October 1994 is the date of the ‘discovery’ of Caral, the oldest urban centre in the Americas, by Peruvian archaeologist, Ruth Shady Solis.
Located about 200 km (124 miles) north of Lima, in the Supe Valley, it is of huge archaeological significance because woven materials found in and around the site have been carbon-dated to 3,000BC, which is 2,000 years earlier than previous estimations of the birth of civilization in Peru, making it ‘the most ancient in the Americas and one of the most ancient in the world, comparable to Egypt, India and China’ [Hugh Thomson, Cochineal Red, p77].
As a result, the Sacred City of Caral-Supe was granted World Heritage status by UNESCO in June 2009.
At an altitude of 350 m (1,148 ft) above sea level, Caral is thought to have belonged to the Norte Chico culture, which thrived in four coastal valleys - the Fortaleza, Pativilica, Supe and Huara - in present-day Lima Department. Their area of influence covered some 1,800 square km (694 square miles) and had about 30 population centres, meaning it was densely-inhabited.
Caral has several stepped pyramids, one of them 30 m (100 ft) tall and some fronted by a circular sunken plaza, temples, and residential areas.
Historians had known of the ancient city of Caral for more than a century. However, a lack of pottery fragments, and other remains, dampened interest in the site, and excavation did not begin until 1996. The revelations made have served to shift archaeological interest away from the Peruvian highlands - where the Chavin culture had been previously known as the first civilization of the region - and towards Peru's little-understood coastal region.
It is a reminder of quite how exciting a country Peru is for the archaeologist, casual or professional, as discoveries continue to be made and accepted wisdom is turned on its head.
We can arrange day trips to Caral from Lima or as part of a longer northern Peru itinerary. Just ask us how.