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The Oldest Civilization of America
Caral – Supe – Peru


Human beings began populating the planet five million years ago, but it was only six thousand years ago that they started to build urban centers and form part of networks of interaction that functioned over long distances. Only six societies in the whole world were able to change their life style and create the right conditions for civilization, the State, and the forming of cities to flourish: Mesopotamia, Egypt, India, Peru, China and Mesoamerica. It is important to be acquainted with each of these civilizations, because they influenced the development of other contemporary peoples and played a fundamental role in the growth of the societies that succeeded them in time. But unlike the Old World civilizations, which maintained a system of interaction and exchange of goods and knowledge among each other, enabling each to take advantage of the experiences of the group, in Peru the process took place in total isolation, since Caral was at least 1,500 years ahead of Mesoamerica, the other center of civilization in the New World. In the Andean region, as in other parts of the world, there was a wide variety of cultural adaptations, but at relatively close distances.These societies, located in dissimilar geographic areas, followed different paths of development in terms of customs, cultures and socio-political systems. The early development of the Supe culture, was due to the growing complexity of the social systems that came into being in different regions of the north-central area of present-day Peru: in the coastal valleys between the Chancay and Santa rivers, the Andean mountain area of Callejon de Huaylas and the eastern slopes of the Andes, and the valleys of the Maraņon and Huallaga rivers. All these societies had reached the stage of having surpluses in production and a level of organization that allowed them a certain amount of labor specialization, the construction of public buildings, and participation in interregional trade networks. Around 3000 B.C. the coastal societies of the north-central area achieved significant progress, partly thanks to the wealth of resources in the region: an ocean rich in fish and mollusks, and fertile valleys with rivers bringing nutrients. A tradition of interregional communication among the inhabitants of the area contributed to their progress. In addition to the permanent nature of their settlements and the acquisition of shared life experiences (either by confrontation or by integration), the coastal communities incorporated new technological expertise: irrigation canals, agriculture, and fishing nets. These were innovations that increased productivity, promoted the specialization of labor, and made the exchange of products possible. The necessary conditions were in place for the development of civilization. Among these contemporary societies of the north-central area, it was Supe that managed to synthesize different adaptive experiences and take advantage of the surpluses in production of nearby communities. The considerable investment of labor in monumental constructions and in the continuous remodeling of these buildings would have been supported by the production of the populations of the other valleys that the emerging State acquired. The first civilization of Peru and the Americas was formed between 3000 and 2500 B.C. in the Supe valley, from a group of communities located in urban settlements. This organizational model influenced the development of future civilizations; among the principal ones we can mention the societies that built Huaca La Florida, Garagay in Rimac, Cerro Sechin, Pampa de Llamas-Moxeque in the Casma valley. Later the model was repeated in distant areas of the Andean territory: Chavin, Moche, Lima, Nazca, Tiahuanaco, Huari, Chincha, Ichma, Chimu; and finally the Inca culture, the last civilization of pre-Hispanic Peru, a full 4,400 years after Caral.


Three important concepts are essential to understanding the development and significance of Caral-Supe: the Civilization, the State, the City.


The Civilization is identified by:
. Availability of a production surplus in order to mobilize an enormous labor force for the construction of public works and housing for the elite.
. Complex social organization, with division of work and unequal distribution of the surplus.
. A state government.
. Residence in urban settlements with improvements in the standard of living of one social class.
. An advanced knowledge of exact and predictive sciences such as arithmetic, geometry, physics, medicine, astronomy, etc., and their application in agricultural technology, in the construction of monumental buildings, in measuring time, in appropriate management of the territory, public administration, specialized work, etc.
. Cultivation of the arts and their material expression in the manufacture of different objects for luxury use.
. The existence of complex and extensive trade networks.
. Cultural expressions shared by the population of an extensive territory.



A form of development of society characterized by the exercise of power by one dominant social class over the population of a certain territory, organized hierarchically and controlled by military force or by the force of religion, whereby the continuity of the system is assured. A State society presupposes the existence of:

. A surplus economy: achieved either by extra work or by developing the means of production in order to increase productivity.
. A social division of labor and social relations in production that emphasize the individual over the collective.
. The appropriation of the social product or surplus by certain groups, as a consequence of the division of society into classes, with appropriating individuals and expropriated individuals.

The State has:
. An apparatus, the political-religious bureaucracy, for the control of the surplus, the circulation of goods and services, the use of resources, and the performing of the different functions and actions.



