The Story Of The Oldest Archeological Site In The Americas- Visiting Caral

The Story Of The Oldest Archeological Site In The Americas- Visiting Caral
March 18, 2014 Lainie Liberti

If you have been reading our blog for a while, you know there  is something about archaeological sites, that seem to mesmerize me.  History, humanity and the ruins left behind have become my passion, something all interest-led learners follow.  Miro and I have visited many of the ancient sites throughout Central and South America, and for a  very long time, I’ve had my sights set on visiting  the oldest archeological  site in all of the Americas, Caral.  And finally we finally have.


First a little history:


“In 2001, the oldest town in South America was officially announced. Dating to 2600 BC, it pushed back the date for the “first town” with one millennium. What is even more intriguing, is that the town of Caral has pyramids, contemporary with the Egyptian Pyramid Era.”

~Philip Coppens


Caral, located in Peru is “officially” the oldest recorded archaeological site in the Americas. However these ruins are not as well known or visited as many of Peru’s other archeological site, like Machu Picchu or Chavin. However the timeing and significance to this site is important to anyone interested in our historic time line and is certainly worth a visit.

Caral is thought to be 5000 years old, build only 200 years after Mesopotamia.  Caral is older than the Great Pyramids in Egypt (a date agreed upon by most conventional Egyptologists, but many of the alternative researchers would dispute).  Caral was built before the great civilizations of India, Greece, China and Mexico’s Olmecs.


Until 2001, Caral was almost completely ignored by the archaeological world and of course tourists alike, perhaps because the site lacked the traditional archaeological artifacts.

The Discovery Of Caral

Situated at Supe Valley, Peru, the Caral civilization was discovered in 1905 , but quickly forgotten since no major artifacts were found on site.  Later in 1994, Dr. Ruth Shady reexamined the site, believing it could be perhaps a major historic find. She was instrumental in contributing to the process of carbon dating of the site, which revealed the site dated back 5000 years to 2627 BC. Thus through her work, national funding and restoration projects began.


Ruth Shady’s Discovery

In 1994 archaeologist Ruth Shady focussed her energy and time on the site and helped the Caral civilization cement its position as one of the most important archaeological finds in the Americas. Spending almost 6 years excavating the site, Shady discovered 19 pyramids which spread over an area of 35 square miles. With the main pyramid being as tall as 60 feet and spread over an area of 28560 square meter or four football fields. Within the main pyramid, Shady discovered knotted pieces of textile called the Quipo which is thought of a way of keeping records. The Quipo is also considered to be one of the prime findings which establishes the Caral civilization as the source from which all other Andean Civilizations like the Inca’s emerged.


Findings At Caral

The excavations of the surroundings of Caral, revealed that the Caral civilization was a peace loving civilization and depended mainly on farming and trade. The excavation surprisingly did not reveal any weapons, swords, spears or bodies with body parts missing, which revealed that the residents of the Caral Civilization lived in peace and had not been attacked by any outsiders. Instead while excavating one of the pyramids, Shady found a body of an infant who had been buried wrapped in a cloth and on top a bead necklace made from stone which indicates that the child had died during infancy and had been buried according to rituals in the pyramid. The excavation of the pyramids and the site also unveiled flutes which had been made from the bones of pelicans and condor’s, and cornets which had been crafted lama and deer bones. These finding showed that the former inhabitants of Caral had a strong love for music.

From an extensive article about Caral written by the late Phillip Coppens:

What is Caral like? 

“The site is in fact so old that it predates the ceramic period, the reason why no pottery was found. Its importance resides in its domestication of plants, especially cotton, but also beans, squashes and guava.


As mentioned, the heart of the site covers 150 acres and contains six stone platform mounds – pyramids. The largest mound measures 154 by 138 metres, though it rises only to a height of twenty metres; two sunken plazas are at the base of the mound and a large plaza connects all the mounds. The largest pyramid of Peru was terraced with a staircase leading up to an atrium-like platform, culminating in a flattened top housing enclosed rooms and a ceremonial fire pit. All pyramids were built in one or two phases, which means that there was a definitive plan in erecting these monuments. The design of the central plaza would also later be incorporated in all similar structures across the Andes in the millennia to come – thus showing that Caral was a true cradle of civilisation. Around the pyramids were many residential structures. One house revealed the remains of a body that was buried in the wall and appears to have been a natural death, rather than evidence of human sacrifice. Amongst the artefacts discovered are 32 flutes made from pelican and animal bones, engraved with the figures of birds and monkeys. It shows that though situated along the Pacific coast, its inhabitants were aware of the animals of the Amazon.”

For more insight, do read the entire article by Phillip Coppens here.



Practical Advice on How to get to Caral

For more information about the site, you can visit the official Caral webpage here.  I researched ways to get to Caral from Lima. But in the end, we rented a car for the day and drove ourselves with 2 other friends. This turned out to be the most economical way to see the site and it allowed us to be on our own schedule. If you cannot rent a car, here are some of the options I discovered for transportation from Lima:

1. Tours– A tour company called Caral-Albuferas de Medio Mundo offers group excursions to Caral on an ongoing basis. 

2. Public transportation-  This information was sent to me from a local. Although I cannot personally vouch for the validity, I am passing along the info here.

    • From central Lima or Miraflores, take a bus to the North Terminal. Direct busses to the North Termanal can be picked up at Universitario. Transport to the North Terminal within Lima can take up to 1 hour.
    • Take a bus from North Terminal (Plaza Norte) to Supe. (aprox 3-4 hours)
    • From Supe, hire a taxi to Caral. Prices will vary and hire the taxi to wait for you there.
    • Entrance to Caral is  11 soles per person. However, you must hire a guide which is 20 soles for the group.
    • Return to Lima via Supe


The Age of Humanity

Although Coppens states there is indeed an older structure recently discovered, excavated and carbon dated here in Peru, Sechin Bajo on the northern coast, I am grateful  history continues to evolve as more discoveries are made. I keep adding archeological sites to “must-see-before-I-die”  list now including the Bosnian Pyramids dated as early as 12,000 BC and of course the pyramids of Gobekli Tepe in Turkey, thought to have been built  roughly 12,000 years ago (10,000BC) .


Wow, what an incredible history of humanity we have inherited..


Caral is certainly worth the visit and happy we were able to mark this site off our list. Are you interested in seeing this site? Leave your comments below.

Please see the photo essay of our trip to Caral here.


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