Have you ever wondered where our civilization began? What makes our cultural identity?
Why our society is the way it is today? What happened on earth 5000 years ago?
Text and photos by Mathilde Salmón
It seems that Peruvian archaeologists finally found a serious lead to answer these questions. 13 years ago, Doctor Ruth Shady Solis discovered, in the so called “Norte chico del Perú”, a new archaeological site which had been ignored until then.
5000 years ago, when Egyptians were edifying pyramids, when civilizations of Mesopotamia, China, India and South America were developing, an organised society was being formed in Peru.
Behind apparent big mountains of sand, Doctor Ruth Shady Sólis imagined the ancient pyramids, and step by step freed the ruins from the underground. The city of Caral, a huge site of 66 hectares, was discovered.
But how and why was such a civilization born in Caral? Archaeologists usually give different hypothesis to explain the formation of societies, like trading markets, or war. As the investigations went on and no evidence of conflict was found, the latter hypothesis was dismissed.
But some materials from the Peruvian highlands and jungle were found, leading to the hypothesis of trade… Indeed, the inhabitants of Caral could cultivate cotton massively, taking advantage of the river crossing the site. Caral was no City of War, but a city of Peace, a flourishing commercial city.
The Aspero and Caral sites…
Aspero is a small fishing town where ancient pyramids were excavated. After 2 years of investigation, there still remains work to be done. The bus arrives through a shaky road of sand and rocks to a huge desert partly covered with waste.
The guide gives an idea of how the site could have been 5000 years ago, though it still requires some imagination. Three important pyramids were discovered: Huaca de los Idolos, Huaca Alta and Huaca de los Sacrificios, all destroyed by the “Huaqueros” (pillage), a common phenomenon in Peru. The area of stocking was a strategic place where trade products were received (fishing nets from Caral for example).
Caral, the Sacred City, also looks like a huge, empty desert at first sight, but the site is far more conserved and friendly than Aspero is. We learn how the civilization, possibly composed of 3500 people at the time, was organized in three social classes.
The Central place and its altar of fire for ceremonies, the “Templo del anfiteatro” (a big pyramid) for social religious and administrative ceremonies, are impressive constructions.
The civilization knew how to use textiles and build edifices, and cultivated cotton and other products to trade within Peru. Two sets of musical instruments were indeed discovered (made of condor bones and camellias), showing the importance of music in the life of the Caral-Supe people.
Although the archaeological project is not finished yet, although the road leading to the sites is in bad condition, tourists may find it interesting to dig into Peruvian roots, and come to capture the energy of the ruins.
Two educational trips are organized each month, for more information click here
or call 495-1515.
The press conference “Caral, ayer y hoy”
On the 31st of August, a conference took place in Caral, to concretize the project of developing a social tourism in Caral and in the North of Lima in general. Nelson Chui (president of the Region of Lima), Eduardo Arrate Fiedler (vice-minister of tourism), Bethy Contreras (executive director of the COPESCO plan), Madeleine Burns (Director of craftwork for Mincetur), Romel Ullilén (provincial mayor of Barranca), Doctor Ruth Shady Sólis (head of the Caral project) were present, among others.
Conserving and developing its culture was never a priority for Peru, but Ruth Shady is working hard to initiate a “master plan” for an integral development of the region, in order to provide the population with self-esteem, better life conditions and pride for its patrimony.
The risk is to see a disorganized development of the region, which would lead to the problems Machu Picchu has today. The projects must be implemented collectively by the different authorities: local, regional and national. On the agenda: the rehabilitation of the road leading to the sites, the COPESCO plan, the national plan of tourism, construction of a bridge, more road signs and parking lots, development of craftwork…
The population will directly benefit from the employment created, growing sales of food, artwork, and training. The biggest project for them will be the creation of a cultural centre in San Nicolas, both a museum and a centre of innovation.
“People must understand how their ancestors lived to create themselves an identity and a future”, Doctor Shady insists. 5000 years ago, a cross management of the region, that shall be repeated today, was established. “If we are not working together”, Vice Minister Eduardo Arrate Fiedler states, “it will take us another 5000 years to develop”…
The national plan of tourism is made up of four components: social tourism; decentralized tourism; developing investment projects with strategic alliances; and promoting the country’s image at an international level.
Last year, Caral greeted more than 25,000 visitors. The site expects to receive more in the years to come, so the city does not remain the unknown wonder of Peru.
The challenge will now be to find a balance between the development of the site and the control of that development.
Exhibitions in Lima to come
September 6th – October 31st
If you want to grasp a bit of this ancient civilization’s atmosphere or learn more about this huge project, you can visit the Northern cities in Lima remains and findings exhibition. For more details, see the events calendar