The history of Peru spans several millennia, extending back through several stages of cultural development in the mountain region and the coastal desert. About 15,200 years ago, groups of people are believed to have crossed the Bering Strait from Asia and survived as nomads, hunting, gathering fruits and vegetables and fishing in the sea, rivers, and lakes. Peruvian territory was home to the Norte Chico civilization, one of the six oldest in the world, and to the Inca Empire, the largest state in Pre-Columbian America. It was conquered by the Spanish Empire in the 16th century, which established a Viceroyalty with jurisdiction over most of its South American domains. The nation declared independence from Spain in 1821, but consolidated only after the Battle of Ayacucho, three years later. This is essentially a foundation article for the discussion of artifacts that will follow.
South America’s oldest-known human occupation site, the 14,600-year-old Monte Verde settlement in Chile, suggests that people quickly reached South America after crossing the Bering land bridge one or two thousand years earlier, perhaps skirting the Pacific coast. But some argue for a second migration. They use skeletal evidence to propose that the long, narrow skulls of South Americans living more than about 5,000 years ago differ too much from the rounder heads of more-recent inhabitants, and of living indigenous people, to represent one continuous population. Material evidence gathered at Monte Verde has reshaped the way archaeologists think about the earliest inhabitants of the Americas. Radiocarbon dating has provided a date of 14,800 BC and possibly 33,000 BC, establishing Monte Verde as the oldest-known site of human habitation in the Americas. Previously, the earliest accepted site had been determined to be near Clovis, New Mexico, dating between 13,500-13,000 BP, over 1,000 years later than Monte Verde.
The total prehistoric sequence in Peru spans 15,000 years, starting at about 13,000 BC when the first gatherer-hunter societies left their traces in the Ayacucho and Ancash highlands. These were populations that were migrating from the North American continent through Central America and populated the Andes. Traces of these early groups have been found in rock caves of Lauricocha, Pacaicasa and Guitarrero. Toquepala Caves are located in Toquepela, about 154 kilometres (96 mi) from the city of Tacna, in extreme southeast Peru. They are notable for a number of rock paintings. The best known of them is the cave named “Abrigo del Diablo”. Lauricocha Culture is a sequence of Preceramic cultural periods in Peru’s history, spanning about 5,000 years from p 8000 to 2500 BCE. The Lauricocha Cave at an altitude of over 4000 m was discovered in 1957 near Lauricocha Lake and the source of the Marañón River, one of the headwaters of the Amazon River. It contained human remains, the oldest found in Peru, which can be dated back to the last glacial period, about 9,500 years ago. Guitarrero Cave has evidence of human use during 8000 BCE and possibly as early as 10,560 BCE. A human’s mandible and teeth found in the cave have been carbon dated to 10,610 BCE.
About seven thousand years ago and predating the Egyptians by several thousands of years lived a tribe of people off the coast of Chile and southern Peru lived a tribe of people known today as “the Chinchorro”. Like the ancient Egyptians, the Chinchorro used to mummify its dead, creating the oldest known mummies on Earth. Of the 282 Chinchorro mummies found thus far, 29% of them were results of the natural mummification process (7020 BC-1300 BC). In northern Chile, environmental conditions greatly favor natural mummification. The soil is very rich in nitrates which, when combined with other factors such as the aridity of the Atacama Desert, ensure organic preservation.
The Norte Chico civilization (also Caral or Caral-Supe civilization) was a complex pre-Columbian society around 3500-1800 BCE that included as many as 30 major population centers in what is now the Norte Chico region of north-central coastal Peru. Since the early 21st century, it has been established as the oldest known civilization in the Americas. The most impressive achievement of this civilization was its monumental architecture, including large earthwork platform mounds and sunken circular plazas. Also, these preceramic peoples were building massive irrigation and water management projects. The City of Caral is located at 182 km (113 miles) north of Lima, in the Supe Valley. On April 27, 2001 came the stunning announcement in the journal Science that the emergence of urban life and complex agriculture in the New World occurred nearly a millennium earlier than previously believed (Shady Solis et al. 2001). Radiocarbon dates from the ancient city of Caral, in the Supe Valley of Peru 23 km from the coast, show that monumental architecture there was under construction as early as 2627 B.C. and until about 2000 BCE, even before ceramics and maize were introduced to the region. (By comparison, the Great Pyramid of Khufu in Egypt was built between 2600 and 2480 BCE). Archaeological evidence suggests a very early use of textiles, and in particular the use of cotton. Also, recent studies (2013) indicate that maize played a big role in this civilization starting as early as 3000 BC, contrary to previous beliefs. Also, beans and sweet potato were grown.
Andean preceramic refers to the early period of human prehistory in the Andean area of South America that preceded the introduction of ceramics. This period is also called pre-ceramic or aceramic (9500-2500 BCE). Pottery developed in the Amazon Basin and spread to the Andean culture region around 4000 years ago. During the Archaic Era agriculture was developed in the region and permanent villages were established. Late in this era, use of pottery and loom weaving became common, and class divisions began to appear. Many of the basic technologies of Mesoamerica in terms of stone-grinding, drilling, pottery etc. were established during this period. The Wairajirca Period in the Kotosh Period with a radiocarbon date of 2415 to 2190 BEE saw the introduction of the first pottery, a gray ware with incised designs and post-fired painting in red, white, or yellow. Pottery occurred in the Ancón area about 1750 BCE and seven chronologically different phases which characterize the Chavín culture. Cupisnique was a pre-Columbian culture which flourished from 1500 to 500 BCE along what is now Peru’s northern Pacific Coast. The culture had a distinctive style of adobe clay architecture but shared artistic styles and religious symbols with the later Chavin culture which arose in the same area at a later date.
