The 5,000-year-old City of Caral


It is widely accepted that Egypt, Mesopotamia, China and India are the oldest civilizations in the world. But not many people know that at the same time, if not even earlier, a great civilization, called Norte Chico existed in Supe, Peru. It was the first civilization of the Americas.

Its capital was named Caral – a 5,000-year-old metropolis nourishing rich culture and monumental architecture. In the city of Caral, Norte Chico built six large pyramids, amphitheatres, circular plazas, earthen mounds, and residential areas.

The valley of Supe, which is located about 320 km (198 miles) north of Lima, on the Peruvian Pacific coast, was excavated in 1905 by German archaeologist, Max Uhle who made the first archaeological discovery in the area. But not much was discovered the next 60 years or so. In 1970, archaeologists found out that the hills, initially thought to be natural formations, were actually step pyramids. Twenty years later, archaeologists revealed the full scale of the ancient city.

What’s most impressive about the city of Caral is its old age. Radiocarbon dating has shown that the site dates back to 3,000 BC. The city is one of the 18 ancient sites in the Supe valley, which covers an area of 65 hectares. The incredibly well preserved city of Caral catches the eye with its complex architecture.

© Christopher Kleihege / UNESCO
© Christopher Kleihege / UNESCO

Caral consists of central public plaza with six pyramidal structures around it. The largest of the pyramids is 18 meters (59 feet) high and its base covers an area of around four football fields. Standing on top of this pyramid, one could see the whole city.

The public architecture has stairs, rooms, courtyards, an amphitheatre, and three sunken plazas. It is estimated that Caral could have housed 3,000 inhabitants in total. Archaeologists are convinced that the model of the city was used by many civilizations that existed after the Norte Chico.

After 2001, the city of Caral is on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.