A settlement that is dense, diverse and permanent, of socially heterogeneous individuals where the power of the rulers, the bureaucracy and their civil servants are concentrated; it is a center of religious, political and administrative power. It forms part of a hierarchical group of settlements that have:

. Certain territorial extension derived from a concentration of population manifested in the residential complexes.
. A well-defined design denoting planning, zoning, and organized management of space for differentiated use by its occupants, with physical or symbolic connotations.
. Diverse architectural expressions relating to a complex division of labor and the presence of specialists in a variety of production and trade activities; and where the surplus is distributed unequally, according to each person's place in the social productive process.
. Indicators that reflect the hierarchical position of the occupants by social strata: residence of authorities, specialists, civil servants.
. The development of public architecture in keeping with the institutions present: temples and palaces for religious, administrative and political functions.
. Evidence of services rendered for the development of production processes: a calendar, public works, irrigation and management of agriculture, trading of goods with other societies.



The greater pyramid
This architectural complex has two components: a sunken circular plaza  and a pyramid with stepped platforms. Located in a dominants position, it surveyed  activities taking place in the city and in the intermediatepart of the valley.

The Quarri Pyramid
This building was constructed on a rock outcrop  that was used as a quarry.
Infill material was set in place in level the ground before constructing the Pyramid.

Residential units Residence  of the Elite B1
The house is located  south of the Quarry Pyramid.
This residence was used by persons of high social standing involved in the administration and functions of the Quarry Pyramid.

Residence of the Elite B2
This house is located south of the Quarry Pyramid in the same area as the B1 residence of the elite. Different activities were carried out in this residential unit: social, administrative, religious, and domestic.

Residence of the Elite B5
This house stands west  of the Quarry Pyramid. Adjacent to the area where stone was quarried. Different activities were carried out in this residential unit: social, administrative, religious and domestic.

The Lesser Pyramid
This is the smallest pyramidal building in the upper part of the city. Function administrative and ceremonial activities were carried out here.

The Gallery Pyramid
This is the third-largest structure, after the Greater Temple and the Old Pyramid. To the south of the Gallery Pyramid there is a groups of the rooms associated with the pyramid.

The Pyramid  of the Huanca
This pyramidal structure is called La Huaca because of the orientiation of its central stairway to the monolith (“huanca”).

Greater Residential  Complex
This groups of houses is located on the south  explanade of the upper part of the city . the houses are arranged in sub-groups, with  their facades  facing in Central Plaza. Excavation  of the house in sub sector A1 has been completed.

The Amphitheatre  Pyramid
A walled architectural complex made up of several components.

The Temple Of a Round Altar
The pyramid –type construction s the second –largest building in the lower part of the City of Caral.

Lesser Residential Complex
This groups of houses is in the Lower half of the city, set out in a line from east  to west. The houses are square  or rectangular and vary is size from 40m2 to 80 m2.

Residences of the Elite
Two spacious houses adjoining the pyramid of The Huanca.

Residential sector D
Extensive residential area on the outskirts of the city. Domestic and production activities were carried out here. One of the houses has been excavated.

Architectural Complex on the East Side
This groups of interconnected areas and rooms is located on the east side of the Amphitheatre Temple.

Central Plaza
The facades of the pyramids and residences of Caral all face towards this great esplanade. Marks in the ground made by many  poles point to the periodic installation  of tents for exchanging products.

The Altar of Eternal Fire
Private ceremonial construction inside the walled complex of the Amphitheater Temple.

The Geoglyph
The geoglyph is associated with the Chupacigarro settlement. Is represents a head  drawn in profile, looking towards the east, it shows careful planning and a knowledge of perspective and proportion in a context of astronomical observations.



