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This article is about the archaeological site. For the civilization it belonged to, see Norte Chico civilization
Remains of Caral
Map showing location in Peru
Shown within Peru
Alternate name Caral-Supe
Location Lima Region, Peru
Type Settlement
Founded c. 2600 BCE
Abandoned c. 2000 BCE
Cultures Norte Chico
Site notes
Condition In ruins
Official name Sacred City of Caral-Supe
Type Cultural
Criteria ii, iii, iv
Designated 2009 (33rd session)
Reference no. 1269
Region Latin America and the Caribbean

Caral, or Caral-Supe, was a large settlement in the Supe Valley, near Supe, Barranca province, Peru, some 200 km north of Lima. Caral is one of the most ancient cities of the Americas, and a well-studied site of the Caral or Norte Chico civilization.


  • History 1
  • Archaeological findings 2
    • Main pyramid 2.1
    • Lack of warfare 2.2
    • Scope of site 2.3
    • Geoglyph 2.4
    • Musical instruments 2.5
  • See also 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5
  • Video 6


Caral was inhabited between roughly 2600 BCE and 2000 BCE,[1] enclosing an area of more than 60 hectares.[2] Caral was described by its excavators as the oldest urban center in the Americas, a claim that was later challenged as other ancient sites were found nearby. Accommodating more than 3,000 inhabitants, it is the best studied and one of the largest Norte Chico sites known.

First constructions
2800 BC
2600 BC
2400 BC
2200 BC
2000 BC
1800 BC
1600 BC

Archaeological findings

The Caral pyramids in the arid Supe Valley, some 20 km from the Pacific coast.

Paul Kosok discovered Caral in 1948, but it received little attention at the time because it appeared to lack many typical artifacts that were sought at archeological sites throughout the Andes at the time. Archaeologist Ruth Shady further explored the 4,000- to 4,600-year-old city of pyramids in the Peruvian desert, with its elaborate complex of temples, an amphitheater and ordinary houses.[3] The urban complex is spread out over 150 acres (607,000 m²) and contains plazas and residential buildings. Caral was a thriving metropolis at roughly the same time that Egypt's great pyramids were being built.

Caral is the largest recorded site in the Andean region with dates older than 2000 BCE and appears to be the model for the urban design adopted by Andean civilizations that rose and fell over the span of four millennia. It is believed that Caral may answer questions about the origins of Andean civilizations and the development of the first cities.

Among the artifacts found at Caral are a knotted textile piece that the excavators have labeled a quipu. They argue that the artifact is evidence that the quipu record keeping system, a method involving knots tied in rope that was brought to perfection by the Inca, was older than any archaeologist had previously guessed. Evidence has emerged that the quipu may also have recorded logographic information in the same way writing does. Gary Urton has suggested that the quipus used a binary system which could record phonological or logographic data.

Main pyramid

The main pyramid complex (Spanish: Pirámide Mayor) is 150 meters long, 110 meters wide and 28 meters high. The date of its construction is unknown.

Lack of warfare

No trace of warfare has been found at Caral: no battlements, no weapons, no mutilated bodies. Shady's findings suggest it was a gentle society, built on commerce and pleasure. In one of the pyramids, they uncovered 32 flutes made of condor and pelican bones and 37 cornetts of deer and llama bones. One find revealed the remains of a baby, wrapped and buried with a necklace made of stone beads.

Scope of site

Caral spawns 19 other pyramid complexes scattered across the 35 square mile (80 km²) area of the Supe Valley. The find of the quipu indicates that the later Inca civilization preserved some cultural continuity from the Caral civilization. The date of 2627 BCE is based on carbon dating reed and woven carrying bags that were found in situ. These bags were used to carry the stones that were used for the construction of the pyramids. The material is an excellent candidate for dating, thus allowing for a high precision. The site may date even earlier as samples from the oldest parts of the excavation have yet to be dated.[4] The town had a population of approximately 3000 people. But there are 19 other sites in the area (posted at Caral), allowing for a possible total population of 20,000 people for the Supe valley. All of these sites in the Supe valley share similarities with Caral. They had small platforms or stone circles. Shady (2001) believes that Caral was the focus of this civilization, which itself was part of an even vaster complex, trading with the coastal communities and the regions further inland – as far as the Amazon, if the depiction of monkeys is any indication.

Panorama of Caral Site
One of the pyramids of Caral
360° Panorama of Caral


In 2000, Marco Machacuay (the chief of excavations at the time) and his colleague, Rocío Aramburú, discovered a large shape etched on the ground in circular stone lines near Caral. This image, known as a geoglyph, is located on the desert floor just west of the main site at Caral. When traced out, the lines form the design of a human face with long, streaming hair and a gaping mouth. This geoglyph is similar to the screaming, bleeding figures found etched onto the stone walls at a site called Sechín, in the Casma Valley 150 miles to the north. It is unclear what exactly this figure means, but it is believed to have been constructed around the same time as Caral and to have been associated with a nearby ceremonial site known as Chupacigarro.[5]

Musical instruments

Another notable find on the site was a collection of musical instruments, including 37 cornetts made of deer and llama bones and 33 flutes of unusual construction.[6] The flutes were radiocarbon dated to 2170±90 BCE.[3]

See also


  1. ^, "Oldest evidence of city life in the Americas reported in Science, early urban planners emerge as power players" Public release date: 26-Apr-2001 American Association for the Advancement of Science
  2. ^, "Archaeological Site in Peru Is Called Oldest City in Americas" Public release date: 27-Apr-2001 The New York Times
  3. ^ a b Shady, R. Haas, J. Creamer, W. (2001). Dating Caral, a Pre-ceramic Site in the Supe Valley on the Central Coast of Peru. Science. 292:723-726. doi:10.1126/science.1059519 PMID 11326098
  4. ^ Civilization lost? |
  5. ^ Atwood, Roger. "A Monumental Feud." Archaeology. Jul/Aug 2005, Vol. 58 Issue 4, p18-25.
  6. ^ Ross, John (August 2002). "First City in the New World?". Smithsonian Museum. Retrieved 30 November 2012. 

External links

  • Official website features 3-D renderings of major monument.
  • Caral quipu
  • Transcript of BBC Horizon program about Caral
  • "The mother of all civilisations", The Times of India, 16 Dec 2007, retrieved 2007-12-19.
  • Gigapan Caral high resolution panorama of Caral.


  • Caral. Searching the origin of civilisations. 49.03 minutes. BBC Learning
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