The idea that climate change can play a role in the rise and fall of civilizations is not new. Other studies have suggested that climatic events such as drought and flooding rains contributed to the downfall of early civilizations in Central and North America, Greenland, and the Middle East. Indigenous people who lived on the coast of northern Peru began building large temple complexes about 5,800 years ago. The development of their culture, as seen in the elaborate temple building and public art discovered in the area, occurred even before the pyramids in Egypt were built. The Peruvians continued building the complexes for nearly 3,000 years. Caral, the Americas’ oldest civilization, located north of present day Lima, Peru, faced a grave crisis as a result of climate change some 4,000 years ago, archaeologists said. “Droughts were so severe that they could have lasted between 60 and 130 years, which could explain why there were social crises in (civilizations like) Caral, Moche and Tiahuanaco,” said archaeologist Ruth Shady, director of the Caral Project.
“Looking at the mollusks, we are pretty certain that El Niño was absent or occurred very infrequently prior to 5,800 years ago, and that it was probably not more frequent than every 40 to 50 years between 5,800 and around 3,200 to 2,800 years ago,” said Sandweiss. Other researchers using lake cores and tree rings in the Galápagos Islands and the highlands of Ecuador have reached similar conclusions. Analyses of stable oxygen and carbon isotope ratios were used to test the hypothesis that there was a severe drought and related change in human diet in ancient Peru around 1100 C.E. Previous studies of ice cores from the Andes and paleobotanical studies of food refuse suggest that the change in climate had a major impact on human food consumption patterns. New research has revealed that a prolonged period of warm weather between AD1100 and 1533 cleared large areas of mountain land to be used for farming, helping the Incas to spread their influence from Colombia to the central plains of Chile. With the tree line moving steadily higher up the mountains, the Incas carved terraces into the mountainside to grow potatoes and maize, and developed a system of canals to irrigate the land.
Nazca is a city and system of valleys on the southern coast of Peru. It is also the name of the largest existing town in the Nazca Province. The name is derived from the Nazca culture that flourished in the area between 100 BC and 800 AD. This culture was responsible for the Nazca Lines and the ceremonial city of Cahuachi, they also constructed an impressive system of underground aqueducts, named Puquios, that still function today. Every society and culture has its hobbies. The Romans liked to watch people fight animals in arenas, the Aztecs enjoyed a bit of human sacrifice, and the modern Australians love a good barbecue. The ancient Nazca people, meanwhile, stuck out in the remote desert in southern Peru, appear to have enjoyed nothing better than drawing thousands and thousands of vast straight lines and animal pictures in the desert. Pretty much all we know about them through their pottery, which was in vogue between 100 BC and 800 AD, although settled life in the area goes back as far as 9000 BC. The Nazca people made very sophisticated, multi-colored pottery, with distinctive styles that changed over time, just as styles of painting has changed in the Western world over the centuries.
Peru is best known as the heart of the Inca empire, but it was home to many diverse indigenous cultures long before the Incas arrived. Although there is evidence of human habitation in Peru as long ago as the eighth millennium BCE, there is little evidence of organized village life until about 2500 BC. It was at about this time that climatic changes in the coastal regions prompted Peru’s early inhabitants to move toward the more fertile interior river valleys. For the next 1500 years, Peruvian civilization developed into a number of organized cultures, including the Chavìn and the Sechìn. The Chavìn are best known for their stylized religious iconography, which included striking figurative depictions of various animals (the jaguar in particular) and which exercised considerable influence over the entire coastal region. The Sechìn are remembered more for their military hegemony than for their cultural achievements. The decline of the Chavìn and Sechìn cultures around the 5th century BCE gave rise to a number of distinctive regional cultures. Some of these, including the Saliner and the Paracas, are celebrated for artistic and technological advances such as kiln-fired ceramics and sophisticated weaving techniques. From the Paracas arose the Nazca, whose legacy includes the immense and cryptic Nazca Lines. However, the accomplishments of these and other early Peruvian civilizations seem today to pale in comparison to the robust pre-Columbian civilization of the Inca.
Hopefully, after this brief introduction, you realize that Peru is quite a lot more than the Incas and/or Machu Picchu and in fact is a complex place more like Egypt, Mesopotamia and China. Subsequent posts will explore these previous cultures and hopefully add perspective to the archeological artifacts. Please leave a comment.
Transpacific Project: http://www.transpacificproject.com/index.php/genetic-research/
History of Us: https://aratta.wordpress.com/2014/03/19/
Climate in Ancient Egypt: http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/egyptians/apocalypse_egypt_01.shtml
Pre and Post Ceramic Era Peru: http://digitalassets.lib.berkeley.edu/anthpubs/ucb/text/nap006-007.pdf
Toquepala Cave: http://infoperu.info/toquepala-cave
Guitarrero Cave: http://www.abovetopsecret.com/forum/thread1033133/pg1
Cave Paintings Guitarrero: http://janichoso.blogspot.com/2012/05/areas-naturales-protegidas-del-peru.html