed, and the results will be significant for the investigation of pre-Hispanic Peru.

Mass-Murder Under The Silvery Light Of The Moon

One aspect of the Chimú culture, which the Spanish conquistadors couldn’t forgive, was the mass-sacrifice of captive adult warriors at the Temple of the Moon, just a few miles from Chan Chan. However, this was way less horrific than the Chimú elite’s institutionalized killing of babies and children.

In a 2019 National Geographic article Dr. Gabriel Prieto, a professor of archaeology from the National University of Trujillo, discussed a shocking discovery in Huanchaquito, a hamlet on the north coast of Peru.

In 2011 he discovered the broken bodies of “269 children between the ages of five and 14.” More than 500 years ago these children were systematically murdered in “carefully orchestrated acts of a ritual sacrifice that may be unprecedented in world history,” said Dr. Preito.

A shocking number of children’s bodies have been found at Huanchaquito

Chan Chan’s sustained success depended on carefully managed irrigation systems and coastal fisheries. This means a severe El Niño weather event might have shaken the political and economic stability of the Chimú kingdom.

It is thought that the priests and leaders may have ordered the mass sacrifice of these children in a desperate attempt to persuade the gods to stop the rains and flooding caused by an El Niño.

Jane Eva Baxter, an anthropology professor at DePaul University, said the Chimú people probably considered their children as the most valuable offerings they could present to the gods and Dr. Prieto said this number of children (269) would have been “a massive investment on behalf of the state”.

Villa Epecuen: The Town That Was Submerged For 25 Years

Villa Epecuen: The Town That Was Submerged For 25 Years

The landscape has the permanent look of winter. Leafless trees jag skywards while shimmering white dust covers the ground. The streets are deserted; the only sound is the breeze. Welcome to Epecuen, Argentina’s ghost town, with a population of just one.

Located 340 miles south-west of Buenos Aires, Epecuen was once a booming tourist destination on the shores of a salt lake famed for its healing properties. Then one-day disaster struck. On 10 November 1985, after a period of heavy rain, the banks of the lake burst. The town, stretching back for more than 100 blocks, was submerged in water 10 meters deep.

Over the past few years, the waters have receded and the town has re-emerged. Left behind is a crystalline residue that from a distance looks like snow, as well as hundreds of dead trees and a derelict resort.

Lone inhabitant of Villa Epecuen, 81-year-old Pablo Novak tends his wood stove at his on May 3, 2011.

When the flood hit, residents were forced to pack their bags and leave. No one dared to return, except for 83-year-old Pablo Novak, who now has the dubious title of being contemporary Epecuen’s only resident. Today he’s out for a jaunt on his rusting bicycle with his two dogs in tow.

“I got used to life on my own,” he says. “I decided to stay because I spent my youth here, I went to school here and also started a family here. So it seemed quite normal.”

The former slaughterhouse of Villa Epecuen, Argentina, among a stand of long-dead trees, photographed on May 4, 2011.
Norma Berg gestures next to the ruins of her family house in Villa Epecuen, Argentina, on May 3, 2011.
A thin layer of salt, cracked, revealing the original paint of the wall of a collapsed building in Villa Epecuen, Argentina, on May 3, 2011.

The flood reduced Epecuen to rubble. No house was left untouched. Façades have disintegrated; walls have crumbled; pavements have sunk. Wooden staircases are exposed – in one spot are the rusting remains of a 1930s Chevrolet that an owner failed to salvage.

The salt has preserved tiny details, freezing the resort in time and allowing a voyeuristic glimpse into the past. Near the main street are the remains of a pizzeria. The sculptures that the owner bought to decorate his business are still intact, including a stone crescent moon sitting outside as though it were still 1985. In the rubble, a wood-fired pizza oven is clearly visible.

Walking among the crystalline ruins, the tracks left by a tractor that tried to salvage valuables from the long-gone Santa Teresista Church are still there. Dotted around the site, too, are green wine bottles half-buried in the sand. Further away from the main drag is what used to function as the municipal camping area. The eerie site has an abandoned playground: the frame of a set of swings still stands, as does a rusting seesaw, every inch reminiscent of Chernobyl.

