One of the most important and yet little-known cultures of the American continent is found in Peru. This is the Caral culture, whose capital was the city of the same name, which is now celebrating twenty-five years of excavations. We have spoken with Dr. Ruth Shady, director of the Caral archaeological zone, who has told us many things about this place, located in the Supe Valley, on the north-central coast of Peru, a site that is, with its 66 hectares, one of the largest in America, and about the civilization that built it, the Caral culture, considered the oldest in the American continent.
The Caral based their economy on agriculture and fishing on the coast of the Pacific Ocean, in the so-called Supe port. In the region, small settlements began to develop very early between the years 3000 and 2700 BC, which interacted with each other and exchanged products, even with other more distant populations. More complex societies were formed and between 2700 and 2550 B.C. the great city of Caral was built, a place with monumental architecture. It was at this time that new urban centers began to appear in the Supe Valley and in the neighboring Pativilca Valley, between 2550 and 2400 BC. The influence of the Caral culture was such that it reached the north of Peru, as can be seen in the Ventarrón deposit, in Lambayeque, or in other places in the south, such as in the valleys of Chillón, Rímac, Asia.
As Ruth Shady exclusively explains to us, the Caral were an advanced society that developed great scientific and technological knowledge that they transmitted to other neighboring cultures. They did not live in walled cities nor did they manufacture weapons, but they did exchange resources, goods and knowledge with populations from the mountains and the jungle. They also had access to the Spondylus mollusk, very characteristic of the tropical waters of Ecuador and which played an important role in Andean societies; They also obtained sodalite, a mineral that comes from Bolivia, and even replicated, in the burial of a child, the treatment given to the dead in the Chinchorro culture of Chile, which shows that the Caral were related to other very distant cultures. geographically.
As an archaeologist, Dr. Shady insists that the importance of Caral is reflected in the elements of its architecture, of symbolic significance –assumed in turn by other cultures–: sunken circular plazas, niches, double-jamb doors, earthquake-resistant technology. , stepped platforms... Caral was an urban complex made up of different constructions. It lacks a walled enclosure and is located on a terrace that protected it from possible natural disasters.
The buildings were built with stone and wood from fallen trees. Six pyramids are preserved, each with a central staircase that is oriented towards certain stars. All these buildings had an altar with a central fire (circular or quadrangular in shape) and underground conduits that channeled the energy of the wind. In these complexes religious ceremonies were to be carried out that included the burning of offerings to the divinities. But one of the most striking constructions are its two enigmatic circular plazas, located in front of two pyramidal buildings. Quite possibly also related to religious ceremonies.
Dr. Shady and her archaeological team work in 12 settlements of this culture with the aim of "knowing the social system of the Caral civilization and the changes that took place over the thousand years, of great prestige and development achieved, until that entered into crisis and collapsed due to intense climate change, which transformed the productive valley of Supe into sandy lands with dunes, affected by a prolonged drought, conditions that caused populations to abandon urban centers." In fact, and despite its harmonious relationship with nature, the Caral culture succumbed to harsh climate change, catastrophic in its effects. Archaeologists have identified a number of extreme weather events, including earthquakes and torrential rains that flooded the fishing town's bay.
An extreme drought that lasted for several decades has also been documented: the Supe River dried up and the crop fields filled with sand. In the end, after various and devastating famines that put an end to this brilliant civilization, Caral and the surrounding towns were abandoned around 1900 BC, without knowing what became of its inhabitants.
The Sacred City of Caral is located in the initial part of the middle valley of the Supe River, in the province of Barranca, north of Lima, at kilometer 184 of the Pan-American Highway, in the North-Central Area of Peru.
Along with Caral, 19 settlements from the same period have been identified, distributed over 40 km, in the coastal, low and middle valley areas of Supe. In each of these archaeological sites there are pyramidal public buildings with sunken circular plazas, as well as domestic units. Of the complex, the Sacred City of Caral is the urban center where an elaborate spatial arrangement and greater architectural complexity can be seen, conditions that make it the most outstanding urban settlement of all those identified in Peru, belonging to the Late Archaic period (3000 - 1800 years BC).
The Caral Culture is the oldest civilization in the Americas, and it is estimated that it was formed more than 5,000 years ago in Peru. No other older site with the same level of complexity has been found on the entire continent. In Caral, several monumental buildings stand out, and each one fulfills markedly different functions, whether administrative, religious or ceremonial.
Unlike other ancient civilizations such as those of Egypt or China, which came to interact with each other and shared their culture, to date research indicates that Caral developed completely isolated, and that the city was an important religious and commercial point.
The ruins of the Sacred City of Caral extend over more than 60 hectares, and are made up of 32 remains of public structures, residential complexes, houses, and other peculiar buildings. Below is a list of the most important.
It is the largest architectural structure in all of Caral. It is composed of a sunken circular plaza with an internal diameter of 19 meters and a depth of 2 meters. Together with the other pyramids, they make up the ceremonial center of the city. In addition, in the Greater Pyramid you can see a long staircase 9 meters wide, with which you can climb up to 28 meters high at the top of the pyramid.
It is a walled complex that had a religious function. There you will find a circular plaza and an antechamber, which received a large number of spectators. Inside the temple, access is increasingly restricted until reaching the most important enclosure, where it is known that in the past only religiously chosen people arrived. In the Temple of the Amphitheater, more than 30 transverse flutes have been found, as well as 38 horns made of camelid bone, among other things.