Production and Exchange
The inhabitants of Supe used different natural areas of their territory to obtain a wide array of products; they had access to the resources of the valley, the river, springs, wetlands, hills, forests, and riparian woodlands. The peasant farmers of the valley dug and cleaned irrigation ditches and tended their crops: squash, beans, pumpkins, cotton, sweet potatoes, chili peppers, flat gourds and tutumo(a small tree whose seeds and fruit were used for different medicinal purposes).They also cultivated or gathered pacae (ice-cream beans) and guava. They gave part of their harvests to their authorities and served whenever drafted for collective labor in the lands and buildings of the gods. They caught fish and crayfish in the river.Cazaban venados y vizcachas o recolectaban frutos, raices y caracoles en las lomas. In the wetlands they cut reeds and rushes to make shicras (loosely woven bags) and mats. Traveling by roads interconnecting the coast, mountains and jungle, traders from the valley took agricultural and marine products and exchanged them for lumber, herbs, seeds, pigments, medicinal plants and snails originating in distant settlements, which they then circulated among the coastal populations. The fishermen of the coast caught anchovy and sardines, as well as clams and mussels. They dried fish and separated the mollusks destined for trade. Like the peasant farmers, they gave part of their catch to their authorities, and were at their service for collective work. The farmers supplied the fishermen with cotton, indispensable for making their large fishing nets; likewise, the inhabitants of the valley obtained marine products, a necessary complement to their nutrition. Thus was formed the first socio-economic integration between regions, leading to mutual dependence and occupational specialization. The lords of Caral also had trade relations with inhabitants of other regions, principally those of the coast, who supplied them with fish and mollusks.They also interchanged products with the coastal dwellers of Pativilca and Fortaleza, and even had links with places as distant as Kotosh in the Huallaga valley, La Galgada in Tablachaca, Santa; Piruro in the Maraņon, and Huaricoto in the Callejon de Huaylas. The plentiful trade generated a dynamic economic process between the regions and promoted accumulation. Those conditions allowed the Supe society to strengthen its process of political integration under a state government and favored the formation of social classes. The effectiveness of this form of government can be measured by the boom in the construction of large monumental complexes undertaken by the State.


POLITICAL ORGANIZATION - Religion and Government

Some archaeologists consider that the presence of a military force is a prerequisite for the existence of a state political organization, but this first State did not have enemies to compete with; its power lay in its ability to unite distant communities in a common ideology.

Religion was the power used by the first State to impose labor and social discipline. The rulers were priests, administrators and scientists. These people were in charge of ceremonies; they directed public acts and rituals; prepared collective labor and administered the goods that were collected; collated astronomical data and made calendars to schedule the people's activities. The farmers and fishermen, for their part, recognized the power of their rulers by paying tribute in the form of extra work and services, for the benefit of the ruling class.

It was widely believed that the gods had taught them to prepare their farms, design their canals, plant their crops and build their boundaries; therefore it was necessary
to carry out propitiatory rituals and fulfill the calendar of ceremonies and rites to the sun, to water and to the land. All activities, domestic, productive, constructive, administrative and governmental carried out in Caral are one way or another related to offerings, ceremonies, rituals and sacrifices.

Fireplaces used for burned offerings are found in the different constructions, both residential and public; this was a widespread custom among peoples who believed fire to be a way of communicating with the gods.The large number of temples and the constant remodeling undertaken bear witness to a dynamic religious system, in constant renovation, and at the same time they are evidence of the social power of religion and the voluminous work invested by the inhabitants for the purpose of obtaining the favor of the gods.

The offerings found in ceremonial contexts and in the fills of constructions include:

  • Small unbaked clay statues, used in symbolic burials, generally representing women associated with propitiation or fertility rituals.
  • Burned textiles and baskets.
  • Burned food
  • Woven crosses or “God's Eyes”
  • Burials of children or adults, some adorned with necklaces, indicating high status.
  • Beads, chips or fragments of semiprecious stones, spondylus, quartz.
  • Eaves, flat gourds.
  • Intertwined vegetable material.
  • Balls of willow leaves.
  • Mytilus mussel shells with human hair, quartz.
  • Pigments.




The Political Aspect
Material evidence indicates the existence of social classes, distinguished by their place in the production process. The leading class did intellectual and administrative work, performed political and religious duties, benefited from the socially produced surplus, lived in large houses, and possessed luxury articles, such as quartz axes, seats made of whale vertebra, and necklaces of exotic beads. Their homes were very large and elaborate. By contrast, the most numerous class tended the crops, and performed services in the city. They lived in small, simple homes

Ritual Human Sacrifices
Excavations have revealed burials of children who had apparently been sacrificed as offerings in relation to construction events. They were buried either under a
wall or a floor. Some were buried fully clothed and adorned with necklaces to denote their high social position.

An adult (approximately 23 years of age) who appears to have been sacrificed was also found; he was buried nude, and had his hands and fingers cut off. Some of the fingers were found in niches in the same room, where they had also been ritually buried. The young man's hair had been intricately arranged.



Tecnologia Agraria
En el valle los campesinos limpiaban las acequias de irrigacion o drenaje y cuidaban sus cultivos. Se han hallado palos cavadores y hoces usados en las labores agricolas.
Los agricultores producian algodon, destinado a la confeccion de redes y ropa; mates y tutumos; productos alimenticios como frijol, calabaza, zapallo, camote, pacay, guayaba, aji, etc.