Javier Andres, head of tourism for the normally sleepy agricultural region of Adolfo Alsina, has been swamped with interest in the last few weeks due to a concerted effort to promote the ruins. Epecuen has been compared to Pompeii, he says, but there is one major difference.

“We don’t think there’s anywhere in the world quite like it,” he explains. “Although it’s been called the Argentinian Pompeii, there you’re not able to walk around with a former resident explaining everything to you. Here you can do that.”

The waters began their retreat in 2009 but the tourist board delayed launching a campaign until now, respectful of the reactions the floods continue to provoke among the hundreds who lost their livelihoods.

“When you visit Epecuen, the sensation is hard to explain,” Mr. Andres says. “There’s a sense of wonder at this place that is completely in ruins, an apocalyptic vision. But then you can’t help thinking about the people that lost everything here, years of effort and hard work that disappeared overnight. So there’s a lot of sadness at the same time.”

The devastated landscape has attracted the attention of several movie crews and Roland Joffé’s Spanish Civil War drama, There Be Dragons, was partly filmed here. Yet the demise of Epecuen remains painful for former residents. The health resort was one of the most frequented in Argentina, growing in popularity from the 1920s and attracting European as well as local tourists at a time before the wide availability of alternative treatments.

The water – 10 times saltier than the sea – drew many of Buenos Aires’s Jewish community, nostalgic for the Dead Sea. The town’s population of just over 1,000 would swell fivefold during the high season.

“There are some things you can repair, such as the economic damage,” says Carlos Ruben Besagonill, 49, who used to run a hotel in Epecuen. “But you can’t replace the experiences, the affection, the moments you passed there.”

Mr. Besagonill says that it’s taken him more than 20 years to re-establish the business he had in Epecuen in nearby Carhue, now the region’s main tourist town. He was forced to leave behind everything in 1985, recently married and with a one-year-old daughter in his arms. “I used to dream every night that Epecuen reappeared,” he says. “I’d dream that I told my family: ‘Look we can go back and paint the hotel,’ because I really thought it was possible.”

Mr Besagonill is pleased that the ruins may soon be a major tourist attraction once more. For him, it should serve as a warning about “what not to do with nature”. He says that the province may be to blame for poor water management, but that the town should never have been built so close to the shores of a lake that was liable to overflow.

Argentina
A man compares a photograph of Villa Epecuen taken in the 1970s with the current state of the place, after almost 25 years beneath the water of Lago Epecuen.

Back on the main street, the ghosts of Epecuen continue to swirl around the crumbling concrete as Mr. Novak recalls the ice-cream parlour he used to pass, the bar he’d visit for a beer, and the clubs where he’d dance until the early hours.

Mr. Novak says that his children don’t like coming back – unlike his 21 grandchildren who love hearing his yarns and devour his photos of the old days – and every year they try to convince him to move away. But while he remains independent, he argues, he’s going nowhere.

Although Mr. Andres rejects the idea that somebody may be prepared to stump up the “six-figure sum” needed to rebuild Epecuen, Mr. Novak remains dogged in his hope that the town will one day recapture its glorious past. “I always thought it would revive, that’s the thing I find most difficult,” he says wistfully. “I keep on hoping it will happen. But sadly no one seems to want to do anything.”

Priests Discover Golden Library Built by Giants Inside of a Cave in Ecuador?

Priests Discover Golden Library Built by Giants Inside of a Cave in Ecuador?

About two years ago we brought up the fact that in Ecuador a priest made one of the most incredible discoveries of the 21st century, to say the least. But because it didn’t get all that much attention, we figured it’d be about time we give it some more exposure.

So, the discovery was made by a man that goes by the name of Crespi.

He’s been working as a priest for most of his life now and despite the fact that he’s never been all that much of a believer in the extraterrestrial factor he couldn’t help but think about it as he saw the discovery with his own two eyes.