It bears this name because it is aligned with a huanca; that is, with a long stone stuck in front and on the ground. It is speculated that its function was linked to astronomical observation.
In this pyramid an interior passage was built, as if it were an underground gallery, which is painted white and highly decorated. This pyramid is so small that it only fits one person, so the ceremonies that were performed there must have been individual.
These are some of the places you will visit during the Caral tour. You will also enjoy the history of other smaller rooms, such as the Atrium, the Main Room or the Altar of the Sacred Fire.
Likewise, you will visit the Circular Squares, which are large walled and circular spaces. Two can be seen, one in front of the Greater Pyramid (in the upper sector of Caral) and another in the Temple of the Amphitheater (in the lower sector of Caral).
There is still much to discover regarding the history of this city, since it was only in 1996 that the official archaeological excavations began under the tutelage of Dr. Ruth Shady. Do you know what is the most curious? No remains of weapons were found, nor any evidence of armies or war organization in the city.
Due to the discovery of musical instruments, which have decorations with motifs of birds, snakes, human figures, etc., experts conclude that a refined culture lived here, dedicated to commerce, religion, and entertainment.
Caral is also known as the "City of the Pyramids", since in 1994 32 pyramids were rediscovered by Dr. Ruth Shady, current director of the Caral Archaeological Center. Pyramids that today are considered the greatest archaeological discovery in the region, after Machu Picchu in 1911.
Entrance fees to the city of Caral are 11 soles for adults, 1 sole for children, seniors and schoolchildren, and 4 soles for university students. The guided service in the same city has a cost of 20 soles for a group of 20 people maximum. There is also a special circuit for people with motor disabilities.
The Caral Archaeological Complex has been designated as Cultural Heritage of Humanity. It is located almost 200 km north of the city of Lima, in the district of Supe, province of Barranca (department of Lima).
The trip from Lima lasts a maximum of 4 hours. To get to your destination you just have to buy your ticket from Lima to Barranca through redBus. The price varies between 15 to 30 soles, depending on the transport company and the date you choose to travel.
From your whereabouts in Barranca, go to kilometer 187 of the Panamericana Norte, a little before Supe. There you will find a market where you can take a bus (which usually costs from 4 to 6 soles) to the town of Caral, exactly at the pedestrian entrance of the Archaeological Center. Another option is to take a taxi to the same destination, which can cost approximately 40 soles.
Caral is more than archaeology; in the area you can practice some sports, among which cycling stands out. Some tourist agencies provide bicycles adapted to the terrain and expert cycling guides, but you can also bring your own adapted bicycle and enjoy this great route.
The best time of the year to practice cycling in Caral is from April to December. Although the weather is warm throughout the year, during these months the heat drops a bit, making the journey easier and more manageable.
The cycling route starts from Huacho to Huaura, through the route called “Ruta de las Chacras”, parallel to the Panamericana Norte. The point of arrival is the town of Vegueta, and from there you follow the path to the entrance of Caral. This road is sandy and stretches for almost 23 kilometers, so we recommend you slow down because you will have to exert more effort to pedal due to the terrain.
This route lasts five hours in total, until reaching the ruins of the city. Don't worry, it is not necessary to be in excellent physical condition for the journey. The height is only 350 m.a.s.l.
On important dates such as New Year or Easter, the Government and the corresponding authorities organize camps for which you must register in advance because places are limited. To do this, you need to be aware of the publications on the Zona Caral website.
The organization of these camps also includes visits and night tours to all the pyramids, enclosures and remains of Caral, in addition to various cultural activities. Not to be missed!
Another option is to camp in a place close to Caral, such as in the vicinity of the Laguna Encantada (Huacho, 27 km away), open areas of Haura such as the mysterious Hacienda Rondoy (21 km away), or in some Eco-Hotels. with natural camping areas that you can find in Barranca.
If you want to visit Caral and enjoy an unprecedented cultural event, the festival of payment to the land will be one of the best experiences you will live.
This festival takes place at the end of October or the beginning of November, during the anniversary of the discovery of the city of Caral. In the celebration, the entire city is illuminated at night with generators and torches. In addition, a payment is made to the land, which symbolizes the gratitude of the residents of Barranca for everything received and earned throughout the year.
All this is done by a shaman from the city, accompanied by music, dances; residents, authorities, and tourists. Locals with pre-Inca clothing also join, assuming the role of the ancient inhabitants of Caral. Maidens appear around the Greater Pyramid, giving thanks to the Pachamama and throwing leaves into the fire as a sign of tribute. This ceremony symbolizes, in turn, the renewal of energy for the following year, a ritual in which most visiting travelers participate.
This 2017 the anniversary celebrations will be on Friday 28 and Saturday 29 October.
The main ceremony is joined by the celebrations in the surroundings of Supe, such as the parade of lanterns, the contest and gastronomic festival "El Sabor de mi Tierra", the "Catu Caral" or expo fair, with agroecological and artisanal products from the region. , and the "Runa Raymi" or artistic festival, with artistic performances by the local population, cultural workshops and guest artists.
To participate in these events exclusively, you can register or request more information in the "Educational Trips" section of the official website www.zonacaral.gob.pe.
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