Tecnologia Constructiva
La construccion fue una actividad muy importante, envuelta tambien en una atmosfera ritual. Diseņaron, planificaron y distribuyeron las diversas edificaciones. Tuvieron un manejo ordenado del espacio. La periodica remodelacion de los edificios implico el enterramiento de recintos antiguos, cubiertos con shicras que contenian piedras y basura quemada, asociadas a ofrendas, como estatuillas de barro quebradas, fragmentos de cuarzo, concha y vegetales.

Usaron gruesas sogas para transportar grandes bloques de piedra canteada, elegidos para reforzar las esquinas de los muros que contienen las plataformas o frontis de estas. Construyeron muros de piedras unidas con argamasa, enlucidos y pintados periodicamente de colores blanco, amarillo, rojo o gris.

Algunos recintos fueron edificados con material organico. Éstos presentan un armazon de postes de sauce o guarango dispuestos en forma equidistante, alternados con carrizo o caņa brava, amarrados con soguillas de junco. Lleva una cubierta de arcilla, enlucida y finalmente pintada. En otros recintos usaron una tecnica similar pero con armazon preferente de carrizo.

En la construccion de los edificios publicos se invirtio ingente fuerza de trabajo proveniente de los servicios de la poblacion mayoritaria. Ciertos muros fueron construidos con adobes, elaborados sin molde, en diversas formas.

Manufacturaron instrumentos de piedra especiales para la construccion, como plomadas para medir la inclinacion de los muros y pulidores para el enlucido; tambien usaron batanes para moler los minerales o plantas y conseguir los pigmentos destinados a la elaboracion de pinturas de color.

Se han hallado manojos de sauce doblados; esta planta con propiedades curativas, es usada hasta la actualidad por los pobladores del valle para contrarrestar el dolor de cabeza; y por la industria farmaceutica para elaborar la aspirina.

Los pobladores de Caral tuvieron una alimentacion balanceada; consumieron vegetales producidos en el valle como frijol, zapallo y camote, complementando su nutricion con productos marinos como peces y moluscos, principalmente anchoveta, alimento con alto contenido proteico.

Ciencias Predictivas
Estudiosos de Caral observaron y registraron los movimientos de los astros e identificaron constelaciones. Esta informacion fue plasmada en el territorio, en geoglifos antropomorfos, espirales y lineas, a manera de un observatorio astronomico. La observacion de los astros les permitio hacer predicciones del tiempo y de los fenomenos naturales, de gran importancia para establecer el calendario agricola y otras actividades sociales.

Este geoglifo esta asociado al asentamiento urbano de Chupacigarro, en relacion con el cual fue orientado. Mide 48,5 m de largo por 26 m de ancho. La cabeza esta de perfil, orientada hacia el Este, con el ojo cerrado y la boca abierta. Muestra el cabello batido por el aire o la sangre que emana de la cabeza, rasgo que da movimiento y dinamismo a la figura. Fue construido mediante un cuidadoso planeamiento y conocimiento de la perspectiva y la proporcion; emplearon piedras angulares, de tamaņo mediano y grande colocadas sin argamasa directamente sobre la superficie del terreno. Cabe destacar el parecido estilistico entre este geoglifo y las representaciones posteriores que se harian en la sociedad de Sechin, en el valle de Casma.

Manufactura con fibras vegetales
El algodon fue uno de los principales productos agricolas de valle de Supe, se han desenterrado abundantes semillas y motas de algodon en diversos recintos de la ciudad. Este producto fue usado para fines domesticos, comerciales y rituales.
• Se han hallado textiles con variados diseņos estructurales y distintos colores naturales.
• Como ofrenda a los dioses frecuentemente se incineraban tejidos.
• Para la manufactura de las prendas usaron agujas de hueso y ruecas de mate, concha o piedra.

Usaron juncos para la elaboracion de shicras, cestas, petates y envoltorios de los fardos funerarios. La materia prima era cultivada en los humedales y pantanos. Luego cortaban y secaban las hojas al sol.

Hubo una produccion en masa de shicras, utilizadas para el transporte y deposito de piedras en los rellenos constructivos. Destaca el gran volumen de los rellenos de las shicras en las distintas edificaciones monumentales de la ciudad, lo que permite interpretar que esta actividad involucro a numerosas personas, tanto para la produccion de la fibra como para la manufactura y distribucion del producto.



At kilometer 159 of the North Panamerican, at the height of the town of Mazo, Vegueta district, there is a detour that leads to the archaeological site by a dirt road for 28 km. This way, despite not be signaled, may be busy during the whole year.




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