So, what exactly did he see? He stumbled across a massive metallic alien library which was packed full of sheets of gold, platinum, and other such precious metals.

Inside he also uncovered several artefacts that became known as Cueva de Los Tayos.

Priests Discover Golden Library Built by Giants Inside of a Cave in Ecuador

The Ecuadorian authorities wouldn’t confirm the existence of any of them, but the proof is definitely out there ready to be explored by anyone who’s willing to look for it.

Photograph of Father Crespi with some local children

It is said that many important individuals including Neil Armstrong himself visited the cave on multiple occasions to essentially discover the true origin of all of humanity.

The caves are said to go on forever and ever, to the point where it becomes impossible to read every book in the library within the span of one’s lifetime.

Fact Check & Truth

IN 1976, A MAJOR EXPEDITION entered the Cueva de Los Tayos in search of artificial tunnels, lost gold, strange sculptures, and a “metallic library,” supposedly left by a lost civilization aided by extraterrestrials. Among the group was the astronaut Neil Armstrong.

For as long as anyone can remember, the indigenous Shuar people of Ecuador have been entering a vast cave system on the jungle-covered eastern foothills of the Andes. They descend, using ladders made of vines, through one of three vertiginous entrances, the largest of which is a 213-foot-deep (65-meter) shaft that leads into a network of tunnels and chambers stretching, as far as we know, for at least 2.85 miles. The largest chamber measures 295 feet by 787 feet.

For the Shuar, these caves have long been a centre for spiritual and ceremonial practices, home to powerful spirits as well as tarantulas, scorpions, spiders, and rainbow boas. They are also home to nocturnal oilbirds, known locally as tayos, hence the name of the cave. The tayos are a favoured food of the Shuar, another reason why they brave the depths of the cave system.

In their role as guardians of the cave system, the Shuar had been left in relative peace over the last century or two, apart from an occasional gold prospector snooping around in the 1950s and ‘60s. Until that was, a certain Erich von Däniken decided to get involved.

The Swiss author captured the global imagination in 1968 with the publication of his book Chariots of the Gods? which was in large part responsible for the current plague of ancient astronaut theories and all that malarkey. Then, three years later, he published The Gold of the Gods, unleashing a little-known theory about the Cueva de Los Tayos upon his eager readership.

In The Gold of the Gods, von Däniken recounted the claims of János Juan Móricz, an explorer who claimed to have entered the caves in 1969. Inside the cave, he asserted, he had discovered a treasure trove of gold, strange artefacts and sculptures, and a “metallic library” containing lost information preserved on metal tablets. And the caves themselves were surely artificial, he claimed, created by some advanced intelligence now lost to history.

This was red meat for von Däniken, of course, and tied in very nicely with his spate of lucrative books promoting his theories of lost civilizations, ancient astronauts, and the like (or, as Carl Sagan put it, von Däniken’s theory that “our ancestors were dummies”).

It also inspired the first major scientific expedition to Cueva de Los Tayos. The 1976 expedition was led by Stan Hall, a Scottish civil engineer who had read von Däniken’s work. It quickly grew to become one of the largest cave expeditions of its time, with more than 100 people involved. These included British and Ecuadorian government officials, leading scientists and speleologists, British special forces, professional cavers, and none other than astronaut Neil Armstrong, who served as the expedition’s Honorary President.

The expedition was a success, at least in its less fanciful ambitions. The extensive network of caves was mapped far more thoroughly than ever before. Zoological and botanical findings were recorded. And archaeological discoveries were made. But no gold was found, no otherworldly artefacts discovered, and there was no sign of a metallic library. The cave system, too, appeared to be the result of natural forces rather than any kind of advanced engineering.

Interest in the Cueva de Los Tayos never again reached the heights of the 1976 expedition, but numerous research expeditions have since taken place. One of the more recent expeditions was that of Josh Gates and his team for the fourth season of the television series Expedition Unknown. Gates entered the cave system with Shuar guides and Eileen Hall, the daughter of the late Stan Hall from the 1976 expedition. And while expeditions such as these have resulted in fascinating zoological and geological discoveries, there’s still no sign of gold, aliens, or a library.

Archaeologists discover an underground pyramid in Bolivia

Archaeologists discover an underground pyramid in Bolivia

The government of Bolivia announced it will start exploratory excavations this year at the ancient fortress of Tiahuanaco after a buried pyramid was detected.

Excavations at the pyramid of Akapana, Tiahuanaco

Ludwing Cayo, director of the Tiahuanaco Archeological Research Center, told Efe that the formation is located in the area of Kantatallita, east of the Akapana pyramid.

In a presentation for the media, Cayo outlined a five-year for further research at Tiahuanaco, an archaeological site 71 kilometers (44 miles) west of La Paz that was the cradle of an ancient civilization predating the Incas.

The Akapana Pyramid Mound, Tiahuanaco, Bolivia

Excavations may start soon, depending on the timing of cooperation agreements with foreign universities and institutes to enroll more forensic archaeology experts in the effort, Cayo said.

Besides the pyramid, ground-penetrating radar has detected “a number of underground anomalies” that might be monoliths, but those findings require more detailed analysis.

Tiahuanaco was the capital of a pre-Columbian empire known as Tiwanaku that left a legacy of impressive stone monuments such as Kalasasaya, the semi-underground Template, sculptures of prominent figures, the Gate of the Sun, and ruins of palaces.

Bolivian researchers say Tiahuanaco began as an agricultural village around 1580 B.C. and grew to become an imperial state by A.D. 724, but was in decline by the late 12th century.

At its peak, the Tiwanaku realm occupied over 600,000 square kilometers (231,000 square miles).

Tiahuanaco has been a United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site since 2000.

The Gateway of the Sun from the Tiwanku civilization in Bolivia.

It was the capital of an empire that extended into present-day Peru and Chile, flourishing from 300 to 1000 A.D., and is believed to be one of the most important cities of ancient America.  Andean legends claim the area around Lake Titicaca was the cradle of the first humans on Earth.

According to the myths, Lord Viracocha, the creator of all things, chose Tiahuanaco as the place of creation. It is unknown how old these ruins are, but some researchers suggest that they date to 14,000 years B.C.

Fox News Latino writes that at its height, the Tiwanaku realm covered 600,000 square kilometers (231,000 square miles), and “left a legacy of impressive stone monuments such as Kalasasaya, the semi-underground Template, sculptures of prominent figures, the Gate of the Sun and ruins of palaces.”

Previous excavations at the site have revealed substantial portions of the Akapana Pyramid Mound.

Previous excavations: Robotic exploration of a tunnel in the Akapana pyramid, June 13, 2006.

Archaeology’s InteractiveDig writes that in the ancient past there is evidence that the established infrastructure was razed and rebuilt by the inhabitants, and the city was abandoned.

Researchers say there was a sudden shift in 700 A.D. Previous monuments were torn down, and the blocks were used to build the Akapana Pyramid. However, by the time the city was abandoned, the project had still not been completed and laid unfinished.

Archaeologists find 5,500-year-old plaza in Peru

Archaeologists find 5,500-year-old plaza in Peru

A recent discovery in Peru uncovered an ancient and very old settlement that dates back more than five thousand years to a period long before Europeans settled in the Americas.

Archaeologists say the site, uncovered amid a complex of ruins known as Sechin Bajo, is a major discovery that could help reshape their understanding of the continent’s pre-Columbian history.

Carbon dating by a German and Peruvian excavation team indicates that the circular plaza is at least 5,500 years old, dating to about 3,500 BC, said Cesar Perez, an archaeologist at Peru’s National Institute of Culture who supervised the dig.

Left: A circular plaza unearthed at the ruins of Sechin Bajo, 230 miles north of Lima, may have been a site for gatherings and ceremonies, archaeologists say. El Comercio; Credits: gogeometry.com

That would make it older than the Great Pyramid of Giza.

Sechin Bajo, 230 miles north of the capital, Lima, thus eclipses the ancient Peruvian citadel of Caral, some 5,000 years old, as the New World’s oldest known settlement.

“This has tremendous importance, both in Peru and internationally,” Perez said by cellphone from the area. “We think it’s the oldest urban site found in the Americas.”

Word of the discovery was first published Sunday in the Peruvian daily El Comercio.

“The findings in Sechin Bajo, especially in the buried circular plaza, have demonstrated that there is construction from 5,500 years ago,” Peter R. Fuchs, a German archaeologist who worked at the site, told the newspaper. “Whoever built Sechin Bajo had a good knowledge of architecture and construction.”

Much of the hidden plaza was uncovered this year, and a great deal of excavation remains to be done, Perez said. Relatively little is known about the people who lived there.

The plaza, 33 to 39 feet across, may have been a site for gatherings, perhaps a kind of ceremonial centre. It was built of rocks and adobe bricks.

Successive cultures lived in the area and built over the site.

5,500-year-old ceremonial center and circular pyramid in Peru
A view of the ruins of Sechin Bajo, that was built 5,500 years ago, after it was discovered in Casma. Carbon dating shows it is one of the oldest structures ever found in the Americas. A team of Peruvian and German archaeologists uncovered the plaza, which was hidden beneath another piece of architecture at the ruins known as Sechin Bajo, in Casma, 229 miles north of Lima, the capital.

Earlier finds in the Sechin Bajo area, in the Casma Valley of Peru’s Ancash region, had been dated at more than 3,000 years old. But the circular plaza pushes the area’s settlement date back considerably.

Peru is perhaps best known to outsiders as the cradle of the Inca empire, which stretched from modern-day Chile to Ecuador. But the Incas were relative latecomers in Peru’s long history of human settlement, rising to prominence in the 15th century before being conquered by the Spanish in the early 16th century.

Before the Inca, Peru was home to various civilizations that left a rich legacy of ruins, pottery, tombs and artefacts. Teams of archaeologists are at work throughout the country, including the bustling capital.

Scientists say settlements were beginning to grow in Peru about the time of urbanization in such cradles of civilization as Mesopotamia, Egypt and India.

Archaeological Site in Peru Is Called Oldest City in the Americas

Archaeological Site in Peru Is Called Oldest City in the Americas

A complex of American pyramids that may be older than the pyramids of Egypt stands on a high, dry terrace overlooking a lush river valley in the Andes Mountains of Peru. These structures are remnants of the ancient city of Caral, which some have called the oldest society in the Americas.

According to groundbreaking research published in Science back in 2001, Caral was founded around 5,000 years ago. That origin date places it before the Egyptian pyramids in Africa and roughly 4,000 years before the Incan Empire rose to power on the South American continent. That history, and the sheer scope of the site, prompted UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural.

Caral sits in the Supe Valley, a region of Peru’s high desert nestled between the rainforest, mountains and the Pacific coast. The valley is brimming with ancient monumental architecture. And in the decades since Caral first made headlines, archaeologists working in the region have turned up about 18 nearby cities, some of which may be even older.

Taken together, these ancient people represent a complex culture now called Norte Chico. These people lived at a time when cities were on Earth, and perhaps non-existent elsewhere in the so-called New World. Even more incredible is that the civilization pre-dated the invention of ceramic pottery by some six centuries, yet they could master the technological prowess required to build monumental pyramids. 

Much remains a mystery about this culture, but if archaeologists can unlock the secrets of Caral and its ancient neighbours, they may be able to understand the origins of Andean civilizations — and the emergence of the first American cities. 

The Pyramids of Caral

A German archaeologist named Max Uhle first stumbled across Caral in 1905 during a wide-ranging study of ancient Peruvian cities and cemeteries. The site piqued his interest, but Uhle didn’t realize the large hills in front of him were actually pyramids. Archaeologists only made that discovery in the 1970s. And even then, it took another two decades before Peruvian archaeologist Ruth Shady kicked off systematic excavations of the region.

In 1993, working on weekends with the help of her students, Shady began a two-year survey of the Supe Valley that would ultimately yield a staggering 18 distinct settlements. No one knew how old they were, but the cities’ similarities and more primitive technologies implied a single, ancient culture that predated all others in the region.

By 1996, Shady’s work attracted a small fund from the National Geographic Society, which was enough to launch her Caral Archaeological Project working at the heart of the main city itself.

And when her team’s initial results were published in 2001, their study set the narrative for Caral as we still appreciate it today. The global press heralded it as the first city in the Americas. “Caral … was a thriving metropolis as Egypt’s great pyramids were being built,” Smithsonian Magazine reported. The BBC said the find offered hope to a century-long archaeological search for a “mother city” — a culture’s true first transition from tribal family units into urban life. Such a discovery could help explain why humanity made the leap.

Ruth’s work would make her an icon in Peruvian archaeology. As a 2006 feature in Discover put it, “She has dug [Caral’s] buildings out of the dust and pried cash from the grip of reluctant benefactors. She has endured poverty, political intrigue, and even gunfire (her bum knee is a souvenir of an apparent attempted carjacking near the dig site) in the pursuit of her mission.”

She continues to study the ancient society today, eking out new clues buried in the desert. Over decades, her long-running project has revealed that the “Sacred City of Caral-Supe” covers roughly 1,500 acres of surprisingly complex and well-preserved architecture. At its height, Caral was home to thousands of people and featured six pyramids, sunken circular courts, monumental stone architecture and large platform mounts made of earth. To researchers, these buildings are a testament to a forgotten ceremonial and religious system.

She now holds honorary doctorate degrees from five universities and a Medal of Honor from Peru’s congress. In November of 2020, the BBC named her to their 100 Women of 2020 list. 

But controversy has also emerged in the two decades since the seminal study. Shady had a falling out with her co-authors in the years after their publication that turned nasty. Soon, other researchers had also started producing radiocarbon dates from the ancient cities that surround Caral. Surprisingly, some of those dates suggest they could be even older. Those dates could simply be evidence that these cities all existed simultaneously as part of a larger culture in this valley in the Andes. Or, it could be a sign that the true oldest city has yet to be found. 

Influence on the Inca

Whichever city in the area is oldest, Norte Chico presents a puzzle for human history. Until recent years, conventional wisdom held that people first reached North America in earnest 13,000 years ago via a land bridge that appeared as the Ice Age thawed. A steady stream of sites older than that has since been found. In Peru, human remains have shown that hunter-gatherers lived in the region as far back as at least 12,000 years ago. And there are traces of settlements along the Pacific Coast from 7,000 years ago. The residents of Caral were likely the ancestors of these people who decided to settle down and build cities in the Supe Valley.

But why would the mother city of the Americas emerge so early in South America? Well-known sites in North America, like the cities of the Olmec, as well as Chaco Canyon and Moundville, weren’t built until thousands of years later.

To archaeologists, unlocking the story of Caral — and what became of the people who lived there — could carry implications for the story of the Americas as a whole. The Caral civilization survived for nearly a millennium, until, some researchers suspect, climate change wiped it out. But the people and their ideas didn’t disappear. Scientists see Caral’s influence in cultures that lived long after they were gone. All along the Peruvian coast, there are signs of mounds, circular structures and urban plans similar to those at Caral.

Archaeologists also found a khipu (or quipu) recording device at the site. For thousands of years after Caral’s demise, and throughout the Inca Empire, cultures in the Andes would use this system of knots as a kind of recorded language unlike any other known in the world.

The genetic heritage of the Caral people may also survive even today. A sweeping genetic study of modern Peru, published in Nature in 2013, showed that despite the Spanish influence, people in many regions of the nation can trace their genetic heritage all the way back to the first settlers of South America. It’s a line that runs right through Caral.